Thursday, February 19, 2015

Back in Cidade Maravilhosa... Rio de Janeiro vol.3

Just a few weeks ago I was back in Brazil, aaaagain! And once again I found myself in Rio de Janeiro, the enchanting raw diamond of Brazil.... it seems I simply cannot avoid it even if I try (haha!). Actually my plan was to start this Brazil trip in some small idyllic beach town. But it turned out that our dartboard of a travel plan pointed our way to Rio!

The 'idyllic small beach town'.... Rio! Ipanema beach at sunset.

This was my third time in 'Cidade Maravilhosa', the marvelous city of Rio, and this time I'd booked us in for three days. Remember my last trip: 24 hours in Rio? Or my first one with a bit more of the tasty Carioca life - oh that was the life. Three days wasn't too much for Rio, but enough to kick-start another fun Brazil adventure :) It was the day after the Christmas holidays when my friend and I landed in Rio. We smoothly arrived to our cute small hotel right in the heart of Copacabana. It was late afternoon and the temperature was well over 30C... our bodies must have had a bit of the heat shock! We couldn't wait to head out for cold drinks and what better place to do that than right on the beach. Oh the sweet Brazilian life!

Luckily we had a good 9 hours of sleep while crossing the Atlantic the night before as the plan for the evening was to go dancing... obviously, zouk! We met up with the rest of our group of fearless Finns that were staying just a block or so away. In no time at all we were on our way to the famous Renata Pecanha's dance school where the party was held that night, ready to burn the floor! More about that and zouk in Rio in the next post!!

Sightseeing.... Jesus Christ!

The next day a few us decided to venture up to the Christ the Redeemer. That's the ever-so-famous statue of Jesus watching over Rio de Janeiro on top of the pointy 700m tall Corcovado hill in the Tijuca Forest National Park. With his stretched out arms the Cristo Redentor is certainly one of the most iconic images of Rio as well as the entire Brazil.

On my first time in Rio I had bit of a bad luck on the day of my Corcovado tour as the hilltop was all covered in clouds - so I was happy to make another trip there. But as I feared, we weren't the only ones with the same idea. As this was the holiday season tons of tourists (both domestic and international) that had come to Rio for New Year had climbed to the top of Corcovado as well. Lucky enough we weren't really in a hurry. And eventually, once we made it to the statue, it was all worth it as the stunning view of city and the coastline opened up in front of us.

View from the top of Corcovado - you can see Sugar Loaf on the left.

The statue itself is "only" 30m tall. It doesn't sound all that much but is quite impressive to stand right next to it - and you can see the Christ from various points in Rio, even on the other side of the city. About the history: According to Wikipedia, the idea of erecting a large statue of Christ at the peak of Corcovado was first suggested in the mid-1850's by a Vincentian priest, Pedro Maria Boss but it wasn't until the 1920's when a campaign for a statue, organised by the Catholic Circle of Rio, gained enough momentum to start turning the idea into reality. A draft of the statue with open arms, symbolizing peace, was chosen and a Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa designed the plans which European sculptors Paul Landowski and Gheorghe Leonida used to sculpt the statue. A group of engineers and technicians built the structure out of reinforced concrete and soapstone during nine years, from 1922 to 1931, and the monument was opened on 12 Oct 1931.

While the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro is not the only massive statue of Christ overlooking a city - there are many others around the world - I'd say it's probably one of the most interesting statues (whether you're a Christian or not). And the views are hard to beat! It's also one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World", along with Taj Mahal, Giza Necropolis, Petra, Colosseum, Chichen ItzaMachu Picchu and Great Wall of China - of which the latter three I've also visited (yay!) and can recommend all of them!

How to get there? The easiest way is to book a tour from various travel agencies around the city. To get there on your own you can hike up... Or better: take a bus to Cosme Velho/Corcovado, or metro to Largo do Machado and taxi/bus from there to Cosmo Velho - that is the starting point for transport to the hilltop. From Cosme Velho you can take a funicular train (on high season get your ticket the day before the latest) or jump on one of the minivans that depart from the same spot. The cost of the train or minivan is more or less the same, around R$50, and includes the entrance to the National Park (where the statue is located). Minivans depart when they are full (which is more often than the trains, usually). Prepare for lines at all points and before going do check the weather as even on sunny days the hilltop can be blocked in by clouds.

More things to do and see in Rio

Rio de Janeiro is one of those magical cities that is littered with superb sights. Doesn't every big city in the world have a lot of superb sights, you ask? Yes. And no. There are lots of things to do and see for sure. But, for a worn-out traveler like myself, I have to say Rio is quite rare. It has all the treats of a big city (wide array of activities, all the shopping you can imagine, cool nightlife, superb restaurants) but - probably due to its interesting location on the coast line, between glorious beaches, haunting hills and exotic rain forests - it has a lot more to offer than your run-off-the-mill big city.

In addition to the Christ in Corcovado that was highlighted above, three more of my personal top pics from Rio you really should not miss:
  • The beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema are the most famous ones you cannot really skip. But do venture out of the city hustle to quieter beaches. Enjoy the sun, sea, sand and the crazy array of beach vendors during the day and don't miss the sunset at Ipanema (top image on this post).
  • Pão de Açúcar, Sugar Loaf!:another beautiful hill-top with views towards the city, its undulating hills and beaches - best at sunset!
  • Escadaria Selaron and Arcos da Lapa: a truly beautiful staircase, a landmark and a work of art, close to the favelas. This highly photogenic place is also a location to many movies and music videos, for obvious reasons. The arches of Lapa is located right around the corner from there.

Obviously Rio is much more than that! These are the things I've enjoyed the most and come the most recommended in Rio:

Eat and drink well! On this last trip I really started to love the Brazilian cuisine which the locals praise on and on about. In Rio you should find a good 'quilo' (kg) restaurants where they serve food by the weight - very handy way to try a lot of things. If you love meat, then a 'churrascaria' offers excellent BBQ food. Don't forget the fresh fruits, freshly made juices (sugar is added in by default so as for 'sem açúcar' if you want without sugar) and of course the famous energy booster açaí!

Futebol... gooooooooooool! The #1 passion of Brazilians is, no doubt, football. And Rio is certainly a mecca for the football fans - go see a game at Maracanã!

Dance! Party! Samba dancers and drummers should not skip a visit to a local samba school. Carnival and New Year are sure ways to find a big party! Or why not head to the traditional weekend street party at Arcos da Lapa (just keep an eye on your belongings - or rather not: don't take anything valuable with you!). You'll find plenty more bars in Lapa too.

Blend into the nature. The Botanical Gardens is a great hideway from the city noise - and you can catch a bit of shade among the trees. You can also go hike the Tijuca Forest National Park!

Shop 'til you drop! There's plenty of excellent shopping malls all over Rio - full of shops with deliciously colorful clothes, shoes and all kinds of accessories. But my favorite place to shop is Copacabana. Just walk along the Av. Nossa Senhora de Copacabana and all its side & back streets... stop by in a juice bar... go relax for a moment on the beach... Perfect way to spend the day!

Dive into the sea of color! Rio (like all over Brazil) is full of amazing street art. You'll find new interesting things all the time.. And I would say the locals are a colorful pieces of art themselves as well!

Make your own adventure! You can do all kinds of exotic adventures in and around the city like hang glide over the city, explore beaches further afield, jump in a canoe or surf board, or climb one of the city's peaks.

Rio travel tips

Note that Rio is probably the most expensive city Brazil and in the top for the entire South America. Plan your travel budget accordingly. High season is around the local holiday times (=summer, which means winter for us on the Northern Hemisphere), especially around New Year and Carnival. During those times hotels, hostels and the likes often require a minimum stay of 5-10 days and/or advance payments, in addition to the double or triple prices. There's no way around this, everybody knows the value of their location and the popularity of Rio - so if you happen to find a remarkably cheap offer then I sincerely advice you to consider that it's fake. Best places book out months or even a year before so don't wait to book your stay.

Very often I get questions about travel safety.... And I do admit, safety is an issue where ever you travel; Rio is no exception. But don't be scared away by warnings that 'it's completely unsafe to travel' but do take care of yourself. Locals tend to exaggerate the dangers - this is common anywhere in the world - but do consider all the advice you receive.  Rio is in my very subjective opinion one of the unsafest places I've visited but on all my visits I've had absolutely no problems. My main guidelines for staying safe anywhere in the world: Don't get intoxicated. Don't carry too much valuables with you (at big events: none at all, if possible) and don't parade them in public or generally draw attention to yourself. If you find yourself in a dodgy neighborhood then leave as nonchalantly as possible. Avoid empty streets at night. Use public transport and only licensed taxis. +Every advice your mother told you as a kid :D You'll be fine.

More about safety and a lot of great travel tips you'll find in my post Make the most of your travels: 10 best tips!

Coming up in the next post: Zouk in Rio de Janeiro!


All the travel topics: Beach | Cities | Food & wine | Nature | On-a-budget
Make the most of your travels: 10 best tips!

More about Dance the World on Facebook and Twitter!

No comments:

Post a Comment