Rio de Janeiro is often described as the most beautiful city in the world, but has a reputation for being quite dangerous and crime-ridden.
On my recent trip there Rio turned out to be a stunning and beautiful place, with wonderful views, hotels, restaurants and plenty to do for several days.
This article is about vacation travel tips, advice and recommendations for Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. My main reason for a trip to Brazil was to explore the Amazon, but you have to start somewhere and why not Rio?
Rio 2016: Rio has just been announced as the venue for the 2016 Olympic games, beating Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo and following on from London in 2012. The first time it will have been held in a South American country.
We flew with Iberia from London Heathrow to Rio de Janeiro via Madrid, with just a couple of hours wait in Madrid. On arrival, the official Rio de Janeiro taxis at the airport are the recommended, safest way of getting to your hotel and prepaid vouchers can be bought in the airport at the tourism desk. Alternatively there are also shuttle-buses into central Rio and to many of the hotels. We had the itinerary of flights and hotels put together for us by Audley Travel and they had arranged someone to meet us with a driver, which was probably unnecessary, but quite useful when tired after a long flight. We did however have to put up with the usual hard sell of various additional tours on the way to the hotel.
Places to Stay In Rio de Janeiro:
Hotel Luxor Regente, Rio de Janeiro:
We stayed at the Luxor Regente which is a pleasant modern fifteen-story hotel, in an absolutely wonderful location overlooking Copacabana Beach and very near Ipanema Beach. We had fantastic views of Sugarloaf Mountain and the beach from our room. Rio is divided by the Serra da Carioca Mountains into a northern and a southern zone and the hillside occupied by shantytowns on both sides. Rio de Janeiro fills a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea. It is a stunningly beautiful city and any good hotel directly next to Copacabana or Ipanema beaches, such as the Luxor Regente, would make an ideal base. The Luxor Regente has a reasonable restaurant that provided an adequate breakfast, but there are however far better, more luxurious hotels either to stay or eat at along this stretch of sand, such as the Copacabana Palace.
We walked along most of the length of Copacabana Beach from the hotel going east. It is beautiful and a great place to relax with a coconut. Rio had a bad reputation for crime, but this area seemed completely safe during the day, although walking along the beach at night may not have been such a good idea and, of course, all of the usual precautions should be taken with belongings. It was mid-September and while more than warm enough for me, the locals were not out in large numbers on the beach. Later it started raining and there was a fantastic thunder storm, which given the setting really was rather impressive. We took a taxi to praço de 15 Novembro, the center of the old colonial part of the city, but that was quite run-down and did not feel quite so safe, but certainly interesting from an architectural point of view. We decided not to stay too long and took another taxi to Santa Teresa, a less touristy area very near the hotel, which was recommended in our guidebook, but the taxi driver didn’t agree and repeatedly told us that it was not a good idea to go there on our own. We ignored him, assuming he had some ulterior motive. On arrival we discovered that he was right as it looked even more scary and deserted, so again we headed back to the safety of Copacabana Beach.
Sugar Loaf Mountain:
We booked a half-day excursion to Sugar Loaf Mountain, rather than just getting a taxi there. Well, that’s what we expected anyway. We were picked up from the hotel in a coach and taken first for a tour of the city, football stadium and cathedral. Brazilians seem to be very keen on football and couldn’t understand why we would not be interested in their stadium. We finally arrived at Sugar Loaf Mountain, located at Praia Vermelha, and took the famous trip by cable car, as seen in the Bond-film, Moonraker. It is in two sections, first going to Morro de Urca and the mid-way station with its gardens and view points, then a short walk past a cafeteria where lots of friendly salespeople tried to convince us that we really wanted our pictures on a souvenir plate. The second leg took us to the peak, Pao de Acucar, 396m above sea level. There were breathtaking views of Guanabara Bay and the city, or at least there would have been had it not been raining and very misty. It was still an incredible experience despite the weather and amusing to watch the cable car disappear into the fog.
In the evening we walked along Ave. Atlântica, next to Copacabana beach, to Churrascaria Palace, for a meal. Like so many restaurants in Brazil it was a high quality buffet and barbeque with huge a selection of meat that kept arriving at the table. I ate far too much, but there was such a great selection it was difficult not to.
Corcovado and Tijuca:
We took another half-day excursion, this time to Corcovado and Tijuca. We really should have just got a taxi on our own rather than a tour, after our experience the previous day, but we had already paid for this one. We were picked up and taken to the Cosme Velho Railway Station. The funicular railway starts here, climbing through the Tijuca rain forest to the steps of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. At over 700m above sea level, there are stunning views of the city of Rio, Guanabara Bay and Sugar Loaf Mountain. This time the weather and visibility was good. There is also a view of the Jockey Club Racecourse, Lagoa lagoon and the Leblon and Ipanema beaches and huge lumps of granite jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. The statue itself is also very impressive and huge, requiring a wide-angle article to fit it all in while at Corcovado, but is of course also a striking view from far away as well, high up of the peak of the jagged lump of rock.