Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s iconic cities. Everyone is familiar with the images of Sugar Loaf mountain, Copacabana Beach, and of course Christ The Redeemer, arms outstretched looking down on to the vast expanse of mountain, ocean and city sprawl below. I was bursting with excitement to visit Rio, the first destination on our three week trip around Brazil, and I am pleased to say it completely lived up to all my expectations. Every aspect of Rio is filled with energy, passion and flavour, from the samba music played in the Lapa neighbourhood to the caiprininhas served in the beachside bars. Rio is also so stunning it’s almost unfair; the views from Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf are among the best you will see in the world and the beaches are beautiful, despite the number of people on them. I am so glad I prioritised visiting Rio, my four days there were ones I will never forget. Here’s what we did.
Went to see Christ The Redeemer
You can buy this photography print of Rio from Christ the Redeemer from my shop.
Had to be done. Christ the Redeemer, and its spectacular view, is one of the most famous sights in the world. We could have spent many more hours than we did walking around the viewing platform savouring every angle of the incredible vista below. Christ the Redeemer was mobbed with tourists and we enjoyed watching them taking photos and selfies mimicking the famous pose.
Hung out on Copacabana Beach
You can buy this photography print of Copacabana Beach from my shop.
I’d been told by a number of people that Copacabana Beach was tacky and dodgy so I was surprised by how much I liked it. Firstly, because I thought Copacabana Beach was genuinely beautiful, a massive curved stretch of white sandy beach and turquoise water lined with condos and mountains behind. Secondly, because Copacabana Beach is one of the best people watching spots I have ever encountered. Someone who grew up in Brazil told me the huge disparity between rich and poor which defines every other aspect of life in the country is irrelevant on the beach. That on the beach everyone is on the same level, in their shorts and bikinis, playing football, relaxing or swimming in the sea. There was so much happening on Copacabana Beach when we walked through it, weaving our way through the young footballers practising for the Maracana, buff volleyballers showing off their chiselled chests, families building sandcastles and ocean enthusiasts of all ages running into the sea. We were so tempted to stop at beach hut, order a caipirinha and just spend a few hours taking it all in.
Hung out on Ipanema Beach
You can buy this photography print of Ipanema Beach from my shop.
Instead we kept walking and made our way to Ipanema Beach. The same people who had told me Copacabana was dodgy had told me to go to Ipanema instead, telling me it was much nicer. It certainly was more upmarket but both beaches were lovely in my opinion. After walking through Ipanema beach we turned back and went to Arpoador.
Watched the sunset at Arpoador
You can buy this photography print of Arpoador from my shop.
Arpoador a small, rocky peninsula between Copacabana and Ipanema, is a well known sunset viewing spot so we made sure to arrive not long before the sun was due to set. We bought a few cans of Brahma and settled down on the rocks to enjoy the view, joining the many others who were there doing the same thing (this moment was the first time I realised selfie sticks were a thing). We stayed there until the sun set, sipping our beers as we watched the sky turn golden and the sun dip behind the rocks into the ocean.
Visited Santa Teresa
You can purchase this photography print from my shop.
The next day we made our way to Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is a picturesque neighbourhood with hills, narrow streets, colourful buildings and a little yellow tram which passes through. It is known as the bohemian neighbourhood of Rio and apparently lots of artists and musicians live there. There are also lots of lovely little cafes and restaurants.
Visited the Selaron Steps
You can buy this photography print of the Selaron Steps from my shop.
From Santa Teresa we made our way to the Selaron Steps. The Selaron Steps are one of the most famous sights in Rio and have a really cool backstory. The colourful tiled steps are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who in 1990 began renovating dilapidated steps that ran along the front of his house. Originally tiles for the work were scavenged from construction sites and urban waste found on Rio streets but at his project grew in notoriety people began donating tiles and now the 215 steps are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. Selarón was mostly unfazed by the attention given to him by curious onlookers and tourists and was constantly spotted at the steps working by day and treating drunken revelers to fascinating anecdotes by night. Jorge Selarón was found dead on the steps on January 10, 2013, at the age of 65 with burn marks and paint thinner on his body. Police investigated homicide but believed it was suicide.
Went for a drink in Lapa
After visited Selaron steps we heading along for a drink in Lapa, the neighbourhood in Brazil known for its nightlife and samba bars. Lapa was right beside the steps so we didn’t think twice about walking the very short distance there; except we took a wrong turn and ended up in a street that felt very dodgy indeed. This was something that was so striking about Rio; there could be busy, safe areas right beside an area that was very dangerous. Thankfully we managed to turn back in the right direction and had a drink out on the street in lively Lapa.
Went to a game at the Maracana
The following day was the experience Paul was probably looking forward to the most – attending a football game at the Maracana. The Maracana is the ultimate bucket list destination for any football fan, the most iconic stadium in the most iconic football country. We watched Rio team Fluminense play Atletico Paranaese and even though the stadium was half empty (fair enough, it holds almost 80 thousand) the fans were all gathered on one side so the crowd was packed and the atmosphere wasn’t at all diluted. The Fluminense fans put on a fantastic show; they marched into the stadium with a parade of flags, stood in their seats cheering and screaming songs throughout, and went crazy at every opportunity. It was electrifying. I previously mentioned the close proximity in Rio between very commercial and very dodgy, and the Maracana was another destination this was apparent; the huge, most famous stadium in the world is right beside a favela. Actually, when we came out there was a group of rather dodgy looking people hanging around (not saying they lived in the favela, they just looked pretty dodgy) and suddenly a fight began. Violence ensued (we saw people with blood dripping down their face) then the police arrived and began chasing those people around. This happened in the presence of tens of thousands of football fans.
Accidentally ran into a Dilma celebration party
When I was researching things to do in Rio I’d read about a bar called Bip Bip in Copacabana which hosted live samba music and appeared to be very well known. I told Paul it sounded worth visiting so we decided to head along after the football. What followed was one of the most unforgettable experiences in all our travels. On the night we visited the news had just been broadcast that Dilma Rousseff had been re-elected president of Brazil and it turned out the bar was a massive supporter of her and a hub for her supporters. The bar itself was tiny and most of the seats inside were taken up by the samba musicians who strummed their guitars and sang as Dilma supporters crowded into the space and spilled on the street outside, what must have been well over a hundred people, all wearing Dilma’s red t shirts, cheering, shouting, waving flags, crying, singing and punching the air in victory. Occasionally the owner of the bar would tell everyone to be quiet and would carry out an impassioned speech (in Portuguese so I didn’t have a clue what he was saying) as the others watched intently, hugging each in in tears. It was in an incredible atmosphere, joyous and celebratory and we stumbled upon it entirely by accident. If you follow Brazil news you will know Dilma has since been impeached. I don’t know much about Brazilian politics; the only thing I know is that my friend who lives in Brazil, whose opinion I would trust, and his Brazilian wife and her family, liked Dilma and claimed her impeachment was completely bogus and done out of spite by the lower house to stop her corruption investigations.
Spent time in Centro
The following day (slightly hungover) we went to Centro, the commercial centre of Rio. Centro is made up of tall grey office buildings, not the image most people have in mind when they think of Rio. Centro was also an area that felt distinctly dodgy; at one point a woman came up to us and advised us to put our camera away.
Went up Sugar Loaf mountain
You can buy this photography print of the view from Sugar Loaf from my shop
Later we took a walk down to Botafogo beach then took the cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. As we usually do when we visit a place with a view, we went not long before sunset to get the view both during the day and at night (and hopefully a beautiful sunset in the middle). The view from Sugar Loaf really is spectacular, it is the ideal vantage point to see the city’s lush green peaks, urban sprawl and ocean which snakes its way around. Another thing that struck me about Sugar Loaf was the number of couples passionately kissing at the top. There was loads of them. The Brazilians seem to be fans of public displays of affection.
Had a drink at Bar Urca
We had a chance for one last drink in Rio before we left the following morning so we decided to go to Bar Urca, another bar recommended in every Rio guide. Bar Urca is located right at the waterfront and everyone drinks out on the street while sitting on a little ledge by the water. We got chatting to a group of Brazilians and another man who was there with a German girl he was hosting as a couchsurfer (much hilarity ensued when the Brazilians realised the girl was German – this was a few months after Brazil suffered the humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup). Drinking out in the street with the others was so much fun and the perfect way to end our amazing time in Rio.
During this blog I have referenced several times in Rio when I felt unsafe, like when we visited Lapa, came out of the Maracana to a brawl, and were told to put our camera away in Centro (there was actually another occasion when a man in the street advised us to put our camera away when we were walking to Ipanema). Rio does feel dangerous in many areas so I would advise those travelling there to use common sense, be aware of their surroundings, and be careful.
Accomodation £400 for four nights in this Copacabana Hotel
Flights £1543 return Glasgow to Rio – Sao Paulo to Glasgow (KLM) for both Paul and I (we continued travelling around Brazil after Rio and flew back from Sao Paulo