Going to Brazil was always a dream of mine. I realized that dream this spring when I went to visit the beautiful Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is what everyone says it is. It is a magnificently beautiful city with views of the ocean that you would swear is heaven. There's a reason this place is where beautiful people live, love, and visit. Rio de Janeiro is one of my favorite places already. It, like many other cities I visit, is a true metro. Home to several million people, many of home are of African descent.
Here are some of my favorite things about Rio de Janeiro:
Rio de Janeiro is a place to admire amazing architecture, reflecting on its historical relevance in world history. Rio de Janeiro has flawless white high rises overlooking some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Off in the not so far distance are mountains, rain forests, and a sea of brightly colored favela homes. If you're looking you can walk the city long enough to venture into its many parts that can take you from urban jungle, beach retreat, to deep in the heart of forest green trees and waterfalls.
Rio is home to world famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema. The beaches are those of legendary dreams. They have some of the whitest sand I've ever seen. The beaches are unsullied and clean. They are sprinkled with bikini sellers speaking Portuguese loudly and wiping sweat with fresh white towels. I've found the Rio beaches to be serene mostly in the mornings with few tourists in the early hours. By high noon, you will catch a random American tourist sunbathing topless (Brazilians don't sun bathe topless) and random men selling 'I love Rio' keychains to hungover spring breakers. By nightfall you will find many people vacating the beaches for nightclubs. I strongly recommend visiting Ipanema and forgo Copacabana if you are looking for a place that lacks a lot of volleyball games, 12 member family tents, and topless Americans. No need to bring food as snacks are readily available at reasonable prices.
Tijuca rainforest is considered by many to be one of the largest urban rainforests in the world. When we went to visit we were transported in a mini van with a tour guide who was a native Brazilian. Aside from speaking fluent American English, he was also very entertaining and hilarious. The ride from Rio's beaches to the rainforest is not a short one. In Rio traffic it took us about an hour and a half. Although at times it didn't seem as if we were going up a mountain, there were distinct times where I looked down and almost passed out. I'm not scared of heights but I'm not the biggest fan of heights either. The ride up the top and through the neighborhoods were scenic. I recommend you visit this forest in the morning on a weekday to avoid long lines. The best way to visit is with a knowledgeable tour company like Brazilian Expedition.
You can't help but notice the favelas in Rio that populate the mountainside. Like many, I was intrigued by the people who lived there. I took a modest venture in, seeking to go on a ground tour-rather than a armed jeep ride. See my review of Rocinha here. I also recommend visiting Santa Marta since it too is home to several hundred thousand Brazilians.
Lapa is such a great neighborhood in Rio. It is home to several cool bars and restaurants that come alive at night. Though you have to mindful of a few shady characters looking to pick pocket drunk tourist, the area is relatively safe and houses some of the tasty restaurants. After visiting the infamous Selaron Steps in Lapa, you have to make your way to some of the traditional Brazilian restaurants. The prices at almost every restaurant we visited was reasonable with ample serving sizes and a fair share of drinks to complete any meal. What I especially loved was how interactive the staff were, although speaking primarily in Portuguese, it was still quite the interaction. A trip to Rio would not be complete without going to Lapa.