Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is definitely one of the top destinations on everyones bucket list. For us visiting Rio was an absolute must. Everything you see on TV from the white-sand beaches to the music, carnival, soccer, food etc etc makes you want to visit Rio. When we decided to go to Brazil in 2013 of all the places we wanted to go, we decided to visit Sao Paulo for a few days and then headed out to Rio. If you decide to do this same route, what we did was to take a bus from Sao Paulo to Rio which is only about a 6 hour ride in very comfortable buses which are not very expensive. This is a great alternative if you are on a budget since most of the time it is much cheaper to fly internationally to Sao Paulo than it is to fly to Rio de Janeiro.
Once you arrive to Rio you can definitely feel a “good vibe” that the city radiates. About 90% of what you see on TV and movies about Rio is either Ipanema or Copacabana which are the two most famous beaches in Rio. To save money on accommodations, we decided to stay a couple of nights in Downtown Rio, which to the naked eye does not look very fancy, since it isn’t very clean and you might not feel as safe at night as you might in the more touristy spots, but I always like to experience every city as a local as much as possible. Most of the historic places to visit are located in Downtown Rio, the Lapa neighborhood, the famous stairs, and all of the museums and cultural buildings in the city.
1. Great People!
Brazilian people are overall very welcoming and extremely nice to tourists, but we felt that Carioca (which is the term for people from Rio de Janeiro) are overly friendly. Every little bar, restaurant you go people are happy to assist you and seem to be in a very good mood most of the time. One great memory we have of Rio was when we stumbled upon a little bar on the beach that said “World’s Best Caipirinha”, we had already tried about 3 or 4 different caipirinhas in some other fancier restaurants and were not happy with any of them, we were about to give up on trying a good Brazilian caiphirina and could not resist to see if the little shack bar was true to its advertising. Hold a behold the bartender who was laughing the whole time while preparing the caipirinha told us that we will not have to pay if we did not think this was the best caipirinha in the world… a few zips later we paid for the cheapest and best drink we had in Brazil.
2. Unbelievable Scenery
Rio de Janeiro is probably one of the few big cities in the world where beautiful white sand and clear water beaches are radiated by green flush mountains. I’m sure you have seen plenty of pictures from the Cristo Rendentor, but the feeling you get of viewing this magnificent city from the altitude of its surrounding mountains is unbelievable. There are two big mountains in Rio de Janeiro Corcovado where the famous Christ the Redeemer is located and Sugarloaf Mountain. Both of these have ferrys that take you to the top at a steep price of about U$ 40 per person. So what we decided to do after some research only was to pay for the ticket to Corcovado since we could not leave Rio de Janeiro without taking our picture with the Christ statue and then decided to climb up Sugarloaf Mountain. We had such a blast climbing Sugarloaf Mountain, there are actually two parts of this mountain, if you decide to save the money of the ferry and climb you can only get to the top of the lower mountain which still has some killer views of Rio de Janeiro. Anywhere you go in Rio you get breathtaking scenery that makes you want to take millions of photos of everything you see. One very curious note I have about Rio de Janeiro is how the people in the fabellas have the best views of the city. The expensive building in Copacabana and Ipanema will die to have the views that their neighbors from some of the poorest parts of town get from their mountaintop houses.
I knew based on some Brazilian food I had eaten before that it was good, but wait until you get to Rio to experience some of the most amazing food ever. You don’t have to go to any fancy restaurants to experience all of the amazing flavors that brazil has to offer. Starting with breakfast, Rio de Janeiro is full of Juice Stands all over the place where you can get a fresh fruit smoothie, avocado is actually a fruit for Brazilians instead of a vegetable so make sure you try a smoothie with avocado in it. Our absolute favorite pick for breakfast and pretty much any time of the day is the famous Acai bowl. You can’t find this stuff anywhere else but in Brazil, the cheap and amazing Acai Bowls full of fruit and protein on top will fill you up and have you feeling good all day long. For lunch you can’t go wrong with a picanha steak or the famous feijoada. At the end of the day you can try the many different sandwich variations that you can find in Brazil.
I have always enjoyed Brazilian music in general from traditional Samba to more modern Brazilian Hip Hop. Brazil is such a large country rich in culture, because of this you get many different styles of music and in Rio de Janeiro you can hear amazing music pretty much anywhere you go. On one of the first nights we went out in the Lapa Neighborhood where you can find plenty of restaurant/bars with live music. On the Copacabana/Ipanema streets you will find little samba bands playing at the end of the night, we saw a group of old men probably in their 80’s playing some of the best samba we experience while in Rio de Janeiro.
5. Rio will keep you active
From the time you visit Copacabana and Ipanema you will be amazed of how most Cariocas are very fit. Along the beaches you will find open public gyms with people working out at any time of day. Rio is a beautiful city to get your workout while you visit. One very neat thing that Rio has to offer is the bicycle stations that you find in every corner. Once in Rio sign up for an account to use the bikes and you can download an app to your phone that will show you where there are bicycles available, this is the best and most affordable way to get around Rio. Besides cycling in Rio, you will get to do a lot of walking and hiking if you decide to hike up Sugarloaf Mountain to catch the wonderful views as well as walking along the beach to see the perfect sunsets Rio has to offer.