Some destinations have a bad reputation for safety and security, health concerns, theft, harassment, etc., but when you actually make it and explore the city, you realize just how exaggerated that the media made a situation appear. From my experience visiting Brazil, Rio de Janiero was one of those cities. While it is advantageous to be cautious and stay alert any time while traveling, I do not find Rio to be any more dangerous than most cities.
My first attempt to make it to Rio for Carnival ended with a passport stuck in Washington DC at an embassy waiting for a visa that got held up due to a snow storm. After cancelling all of my reservations, I was extremely disappointed and frustrated and put Brazil on the backburner of trips. Fast forward several months and I had finished all of the other wonders and was trying to complete all 7 before I turned 25, so it was time to regroup and try again.
Finally the perfect opportunity came during the summer Olympics in 2016 when there was a temporary lift on the visa requirement and I quickly requested the time off, re-booked almost everything the same as before, and this time actually caught a plane to Brazil.
This destination, famous for its stunning beaches and gorgeous women, did not disappoint. Shortly after landing in Rio and changing into our swimsuits, my boyfriend and I were soaking up rays of sunshine and drinking our fill of Caipirinhas on Ipanema Beach. Caprihinhas are local drinks consisting of primarily sugar, limes, and cachaça, which I probably consumed equally as much as I did water during our visit.
The second morning, we were off to see the landmark statue and final wonder, Christ the Redeemer. Unfortunately, the park does not open before sunrise, but we scheduled the earliest morning tour which was advertised as the best way to experience the area before it becomes overcrowded. There were still several other buses of tour groups arriving for the opening, but going earlier did help to get photos of the landscape without hundreds of tourists in their fedoras blocking the view. Standing directly at the base of the statue looking up, it did not seem that Christ the Redeemer was a full 40m high. It was massive and still impressive, but did not tower over the city as much as I had imagined. The 360 view of Rio from the platform alone though was worth the trip to the top for the unrivaled view it offers of the city. Afterwards we learned that there is a hiking route from Parque Lage at the base of the hill, which is an easily accessible trail and would have been a fantastic climb.
Sugar Loaf mountain was our next stop. After a quick ticket line, we boarded the cable car that took us to the top of the mountain, leapfrogging over the middle mountain. Again this is another view that cannot be missed of Rio. There are a few trails around the top of the mountain leading to excellent lookout points over the beaches and the city. They also have a selection of small restaurants at the top where we stopped for a bowl of acai. The fresh acai they serve has recently gotten very famous for the nutrients and antioxidants it contains, but the difficulty with shipping it quickly degrades the quality of the acai when shipped to the US. Therefore, we took full advantage of the easy access and had at least one acai smoothie or bowl a day.
While traveling I try to plan for active ways of doing the tourists attractions, like biking around a city or kayaking the river, etc. Obviously that meant hang gliding in Rio was a priority. There is only one mountain in Rio that is authorized for hang gliding at the far side of Copacabana. Here we met with our friendly guide, loaded up in the truck, and headed up the mountain. At the top I quickly volunteered to be first and started getting strapped in. It worked similar to a tandem skydive where I was just along for the ride and following the basic instructions. The only one I really paid attention to was “run until the wind catches you.” As we ran off the platform and quickly dipped off the wooden platform, the wind immediately caught us and pulled us back high into the air. The view as we gradually descended in a loop over the beach was incredible and the water was clear enough to see a school of fish on the way down! Since I had PRK eye surgery scheduled for the next week I was in glasses, but the whole flight was smooth and easy so thankfully they never fell off!
Parque Lage was another highlight of the trip. Sitting at the base of Christ the Reedemer is a small park with a gorgeous Spanish style mansion. I saw pictures of the pool on the inside online when doing research on the city, but was not expecting the lovely trails and park that were a part of the grounds. This formerly private owned mansion was donated to the city and is free to the public. The edge of the park is the beginning of the trail up the mountain which we discovered while wandering the area.
As a major tourist destination there are a multitude of tour groups available to choose from which offer excursions for doing any activities in the city. Alternatively, we found it easy and much cheaper to use public transit to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain, the botanical gardens, Parque Lage, and all of the famous beaches from Copacabana to Ipanema. The public transit is uncomplicated and has numerous routes to get to all of the main destinations. Delicious food and live music is also easy to find in any of the neighborhoods or districts. Although my boyfriend did travel with me on this trip, I never felt unsafe in the city walking around even at night and would be completely comfortable returning on a solo trip. This is a city I look forward to returning to at some point whenever I finally make it to Carnival!
Hostel Average Cost: $20-35 including breakfast
Currency: Brazilian Real
Drink: Caprihinas on the Beach
Food: Acai Bowl and of course a steak dinner
Electric Outlet: European