Rio de Janeiro State
If you thought Rio was just a city, think again! Right next door, the equally enticing state of Rio de Janeiro is home to some of Brazil’s greatest treasures, all within an easy one- to four-hour journey from the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City).
East along the coast are the dunes, lagoons, white sands and limpid blue-green waters of the Costa do Sol, an ever-popular playground for surfers, divers and suntan-seeking urban escapees.
Inland you'll find Itatiaia, Brazil's oldest national park, and the spectacular Serra dos Órgãos, whose whimsically shaped peaks test the mettle of international climbers and form the backdrop for the former imperial city of Petrópolis.
West lies the Costa Verde, a gorgeous patchwork of bays, islands, waterfalls and forest-draped mountains. Highlights here include the 18th-century architecture of colonial Paraty and the vast island paradise of Ilha Grande, where dozens of hiking trails lead to more than 100 of Brazil’s most secluded beaches.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Rio de Janeiro State.
The Tijuca is all that's left of the Atlantic rainforest that once surrounded Rio de Janeiro. This 39-sq-km tropical-jungle preserve is an exuberant green, with beautiful trees, creeks and waterfalls, mountainous terrain and high peaks. It has an excellent, well-marked trail system. Candomblistas (practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé) leave offerings by the roadside; families have picnics; and serious hikers climb the 1012m to the summit of Pico da Tijuca.
Seen from the peak of Pão de Açúcar, Rio is undoubtedly a Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). There are many good times to make the ascent, but sunset on a clear day is the most rewarding. Two cable cars connect to the summit, 395m above Rio. At the top, the city unfolds beneath you, with Corcovado mountain and Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) off to the west, and Copacabana Beach to the south.
A magnificent confluence of land and sea, the long, scalloped beach of Copacabana extends for some 4km, with a flurry of activity along its length: over-amped soccer players singing their team's anthem; cariocas (Rio residents) and tourists lining up for caipirinhas at kiosks; favela kids showing off their soccer skills; and beach vendors shouting out their wares among the tanned beach bodies.
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.
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.
About 6km south of Teresópolis, off the BR-116 Rio–Teresópolis highway, you'll find the main (and most accessible) entrance to magnificent Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgaos, which offers some of Brazil's most dramatic hiking, climbing and mountain scenery. From this point of entry, visitors can access both the park's tamer lower section – perfect for a picnic with its walking trails, waterfalls, natural swimming pools and tended lawns and gardens – and the wilder upper section, with its challenging high country trails.
Rio’s Maracanã stadium is hallowed ground among football lovers. The massive arena has been the site of legendary victories and crushing defeats. Maracanã played a starring role in the 2014 World Cup when it hosted major games, including the final between Germany and Argentina. The stadium also staged the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics. No matter who takes the field, the 78,800-seat arena comes to life in spectacular fashion on game days.
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.
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.
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