Apr 30, 2013

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Top 10 Places + Travel Tips

We're back!  From our trip to Brazil, that is.  We had an amazing time experiencing the culture, the sites, the sounds, the weather, the relaxation...everything.  If you're thinking about planning a trip to South America ever, Rio is the place to go.  They have something (and more) for everyone!

Here is a list of our Top 10 Places to Visit in Rio de Janeiro:

1) Christ the Redeemer Statue - This amazing statue sitting atop Corcovado mountain is one of the seven "New" Modern Wonders of the World.  The approx. 130 ft tall statue sits on the top of a steep mountaintop overlooking the massive metropolis of Rio de Janeiro.  The awesome views from all sides will not disappoint!

(up close!)

(from afar!)

2) Escadaria Selaron - This colorful stairway art feature was created by Chilean born artist Jorge Selaron, starting in 1990.  He sadly passed away recently, but he continued work on his masterpiece up until then.  People brought Selaron tiles from all over the world so he could incorporate them into his large-scale mosaic.  (Note the "Don't Mess With Texas!" tile below...represent!)

3) Sugar Loaf - You can hike it, you can climb it, you can repel off it, or you can just ride the gondola!  Whichever way you choose to summit the peak, the views are simply breathtaking.

(view of Copacabana Beach from Sugar Loaf)

(view of Rio harbor from Sugar Loaf, downtown Rio is at 12 o' clock)

4) Tijuca National Park - The world's largest urban forest (it literally sits smack dab in the middle of Rio!), this area was once deforested to grow coffee but was replanted starting in 1860 to reclaim the vast area as a vibrant rainforest.  Today it is full of lush indigenous and foreign plants, flowers, and trees, and myriad wildlife including monkeys and birds.

 (spot the monkey in the middle?)

5) Copacabana Beach - One of the most famous beaches in the world!  And, it totally deserves to be in the best-of bunch because it's a prime beach location.  Broad white-sand beaches, sprawling surf (the beach is 2.5 miles long), gorgeous scenery, and it's picturesque black and white wave mosaic boardwalk are just a few draws for this quintessential beach.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is the BEST beach to stay on in Rio.

6) Cathedral of Saint Sebastian - An example of the amazing architecture in downtown Rio, this cathedral was built in the 1960-1970s.  It's a huge conical structure that somewhat resembles a Mayan pyramid.  The view of the stained glass from inside is breath-taking.  See for yourself...

7) Botanical Garden - We only drove past this site, but it's the one place I wish we had taken the time to go back and visit.  It contains more than 6,000 species of plants and trees, including 900 varieties of palm trees.  Oh well, I guess we'll have to go back to Rio to take a walk through this site someday!

8) Downtown Rio - In a city of 7 million people, "downtown" is a broad term but I'm referring to the area near the main business district, the hub of the city.  We took a wonderful walking tour of the area in one afternoon, so I know we barely scratched the surface of the vast city's offerings.  Here were a few of our favorite stops...

 (quaint side street leading to the Imperial Palace)

 (Imperial Palace)

 (Opera House)

(Cinema Square - love the yellow art deco building!)

9) Confeitaria Colombo - An awe-inspiring Viennese coffee house established in the 1890s, this cafe had major design appeal and fantastic food.  It sits on a tiny side street downtown, so be careful not to miss it.  I'd like to try breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert here...we only got lunch.

(oh, those floors!)

(the pattern on these vintage tins made me swoon)

10) Ipanema/Leblon - These high-end beach neighborhoods sit adjacent to Copacabana Beach.  We walked over from our hotel in Copacabana one afternoon to visit the Sunday "Hippie Fair" Market in Ipanema and walk through the malls of Leblon.  A very nice area with a mega-big price tag for real estate...worth a free visit, but I'd stay in Copacabana.

(note the different black and white mosaic pattern on Ipanema sidewalks) 

(Hippie Fair Market, Ipanema)

And now, a few Rio travel tips that will make your trip most enjoyable!
1) Have airport transfers coordinated in advance.  You don't want to have to worry about how you'll get all the way across town in a country where most people DO NOT speak English.  Going to a foreign country can be stressful enough...you might as well know who is picking you up at the airport.

2) Hire a personal tour guide.  We found our guide, Daniel Cabral, top-rated {here} on Trip Advisor and I cannot say enough great things about him.  Daniel made our trip a great success and I highly recommend him to anyone and everyone.  He coordinated our above airport transfers and spent 1.5 days taking us around to all the sites of Rio.  A must in order to get the most out of such a culturally diverse place!

3) Eat the local fare - food in Rio is phenomenal.  They eat a lot of beef and cheese, so get ready for some cow y'all.  Try out a local Churrascaria (Portuguese word for "BBQ") where they bring many fine cuts of meat to your table and slice off a portion for you; try a Caipirinha cocktail (or two) made with sugar cane liquor, lime, and sugar; and definitely don't miss the locals' favorite weekend dish, Feijoada - a delicious bacon and sausage black bean stew served over white rice, with oranges, sautéed kale, and Farofa (google it!) as sides.

4) Visit the Hippie Fair in Ipanema on Sunday afternoon.  They have everything under the sun, and more!  The art showing was quite impressive.  Local artists gather around the interior section of the market surrounding the fountain (see photo above).

5. Take time to relax.  Rio has so many cultural adventures to take part in, and so much site-seeing to be done.  Don't forget to plan a few relaxing beach days into your trip itinerary.

6. Leave expensive jewelry and accessories at home.  First off, locals don't wear flashy things because they're very laid back and dress casually.  Second, pick-pocketing can happen if you make yourself a target.  Don't stand out, and you'll feel safe.  I can confidently say that we never once felt unsafe while in Rio.

7. Visit during an "off" season.  Rio can get very crowded during its peak season, December-March.  Rio is most crowded during Carnival, which typically takes places in February or March depending when Lent and Easter fall that year.  Our trip in April provided the perfect daytime temperature range of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.  No crowds, no lines, no stifling heat...paradise.

8. Take a few credit cards with you - carry one, and place the others in a safe.  Anytime you travel overseas, you want a back up credit card or two in the case that yours is compromised.  Also, always notify your credit card company of your travel dates, so they don't assume your foreign transactions are fraudulent charges.

If you made it with me through my entire post...God bless you!  Hopefully we got your travel wheels a spinnin'.

I'll be looking for some good Brazilian recipes to share with you soon.  Oh, and we bought some great art that I look forward to sharing with you soon!


Mindy said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

SO awesome!!!! Can't wait to hear some recipes and see the art!

Danielle from Storypiece said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Wow... it looks amazing! I know very little about Rio and now I want to check it out. Great tips too!

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