Rio de Janeiro is one of the largest cities in South America, known for many things: its world famous beaches, magnificent natural landscapes, and its iconic landmarks. This sprawling metropolis has everything you’ll need for a good time. Naturally, we were excited and looked forward to our first trip to Brazil. We booked months in advance and planned out all the places we wanted to see. Unfortunately all of that planning did not ensure a drama-free trip as we found out that our flight was canceled two hours before take-off and rescheduled to the next day – our already short trip became even shorter. When we finally made it there, we were greeted with crappy weather. Ironically, it rained every single day that we were there during the hottest and driest year in the country’s recent history. Even with all the problems, we still had a great time. Here are a few things that we did and a few things that we didn’t get to do due to weather:
1. Christ the Redeemer – The colossal statue of Jesus Christ standing at the top of Mount Corcovado with arms stretched wide, looking over the city of Rio de Janeiro is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Brazil. This iconic Art Deco statue, stands at 98 feet (30 meters) tall, and was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
The easiest way to get there is by taking a taxi to Corcovado. The cab ride costs us $30 Real and took us 35 minutes from Leblon. The site opens daily from 8 am to 7 pm. It’s best to go as early as possible, before all the tour groups get there. We didn’t get there until 9 am, and it was already crowded.
The ticket to see Cristo Redentor includes a ride on the red tram that departs every 30 minutes, and takes you all the way to the top. There is free WiFi at the station to pass the time while waiting for the next train. Going up the steep slope, you want to sit on the right side of the train to get the best view of the city. Looking down, the city and the outlying islands covered in fog make for a surreal sight, like something out of a dreamscape. The magnificent view at the top makes up for all the pushy people with their selfie sticks.
Cost: $51 Real
2. Sugar Loaf Mountain – For a dazzling view of Rio’s bustling metropolis, head over to Sugar Loaf Mountain. A short cable car ride to the top will give you a breathtaking 360 degree view of the city. Standing 1,299 feet over Guanabara Bay, you can see everything from Copacabana beach and Christ the Redeemer in the distance.
The best time to go is right before sunset, but make sure you get your ticket earlier so there is a shorter wait time. We were there on a cold and rainy day, so we didn’t get to see the beautiful sunset over the city, but we got to see Christ the Redeemer peaking through the dark clouds in the horizon. As it gets darker, the city starts to light up and it was quite a view. Reminds me of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.
Cost: $62 Real
3. Rio de Janeiro Cathedral – Brazil is the country with the highest number of Catholics in the world, so it’s not surprising that there is a high concentration of cathedrals in the city. My favorite is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, located in the heart of the city and dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio.
The architecture of this cathedral deviates from the typical church design, opting instead to draw its inspiration from Mayan pyramids. The unique and modern layout features 4 floor to ceiling stained glass windows situated at each of the cardinal points. On a bright day, the sunlight streams through the windows giving the space a magical quality. Inside the circular room it’s big and airy, with all seats facing towards the center pulpit. The cathedral has a standing room capacity of 20,000 people.
Cost: $62 Real
4. Escadaria Selarón – Escadaria Selaron, also known as the ‘Selaron Steps’, is a set of world-famous steps located between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhood in Rio. The colorful mosaic steps began when the Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón decided to renovate the dilapidated stairs in front of his house. Now, the 215 steps feature vibrant and unique tiles from around the world. This place was made famous in the Snoop Dogg and Pharell music video. It’s a great place to unwind and people watch.
5. Parque Lage – A beautiful public park located in the Jardim Botânico neighbourhood, at the foot of the Corcovado. Inside this preserved tropical forest is a quiet English garden and an old palazzo, built by Henrique Lage for his wife. This impressive mansion was later turned into a School for Visual Arts. You can walk through the park and visit the lush tropical garden or grab a quick bite by the pool. This tranquil atmosphere is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view of Cristo Redentor high above.
6. Ipanema beach – You can not come to Brazil without visiting some of its beaches. My favorite is Ipanema, a beach made famous by the song “The Girl from Ipanema”. All the beaches are located in the heart of the city, set against a backdrop of the concrete jungle and lush mountain ranges, a perfect place to get away from the stress of everyday life. Even on a rainy day, the beach culture in Rio prevails and we saw a lot of people down by the waterfront.
There is a lot to do at the beach – from a raucous game of feet volleyball to some makeshift soccer. Or you can sit back in one of the rented beach chairs and watch the surfers rip through the waves. On Sundays, the road closes down and is turned into a pedestrian only lane making it easy to walk and bike around. Along the patterned sidewalks, there are people selling colorful bikinis and beach wraps, perfect for souvenirs.
7. Hippie Market – The fair in Ipanema, started by a group of hippies in the 60s, has grown and evolved over the years to the extremely popular Sunday Market. With over 700 stalls, the market showcases the works of some of the city’s best artisans. It’s a great place to find a bargain on everything from jewelry to clothing to leather goods. Thousands of locals and visitors flock to the market every weekend.
In the center of the park, away from the stalls, artists set up their artwork showcasing their latest oil and watercolor paintings. Each canvas depicts scenes from Carnival, beaches, and favelas in an explosion of colors. These paintings are as bright and cheerful as the Brazilian people that created them. This is a great place to get authentic folk or contemporary art.
8. Lapa – Partiers looking to get a taste of the nightlife in Rio should head for Lapa. Located at the historic center of Rio’s downtown, this party district is where locals rub shoulders with tourists, dancing the night away in the clubs. At night the music spills out onto the street where people sway to the rhythm of the booming bass, creating a loud festive environment.
The clubs play everything from rock to samba music. One of the oldest and most well known clubs is Carioca Da Gema which plays live samba music in a tall colonial building. The club charges a small cover fee and provides a drink card to each patron. Drinks and food are added to the card and tallied up on the way out – think dim sum. After a few caipirinha, with the music pulsing and people dancing, it’s hard not to get into the groove even though we’ve never samba’d before.
Tip: There is a lot of police presence on the main street, but Lapa is still a bit of a sketchy area so make sure you don’t wander off into the dark alleys.
Cost: $30 Real
9. Hang Gliding – I always wanted to try hang gliding. So when we were planning our trip to Brazil, this was at the top of my list. Surrounded by mountains and beaches, I knew that hang gliding in Rio was going to be a very special experience. We decided to go with Estilo Vôo Livre, who were very responsive and helpful with questions and concerns that we had.
Even though we booked the trip early, due to unexpected weather conditions, it had to be rescheduled multiple times. The thing with hang gliding is that you have to wait for the perfect wind conditions, and sometimes, Mother Nature does not cooperate. On our last day, we were given the go ahead to go up the mountain, but by the time we got there, the wind picked up and we were unable to fly down. It was extremely disappointing, but completely out of our control. We would just have to come back to the city another time.
Cost: 560 Real (includes flight + insurance + permit + photos + vídeo)
10. Arpoador Rock – Located right between Ipanema and Copacabana, this is the perfect place to catch the sunset in Rio – or so we’re told. From here you can sit back and watch the surfers cut across the waves as the sun slowly fades behind Ipanema’s double peaks. Unfortunately it was rainy and overcast the days we were there. The sun was nowhere to be found, so we never got to witness this lovely view first hand.
Length of Stay: 4 days
Hotel: Sheraton – $200/night
Flight: American Airline – $375 from NY to Rio