If I say Rio de Janeiro, the first thing that comes to mind are the beautiful Ipanema beach, populated by fascinating carioca (which means exactly “native of Rio”) women and then Copacabana beach, full of Brazilian kids playing football and dreaming of the famous city stadium, the Maracanã (the footie fan dreamed at least once to roam on the green-gold beaches like Ronaldo “O fenomeno” in the famous 90s Nike spot).
And again Christ the Redeemer, located at the top of the Corcovado hill, one of the new 7 wonders of the world, rising above the bay (in my opinion the true wonder of the world) and giving a sense of protection to anyone admiring it. I have been 3 times in Rio, the only place outside the European borders that I visited more than one time and where I would go again (I did almost 25 intercontinental journeys).
I visited Rio whether in summer or winter period (the cold Brazilian winter with temperatures between 18 and 25 degrees celsius…), I experienced it twice during new year’s fireworks on Copacabana beach (to do at least once before dying, don’t miss the video), I lived it by day and by night, I flew over the bay even by helicopter; I have to say that every time Rio de Janiero was able to surprise me in a different way.
It is reductive to assert that Rio de Janeiro is a wonderful city, Rio de Janeiro is THE wonderful city; it’s perfect for singles, it’s perfect for couples, it’s perfect for families, it’s perfect for those who want to visit and discover. Rio de Janeiro is Brazil and Brazil is Rio de Janeiro. A wonderful place but full of contradictions; there are rich people living in luxury in the most exclusive neighborhoods (Ipanema and Leblon) and a few steps away you can find big favelas, impressive urban agglomerates defined ‘popular areas’ (to be benevolent). It must be said that not all the favelas are dangerous and most of them have breathtaking landscapes on the bay. As always, I suggest you to visit everything you can, better getting an idea yourself than hearing another’s opinion. If you go to favelas, go always with a local guide.
What to see in Rio de Janeiro
Oh my God! I stayed a month in Rio and still not finished visiting all main places and attractions.
The first thing to do is, of course, visiting Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado and enjoying the priceless view of the bay.
The second thing to do is climbing on Sugar Loaf, a famous hill located about 400 meters above sea level, by the “Bondinho” cableway; full view of the city including Christ the Redeemer. And here, with my friends Valerio and Pasquale, during our first journey, I flew on the bay by helicopter, the only way to see the Christ and the bay at the same time (since the Christ is facing the bay). No words, look at the video.
I suggest you to go to Lappa, the central district, for a quick tour of the center (not so impressive, even the Cathedral is not unforgettable) and don’t miss Escadaria Selarón, a deteriorated staircase transformed into an artwork by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón.
One of the most beautiful places in Rio is certainly Parque Lage, in the Jardim Botanico district at the foot of the Corcovado. The house, surrounded by the sub-tropical Tijuca forest, was initially home to the industrial Enrique Lage and later converted into a public park. It is incredible how this place is much more visited by locals than by tourists.
If you have time organize an excursion in the Tijuca National Park, a green sub-tropical forest surrounding the city in the Christ area, full of waterfalls, small rivers and breathtaking views like the famous “Vista Chinesa”.
Last but not least, without any doubt my favorite place. Do you remember the classic photo of Ipanema beach with those two green mountains overlooking the beach? Well, that’s Morro Dois Irmãos (“Two brother’s hill”). I’m afraid I get there only at my third journey in Rio. It is absolutely the most beautiful place where you can enjoy the best view. It’s not easy to reach it: first go inside the favela of Vidigal with a local guide and arrive at the beginning of the “Trilha” (path). A weary 45-minute climb of this hill full of vegetation will take you to enjoy the most beautiful view of Rio.
Go and visit the Santa Teresa district, if possible by the famous tram, then at sunset go for an aperitif at the exclusive Bar dos Descasados, inside the Santa Teresa hotel. You will thank me.
Finally, if you have time, take a walk around the “Lagoa” and the botanical garden. Cherry on top, go see a soccer match at the Maracana, it’s worth it.
We have seen Fluminense -Vasco da Gama, a great show (look at the video)!
Beaches of Rio de Janeiro
Ipanema of course, for beauty, people and for all the surroundings. The famous song “Garota de Ipanema” (The girl from Ipanema) by Antônio Carlos Jobim wasn’t written by chance. Drink coconut water, very fresh and tasty. Leblon, next to Ipanema, is quieter and full of families.
Copacabana, more rustic and popular, deserves a bath and some soccer playing with “meninos brasileiros” that crowd it.
Arpoador (where the cover photo of the article was taken), the conjunction between Ipanema and Copacabana, is known as the meeting place for surfers. I recommend you to go there at sunset for an aperitif.
Flamengo and Botafogo, located in the respective districts are frequented exclusively by residents; they deserve a walk and some beautiful shots to the adjacent Sugar Loaf.
Finally, the beach of Barra da Tijuca, a newly built neighborhood about 25mins drive from Ipanema. A 15km very beautiful and long beach, where you can find only local people. I highly recommend it, in particular “Praia do Pepe”, right at the beginning.
Where stay in Rio
If you have a good budget, stay in Ipanema or Leblon, alternatively in the cheaper district of Copacabana. They are undoubtedly the best places to get around the city.
Apartment or Hotel?
Apartment of course, less expensive and with more privacy. In the districts I recommended above, the buildings are beautiful and almost all equipped with security service all day. We stayed in Copacabana, Arpoador and the last time in Ker-Sol a stunning beachfront apartment in Ipanema!
If it is not available, there are many others nearby. The people in the district are very hospitable and helpful. If you prefer a hotel and if you have just won the lottery, I recommend you, at least for a night in life with your girlfriend, the most prestigious hotel in the city, the Fasano Hotel located at the beginning of Ipanema beach. The terrace with the pool facing the beach is gorgeous. Even the Copacabana Palace, in the homonymous district, is famous for the movies shot inside.
Best time to visit Rio de Janeiro
The Brazilian summer, from December to March, is definitely the most suitable time for those who want to enjoy sea, sun and fun; in this period, you have the two main events in Rio, the New Year and the Carnival, without any doubt the most famous and important of the whole world. On the other hand, it is very hot (temperatures get easily 40° with high peaks of humidity), there are thousands of tourists, beaches are very crowded and prices are higher every year, also due to recent sport events (2016 Olympic Games and 2014 soccer world cup).
In the rest of the year temperatures are close to the Italian spring, few tourists, prices are more affordable and, if you are passionate about photos like me, you can make much more impressive shots, as the sky is clearer due to the lack of humidity. My first journey in Rio was in August (Brazilian winter) and I have to say that I enjoyed visiting as a tourist. The two others journeys, on New Year’s Eve, my friends and I let ourselves be “infected” by the exuberance of the Brazilian people. Look at the video!
Is Rio de Janeiro safe?
One of the most frequently asked questions: isn’t it dangerous to visit Rio de Janeiro? I am Neapolitan (so not really Swiss…) and I always blamed prejudices and commonplaces (often unjustified) about my city; I say no, Rio is not dangerous. Just respect the most basic security rules when traveling abroad: dress in a discrete way, avoid any kind of accessory, just few cash money, but above all keep away from isolated and un-touristy places. The only serious problem is the beach thieves, incredibly fast (ask my friends Pasquale and Milos for confirmation …). Never go into the favelas without a guide or local people.
Nightlife for us tourists is mainly around the streets of Ipanema and Leblon, full of little club with live music. I do not suggest one in particular, follow your heart …
In the central district of Lappa there are more characteristic club (and even more rustic, don’t get overdressed !!!) as the famous (and very tourist) Rio Scenarium, a beautiful club on 3 floors with live music rooms, and the Bar Carioca da Gema, a place with overwhelming Brazilian music “au vive”. And, in conclusion, we debunk another myth: Brazilian women are very sociable, but not “available”; use the romantic and gallant charm of the Latin man, a rare commodity here, and perhaps you will win one cariocan heart!
I love Rio!!!!