Rio de Janeiro
Golden beaches and lush mountains, samba-fueled nightlife and spectacular football matches: welcome to the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City).
Looking out from the 2329ft (710m) peak of Corcovado, you will see why Rio is called the Cidade Maravilhosa. Lushly forested mountains fringe the city, shimmering beaches trace the shoreline and a string of tiny islands lie scattered along the seafront. Far from being mere cinematic backdrop, this seaside beauty hosts outstanding outdoor adventures: hiking in the Tijuca rainforest, cycling alongside the lake and beaches, sailing across Baía de Guanabara (Guanabara Bay), and surfing, rock climbing and hang gliding amid one of the world's most stunning urban landscapes.
Rio's beaches have long seduced visitors. Copacabana Beach became a symbol of Rio during the 1940s, when international starlets would jet in for the weekend. Hogging the spotlight these days is Ipanema Beach, its fame and beauty unabated since bossa nova stars Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes introduced the world to its allure in the 1960s. For cariocas (residents of Rio), the beach is Rio's backyard – a playground that's free and open to all, offering endless enjoyment in the form of football, volleyball, surfing, snacking, drinking or simply relaxing amid the passing parade of people.
The Rhythms of Rio
Music is Rio's lifeblood, and the city's soundtrack comprises rock, old-school bossa nova, hip-hop, funk and Brazil's many regional styles. Above all there's samba, a rapid-fire style of music with African influences and an infectious beat that is synonymous with Rio. You can hear it all over town, but the soul of samba resides in Lapa, the red-light district that's home to dozens of live-music halls and an enormous weekend street party that draws revelers from all walks of life. Samba is also the integral sound during Carnaval, and the danceable backing music to street parties and all-night parades.
Joie de Vivre
Speaking of Carnaval, Rio knows how to party. Whether you call it joie de vivre, Lebensfreude or lust for life, cariocas have it in spades. Carnaval, and the buildup to it, is the most obvious manifestation of this celebratory spirit. But Rio has many other occasions for revelry: celebrations after a big Flamengo (or Vasco, Fluminense or Botafogo) soccer match; weekend samba parties around town; baile funk parties in the favelas (slums, informal communities); and boat parties on the bay – not to mention major fests such as Réveillon (New Year's Eve) and the Festas Juninas.
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One long stretch of sun-drenched sand, Ipanema Beach is demarcated by postos (posts), which mark off subcultures as diverse as the city itself. Posto 9, right off Rua Vinícius de Moraes, is where Rio’s most lithe and tanned bodies migrate. The area is also known as Cemetério dos Elefantes because of the handful of old leftists, hippies and artists who sometimes hang out there. In front of Rua Farme de Amoedo is Praia Farme, the stomping ground for gay society. Posto 8 further east is mostly the domain of favela kids. Arpoador, between Ipanema and Copacabana, is Rio’s most popular surf spot. Leblon attracts a broad mix of single cariocas (residents of Rio), as well as families from the neighborhood. Posto 10 is for sports lovers, where there are ongoing games of volleyball, soccer and frescobol (beach tennis played with wooden rackets and a rubber ball). Whatever spot you choose, you'll enjoy cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana. Keep in mind that if you go on a Saturday or Sunday, the sands get crowded. Go early to stake out a spot. The word ipanema is an indigenous word for ‘bad, dangerous waters,’ which is not far off, given the strong undertow and often oversized waves that crash onto the shore. Be careful, and swim only where locals do.
Standing atop Corcovado (which means ‘hunchback’), Cristo Redentor gazes out over Rio, a placid expression on his well-crafted face. The mountain rises straight up from the city to 710m, and at night the brightly lit 38m-high open-armed statue – all 1145 tons of him – is visible from nearly every part of the city. Corcovado lies within the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. The most popular way to reach the statue is to take the red narrow-gauge train that departs every 30 minutes, and takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the top. Note that same-day tickets are not available from the cog train station. Buy tickets online or from an authorized seller around Rio (the website lists numerous places to buy under 'Selling Points'); you must select a date and time when purchasing. To reach the cog station, take any ‘Cosme Velho’ bus: you can take bus 583 from Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon. You can also go by Parque da Tijuca–authorized van to visit the monument. These depart from three locations around town: Copacabana (in front of Praça do Lido from 8am to 4pm; adult/child R$74/48), Largo do Machado (8am to 4pm; adult/child R$74/48) and Paineiras, a few kilometres north of the statue (8:30am to 5pm; adult/child R$41/15).
This exotic 137-hectare garden, with more than 8000 plant species, was designed by order of the Prince Regent Dom João (later to become Dom João VI) in 1808. The garden is quiet and serene on weekdays and blossoms with families on weekends. Highlights of a visit here include the row of palms (planted when the garden first opened), the Amazonas section, the lake containing the huge Vitória Régia water lilies, and the enclosed orquidário, home to 600 species of orchids. There's an outdoor snack bar on the grounds (near a playground) and an appealing cafe just outside the main entrance. The new visitor center shows films (in English and Portuguese) that give the history of the gardens, and has a gift shop selling unique crafts and souvenirs, such as shirts made of bamboo and bowls with pre-Columbian designs made from banana fibers.
This beautiful cultural center hosts impressive exhibitions, often showcasing the works of some of Brazil's best photographers and artists. The gardens, complete with artificial lake and flowing river, were designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. There's also a craft shop, and an excellent cafe that serves breakfast all day as well as lunch and afternoon tea. On display there's usually at least one Rio-focused exhibition, which taps into the extensive archive here: the IMS has more than 80,000 photographs, many portraying the old streets of Rio as well as the urban development of other Brazilian cities over the last two centuries. Check the website to see what's on when you're town.
One of the city’s most picturesque spots, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is encircled by a 7.2km walking and cycling path. Bikes are available for hire from stands along the east side of the lake, as are paddle boats. For those who prefer caipirinhas (cocktails made from limes, sugar, ice and high-proof sugarcane alcohol) to plastic swan boats, the lakeside kiosks on either side of the lake offer alfresco food and drinks, sometimes accompanied by live music on warm nights.
One of Rio's best-loved attractions, the steps leading up from Joaquim Silva became a work of art when Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón decided to cover them with colorful mosaics. A dedication to the Brazilian people, the 215 steps are a vivid riot of color.
A much-photographed symbol of Lapa, the arches date back to the mid-18th century, when the structure served as an aqueduct to carry water from the Carioca River to downtown Rio. In a style reminiscent of ancient Rome, the 42 arches stand 64m high. Today the arches carry the bonde cable car on its way between Centro and Santa Teresa. Located near Av Mem de Sá.
The bonde is the last of the historic streetcars that once crisscrossed the city. Its romantic clatter through the cobbled streets is the archetypal sound of bohemian Santa Teresa. Currently the bonde travels every 15 to 20 minutes from the cable-car station in Centro over the scenic Arcos da Lapa and as far as Largo do Guimarães in the heart of Santa Teresa. After a tragic accident in 2011 the bonde was taken out of commission while much-needed improvements to the track were made. After more than four years the line reopened – but now it only travels 1.7km of its 10km of track. Although work on further sections of the track has been promised, the project's estimated cost (around R$100 million) makes it unlikely that the bonde will continue beyond Largo do Guimarães any time soon.
At the far eastern end of Av Vieira Souto, this rocky point juts out into the water and serves as one of Rio's best places for watching the sunset. Throughout the day, you'll spot fishers casting off the rock, couples stealing a few kisses and photographers snapping that iconic length of Ipanema Beach that stretches off toward the towering peaks of Dois Irmãos. You'll also see large flocks of surfers jockeying for position offshore. Around the western edge of the rock is the tiny, secluded Praia do Diabo (Devil's Beach); it's a fine place to take in the views, but swim with caution. A very rustic gym is built into the rocks (wtih Fred Flintstone–style barbells with concrete weights and chin-up bars).
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