You can almost hear sultry bossa nova music as your plane descends over lush Rio de Janeiro. This vibrant coastal town on the Atlantic coast of Brazil is stunning from every angle. The locals, or Cariocas as they’re called, are warm and welcoming, with their music, food, and culture, as Rio runs on the high-energy beat of samba music. It’s a wonderful city to explore rainforests, savour some sun on the famous beaches, shop the latest fashion trends, and sip a refreshing caipirinha cocktail.
With the peaks of Sugarloaf and Corcovado, getting vertical in this town is essential. Choose a clear day, as the views from atop both peaks are unparalleled. The 38-metre statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, sits atop the 710-metre Corcovado mountain. The statue, with outstretched hands, watches over the city and symbolizes both the religion of Brazil and its welcoming nature. This peak is accessible by van, a very difficult hike, or electric train. The best view of Christ the Redeemer, however, is to take a bondi (funicular) up nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. The best time to visit the peak is at sunset, when you can watch the verdant mountaintops over Guanabara Bay disappear as the city lights start to glow in the city beneath.
Ever since the bossa nova jazz song “Girl from Ipanema” made it big in the 1960s, Ipanema Beach has been the see-and-be-seen beach for the Cariocas. People-watching is the top activity, but you’ll also see futevolei, a local take on volleyball without using hands, postos (lifeguard stations) perfect for meeting friends or stopping by a beachside cafe for a cold beer. As you walk down the beach, if you notice the beachside sidewalk switch from circles to undulating waves, you’ve crossed over to Copacabana Beach, which is often referred to as the most famous beach in the world, full of impromptu music performances, vendors, and packed with sun worshippers. These are not beaches to enjoy your solitude and the beauty of nature (for that you’d go to Joatinga); these are fun beaches to experience local life.
A mere 10-minute drive from the centre of the city, you can trek deep into the rainforest. Tijuca National Park includes 8,300 acres of urban rainforest, with 1,600 plant species and 350 species of animals. There are endless miles of trails to hike, with must-see landmarks such as the Cascatinha waterfall and the peak of Pedra Bonita mountain and ample spaces to picnic under the forest canopy. If you’re lucky, you’ll see colourful birds, sloths, monkeys, and coatis. Open Jeeps are another way to cover a lot of ground, but for the really adventurous, there’s a slackline in Pedra da Gávea where you can practise your acrobatics with breathtaking views.
The music and the food
Once a year, Rio is in the worldwide spotlight for its raucous and jubilant Carnival celebration. During the festivities, traditional samba music takes centre stage as 12 samba schools compete in elaborate parades through the Sambadrome. In the streets, you’ll also hear the African-influenced drumming subset of samba known as batucada. Carnival is a special time, but the city moves to music year round. Any night of the week, head to the bohemian Lapa district to enjoy samba and bossa nova, which merges jazz and samba in a laidback lilt.
Rio de Janeiro is known for blending traditional Portuguese dishes with Carioca flair. Start the evening beachside with the classic combination of salgadinhos (salty fried appetizers) such as bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod fritters) with an ice cold pilsner-style local beer like Brahma chopp (draft). For dinner, try a traditional feijoada, a stew of beans with beef and pork, or head to a churrascaria where different cuts of meat are barbecued and cut off giant skewers tableside.
Once you experience the beat of music, the scenery, the food, and the warmth of the people, you’ll begin to count the days till your next trip to the rich culture of Rio de Janeiro.
English Text by Laine McDonnell Translated by Rui Chen