Travel to the rhythm of the samba in Brazil

In many of the world’s famous travel destinations such as Rome, Paris, London or Bangkok, travellers often look for out-of-the-ordinary experiences, searching off the beaten track and looking for the hidden gems.

Few of these cities’ attractions disappoint, although some cost a fortune to see, but Rio takes a trip to new levels. The list of must-sees in Brazil’s most famous city is endless and although thousands of other visitors make their way up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer and down to Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, it’s worth the crowds and effort.

Before World Cup fever took hold, my friend and I made the most of a weekend in this glorious city. Below is our recommended itinerary.

First Morning Views

Spend the morning people watching at the famous Ipanema beach. The view is spectacular and it’s impossible to figure out whether it is the Cagarras Islands off the coast, the iconic peaks in the far distance or the beautiful locals that make this beach so eye-catching. Head inland, to the Garota de Ipanema, the bar where, legend has it, the song “The Girl from Ipanema” was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Morais.

Hope for clear weather and head to the Corcovado mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) as the tourist buses leave for lunch. Expect crowds, but nevertheless a breathtaking experience; the statue is situated at the peak of the 700-metre tall mountain overlooking Rio and Guanabara Bay below. The statue itself is massive, measuring 30 metres not including its eight metre pedestal. The easiest way to reach the statue is by taxi or to take the bus to Cosme Velho from where the tram to the peak leaves every 30 minutes from 8.30am-6.30pm.

Tropical Afternoon

Head back to the foot of Corcovado mountain in the South Zone (Zona Sul) and escape the crowds into the Botanical Gardens via the impressive 750 metres of palm trees leading to the entrance. The gardens were established by Portugal’s King John VI as a way to introduce spices and herbs from the West Indies and covers more than 54 hectares featuring more than 6,000 species of plant and flowers. Inside the gardens, which also cover a vast area of Atlantic Forest spreading up the slopes of the mountain, there are also a research institute and a library with more than 32,000 volumes covering South American flora and fauna.

As evening falls, go watch the sunset at the popular Azul Marinho bar and restaurant at Arpoador just along Ipanema beach. It’s a great place to sit and people watch and soak in the atmosphere of the famous stretch of sand. Order a drink and watch as scorching day turns to glittering night.

Culinary Nights

After dark, make your way into the residential neighbourhood of Humaitá in the South Zone. Apart from having a large concentration of colonial buildings, the area is also a foodie’s haven centred around The Cobal of Humaitá, a mall with a collection of specialty shops, gourmet markets, restaurants and bars.

Finish the night with a drink in the hip area of Lapa known for its bohemian lifestyle, beautiful architecture and, of course, its’ happening nightlife full of life music, bars and nightclubs. Head to Avenida Mem de Sá where the bars sit side by side and just choose one of your liking.

Walk the City

Start the second day with one of the free walking tours of the city. One of the more popular tours is Free Walker Tours which run from Monday to Saturday from Carioca Square in Largo da Carioca. The tours provide over three hours of sightseeing and visit some of the cultural and historic landmarks of Rio, including the Saint Anthony Church, the business district around Ouvidor Street, the impressive Tiradentes Palace, the Fine Arts Museum to name just a few.

For lunch, eat feijoada at the famous Casa da Feijoada on Rua Prudente de Moraes near Ipanema beach. The dish is the Brazilian equivalent of the English fish and chips in terms of national importance, but a lot more flavourful. It’s made from beans, pork, beef, sausage, pig’s ear and numerous other types of protein.

Art for Art’s Sake

Spend the afternoon marvelling at the impressive collection at the Museum of Modern Art. The museum comprises a series of permanent collections as well as special exhibitions and plays throughout galleries, theatres and a school of art. There is also a restaurant and bar on the upper level of the Modernist building, overlooking Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Evening Pursuits

Have dinner at the swish Aprazivel restaurant on the Santa Teresa hillside. Make sure to get a table on the terrace to make the best of the view over Guanabara Bay. The menu features mostly Brazilian food, and the wine list mostly local wine.

Every Monday and Friday watch the historic Padra do Sal (Rock of Salt) where slaves were bought and sold turn into a stomping ground and live concert for locals as well as visitors. Street vendors selling strong caipirinhas and local bites line the street while samba dancers fill the sloping rock.


Plan a Smooth Adventure

Getting around one of the largest cities on the planet takes some planning so make sure you scope your journeys and check out the schedules in advance for a smooth adventure.

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Lisa Lee
Lisa has travelled extensively throughout Europa and Asia writing for a number of publications and travel websites. She is an experienced diving instructor and when she is not chasing rays and whale sharks in remote island destinations, she can be found roaming around major cities in search of good food and entertainment.