Between towering mountains and sparkling sea, Rio de Janeiro – literally translating to “January River” – is the place to be! The second largest city in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro (affectionately shortened around the world to Rio) is the home of samba, the infamous Copacabana, the beautiful Ipanema beach and one of the world’s biggest parties – Carnevale! But this vibrant Brazilian city has so much more to offer than just wild costumes, pumping samba music, beautiful bodies and teensy, tiny bathing attire. For starters, it holds a place on the 7 Natural Wonders of the World list for its staggeringly beautiful bay, surrounded by soaring cliffs and monoliths that stand like guardians of the city. If you just came to look, you wouldn’t be displeased.
Food and culture
Rio is a city of culture, steeped in an eclectic, rich history of European, African and Latin American influences. From stunning architectural gems to historic favelas, Rio is also a city rich with cultural contrasts. Visit the much lauded and lampooned Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao do Rio De Janeiro; its architecture is inspired by the Mayan pyramids and is at once impressive and odd. Rio is ripe with museums and religious buildings – if you love art and history, put aside two or three days to really take them in.
The food in Rio is rich and plentiful. Beach barbeques are a favourite of tourists, and no trip to Rio would be complete without sampling the char-grilled delicacies from a churrascaria (Brazilian barbeque).
If you’re looking for fun in the sun, head to Copacabana. Outdoor bars dot the promenade at the back of the beach, so grab yourself a caipirinha (the Brazilian version of a caprioska, except made with distilled sugar cane liquor instead of vodka), and sit back to watch the waves roll in. Don’t forget to visit the world famous Copacabana Palace Hotel (feel free to hum a little Barry Manilow while you’re there!). For a spot of people-watching, head to Ipanema beach, the epicentre of the bronzed, buffed and beautiful Brazilian beachgoer.
Enjoy the walk over to Praia Vermelha, an idyllic sandy bay tucked away to the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s seldom crowded here; find a quiet of patch of sand and relax. Sunset is the best time to visit Praia Vermelha; the setting sun bathes the whole bay in a soft red glow.
Time to ascend
It’s not all about the surf and sand, though. You only need to glance about you and all the land marks of the region are soaring upward, ready to be explored. Head up to Sugar Loaf Mountain (the famous cable car will take you to its apex, with views to die for) or to Corcovado (meaning “hunchback” in Portuguese), home of the iconic Jesus statue. The Jardim Botanico are stunning and Tijuca National Park, on the outskirts of the city, is a must see.
Embrace Rio’s culture of celebration; although Rio is known for one of the world’s most famous parties, it’s not all about Carnivale – Rio puts on a great party year round! Check out traditional New Year’s celebrations at the Umbanda Festival, light up the night at Festas Juninas or join the throngs of proud locals to celebrate Brazil’s Independence Day (September 7).
Nightlife in the city is hot, hot, hot – so head to one of the many clubs and bars downtown to samba the night away. Head to Arcos de Lapa on a Friday night; the area is full of bars and clubs and patrons spill into the streets, dancing and drinking until they can dance and drink no more. Spend a night at Rio Scenarium, a bizarre yet wonderful mashup of restaurant/music club/museum/cultural centre and antique shop.
The Final Word
Whether you want to sit back and relax on a sandy beach, party until the sun comes up or indulge in Rio’s luxe food and art scene, Rio de Janeiro’s got something for everyone. So pack your sunscreen, your dancing shoes and don’t forget your travel insurance to make sure you’re protected from the unexpected when travelling overseas. Compare travel insurance policies to find one that suits your itinerary and budget. Happy travels!
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