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Monday, May 4, 2015

Top 10 things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of the biggest city in the Americas and is a crazy, exciting city bursting with culture, beauty, passion and adventure.

Rio truly is an amazing city and here's our top 10 things to do when visiting Rio.

Spend your days on Ipanema Beach
Ipanema is beautiful, a long sandy beach with stunning views over Dois Irmãos mountains. We spent a great deal of time in Rio lazing on Ipanema, cooling off with swims in the sea and returning at sunset to sit on the beach with a few drinks whilst watching the sun set over Doi Irmaos.

Ipanema Beach is known for its beauty (not just natural beauty, but also that of the people who frequent it). We joked that it wasn't hard to play "pick the tourist" amongst the bronzed, toned bodies, it helped too that the tourists (including us) are generally a little more modest in our swimwear attire too...

Copacabana Beach is certainly worth a visit too... but Ipanema was by far our favourite!

(Just a tip: whilst this didn't happen to us, we'd heard countless stories of theft on Rio's beaches... so only take what you absolutely need & always keep an eye on your things!)

Eat as much Acai as you possibly can
Acai is the Amazon's famous superfood, and everywhere you turn in Rio you'll find it! From Acai smoothies to Acai bowls with fruit, granola and many other toppings, they are sold in shops, cafes, restaurants and you'll even be offered it whilst relaxing on the beach.

You may not be sold from the first bite, but keep going & I assure you, you'll fall in love with this magical food! Strong, sweet and berry-like it is absolutely delicious, a health nut's dream food and is a must when travelling in Rio.

(Tip: Eat as much as you can in Rio... we struggled to find it anywhere else in Brazil & South America)

Catch the Cable Car up Sugarloaf Mountain
Being on a backpacker budget at the time we decided to hike halfway up the mountain and catch the second cable car to the top rather than paying for both. It was an amazing hike & workout and the scenery was amazing but I would only do this option if you are in a group (there were a few dodgy looking characters around), so strength in numbers & you'll be fine!

The cable car is an experience in itself, there's loads of information at the top about how it was built and its history etc, it really is an amazing engineering feat! The views from the top are amazing! It really is a MUST for anyone visiting Rio!

(Tip: Stay for sunset, it was by far one of the most incredible sunsets I've witnessed in all my travels!)

Pay a visit to Christ the Redeemer
This is pretty much at the top of every to-do list when visiting Rio. The Christ statue is located in the heart of Tijuca Forest National Park and offers you stunning almost 360 degree views over Rio.

(Tip: Look as close as you can because we didn't & only found out later on - the statue is actually covered in tiny mosaic tiles, which is pretty cool!)

Hang gliding
Rio is a huge, crazy and beautiful city. Hang gliding is certainly one of the best ways to take it in! I'm pretty scared of heights but absolutely loved it - so anyone really could do it. I think the pictures show more than I could ever say in words!

(Tip: Buy the photos the instructor takes, but unless you really want it the video isn't worth it. I haven't even watched it once & got over 30 great photos from my instructor, or even better if you have a GoPro BRING IT!)

Marvel at the Escadaria Selaron

Chilean Jorge Selaron's "tribute to the Brazilian people" are a landmark in Rio and famous all over the world. A lover of art, this is one of my favourite 'artworks' worldwide. Unique, creative and brilliant - this was without doubt one of my favourite places in South America.

(Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to properly take in all the tiles & aspects of the steps... we were super lucky when we went that they were basically empty!)

Go Soccer/Football crazy at Maracana Stadium
Maracana Stadium is one of the most famous soccer stadiums in the world and was built for the World Cup in 1950 and completely renovated in time for the 2014 World Cup.

The best way to experience Maracana and the Brazillian passion and love for soccer is to actually attend a game! We were so lucky to be able to see a game whilst we were in Rio and it was absolutely insane! I've always thought that North Americans were the most passionate about their sports and having attended a American Football game and baseball game - I still think the Brazillians win!

The atmosphere is impossible to explain... flags the size of buses, constant singing, chanting and screaming, shirts off, hugging and no one even sitting down the whole game! Maracana is a dry stadium too - the beer they sell is non-alcoholic, so people are literally going crazy just off adrenaline and passion! We loved it!

I highly recommend getting to a game if you go to Rio, it's such an amazing way to experience South American culture and their love of soccer!

(Tip: we booked a 'tour' through our hostel, and it included tickets, transport there and a 'guide' - we really were just dropped off out the front of Maracana. If you are on a budget/brave enough to - for the big difference in the price I'd recommend just sourcing your own tickets & getting a taxi there & home). 

Explore Tijuca National Park, the world's largest urban forest
Lush, green, dense rainforest is not what you'd expect to find in the middle of the busting city of Rio, yet that's exactly what you'll find all 32km² worth. The Emperor in power in 1861 ordered it be replanted and protected to ensure the people of Rio always have a secure water supply.

We took a day tour through Tijuca where we hiked, had a picnic, saw some incredible waterfalls and the Christ statue. There's an incredible amount of wildlife that live in the National Park and it is absolutely beautiful. Well worth adding a day to your itinerary to visit!
(Tip: Keep your eye out for monkeys! They're everywhere if you look!)

Drink traditional Brazillian Caipirinha's 
Caipirinha's are made with cachaca a distilled spirit made from sugarcane, served over ice with crushed lime and sugar.

(Tip: Be careful -  they are strong.)

Witness life in a Favela
This is not something I did personally, but Dan did. We couldn't seem to find the right tour company & ended up running out of time but Dan stayed in a hostel in a favela (much braver than us in our nice & almost beach front Ipanema hostel).

For those that don't know, a favela is a slum and a tour is an eye opening way to see how the majority of people in Rio de Janeiro live. The tours show you the daily life and challenges of life in a favela.

(Tip: Do your research and find a legitimate, grass-roots company that supports the people in the favela & may even use local guides. This is one reason we didn't do a tour as we hadn't done our research prior and didn't want to go on a big, commercialised tour).  

Do you agree with our top 10?  
Is there anything else you'd add?

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  1. This makes me want to go back to Rio so much! We were there last year but I feel like I missed out on a lot as we were there during the World Cup (so of course it was mostly about football thanks to Mr Ayla!) and I wasn't very well from a bug I picked up in Peru. I'm so disappointed that I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I could but it is an amazing city that I'd love to return to. Fantastic photos! :)

    1. I would love to go back too! It must have been so busy during the world cup but such a good atmosphere! I picked up a horrendous bug in Bolivia too, not fun at all! But did LOVE South America!!

  2. I would eat Acai until I die! Here's so expensive! (Dominican Republic). I can see you were traveling with a group, would you feel safe to travel solo there?

    1. Me too, how AMAZING is it!!
      I felt mostly safe travelling with my friends but we did use a lot of common sense (careful at night, didn't leave valuables out etc). I think it would be safe enough travelling solo as long as you were careful - didn't go out alone at night, research your accommodation carefully & use a lot of common sense you will be okay - maybe take some guided tours etc? Good luck, I hope you go it is such an incredible city/country/continent! x

  3. Reading this the more I wanted to see Rio, very colourful and looks like a good getaway with friends

    1. It really is an incredible city, we loved it!

  4. There looks like there is so much to do in Rio, from relaxing on the beach to flying above it! It looks so colourful and vibrant, really can't wait to eventually visit!

    1. I hope you guys get there soon, it is AMAZING! Lots of adventures to be had :)

  5. I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head with your list! I am so in between with Rio! Everyone has been and its such a popular place that it almost makes it less appealing to me. I am not saying in any way that its a city that I wouldn't want to visit - but for some reason its just not so high on my list! Maybe if I ever visit I will question why I didn't visit sooner!

    I had a friend who lived there for a couple of months and he spent some time wandering around the favelas. He said the living conditions of some of the people was incredibly sad and depressing.

    1. Yeah I was a bit uncertain before we went too. It is popular but it didn't feel overly touristy like a lot of other cities which was nice. It felt authentic. I hope you like it when you visit!

  6. I have always wanted to go to Rio, and your post just confirmed this. The views from the Christ the Redeemer statue are absolutely amazing! And your photos highlight well your top ten list. I really enjoyed the colorful stairs and reading the words of the designer, too. Thanks for sharing a wonderful trip.

    1. I hope you get the opportunity to visit Rio soon Tamara!

  7. I've been wanting to go to Brazil for a long time, and, of course, to Rio in particular. They say there are the tastiest fruits in the world :) And also, Rio is the capital of colours! Your pictures illustrate that very well... When I visit, I'll make sure I always have my sunglasses on otherwise all those reds and yellows and blues will make me blind, haha

    1. Haha yes it is very, very bright and colourful! We loved that about it :) I hope you love it too!

  8. I'm heading to Rio next week and this list is super helpful especially as I've only just started researching!

    1. So glad to hear it helped Jodie! We hope you have an amazing time - Rio is such an amazing city! :)