TOP SIGHTS IN THE CARNIVAL CAPITAL OF RIO DE JANEIRO
The last stop on our South American adventure was specifically chosen to be the carnival capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. We wanted to end the trip on a high and following our time in Praia do Forte, we needed things to get back to a faster pace. although we weren’t able to be in Rio for the New Year’s carnival, we experienced all the hype leading up to the main event.
We picked The Belmond Copacabana Palace as our base for 3 nights, which as the names suggests has a prime location on Copacabana beach and is quite the place to celebrity spot!
Being in Rio we had a jam packed Itenary, which focussed very heavily on the sights rather than the foodie destinations for once. There was a lot to get through and we also wanted to come back and relax and actually make use of all the amenities in the Belmond Copacabana Palace. Therefore we were yoyo-ing from hotel to sights quite a bit but nevertheless Rio is a major bucket-list destination and we crammed in as much as we could. So lets get started because this is going to be a bit of a long one!!
CHRIST THE REDEEMER (CRISTO REDENTOR)
We had pre-arranged with our tour agents, latinanamericaforless, that we wanted to get to the most iconic statue in South America as early as possible as the place gets crowded meaning it’s pretty difficult to get photos and a real perspective of the views from Corcovado Mountain. Therefore they ensured that we had the earliest tickets possible for the 08:30 entry. We had transport waiting so at 07:45 after a hearty breakfast on a gloriously hot day we headed to see Cristo do Redentor. Once at the entrance terminal, we took a tram along with not as many people as expected to the top (takes around 20-25 minutes), you then have a short uphill walk before you get a proper glimpse of the statue.
It is at this point you need to get yourself to infront of the statue as soon as possible and take all the shots/selfie style and anything else desired with you in them as within a matter of seconds the place will be engulfed by people. I didn’t fully appreciate how fast this happens but we made it. Instead of looking at the views we just headed for the statue and got our pics! Don’t also be shy to ask someone to take a photo for you. Come on guys it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and everyone’s there for the same reason!!
Next I would recommend just walking out of the crowds a little and looking out over to Sugar Loaf Mountain, the sea and you’ll see views of the beaches around you. Just standing there and taking in the enormity of the statue. You are at one of the World’s Wonders, it’s a big deal I think but for me I was actually more interested in the views. I’m going to say, it’s pretty darn amazing but the statue of Liberty was better! OMG, I said it!
We had the opportunity to visit twice, therefore I can share a slightly overcast view with a perfect blue sky view!
Booking wise, you can buy tickets online and I would definitely say do this and get there as early as you can because you really don’t want to be shoving people out of the way. I cannot re-iterate this enough. Go early, get the pic, be blown away by the views and get the tram back and carry on with the sights!
Firstly I just wanted to say that Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain are 2 separate sights! It may be obvious but I know many others have been confused about this. Once I started to do my research I was put straight. Christ the Redeemer provides magnificent views over the bay and of Sugarloaf Mountain however Sugarloaf Mountain really does provide the views over the city, Copacabana Beach and its’ just magical, I would say it’s actually blow-out!
Once dropped off at the entry or reception point for Sugarloaf Mountain, you take a cable car up to a platform from where you can arrange a helicopter ride or take some cool photos.. However to get the full sweeping view, you take another cable car up to the upper terminal point. Here is where you will have those views of Christ the Redeemer as we did and we spotted the famous Copacabana beach by the long stretch of white powdery sand.
Just to note if you want a good shot of yourself with the mountain in the background, it’s best to do this at the first viewing platform as otherwise the next cable car takes you to the mountain!
The views truly are spectacular and you can grab a Caipirinha or two form the restaurant and bar at the top of the mountain and watch those views just go on and on for quite literally days!
Rio is a city of views and boy are they close to perfect but if I had a choice, I would of course stick with Sugarloaf, however Christ the Redeemer is a must do tourist sight if you’re going all that way!
RIO DE JANEIRO – THE CITY TOUR
Rio is an interesting and diverse city and we embarked on a private tour. Essentially we hired a driver and a local English speaking guide who helped us manoeuvre the city in the little time we had to all our points of interest we had noted during our research. Here are some of the photos from our day exploring the city with local expertise.
The Opera House
This building is situated in the Cinelândia district right in the heart of the city centre and was built in the early 20th century and is considered to be one of the most important theatres in the country hosting famous performances, in particular ballet.
The Metropolitan cathedral of Rio de Janeiro is worth a visit just to see it’s modern architecture and if you look at the building opposite you will get a full reflection of the cathedral! Just a little quirky fact that I found quite interesting on my visit. It’s worth taking a peek inside too as it doesn’t follow the usual Roman catholic format!
Rio Football Stadium
Obviously any footie fans will have The Maracanã Stadium, officially Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, top on their list to visit. Me, I can take it or leave it but I left it and admired it from outside!
The Selaron Steps
Escadaria Selarón, is a set of 125 world-famous steps and are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claimed it as “my tribute to the Brazilian people”. It’s worth paying a visit just to see the beautifully coloured mosaic tiles. Just be careful how far up you go as eventually they lead up into one of Rio de Janeiro’s favela’s.
This is one of the main beaches in the city and is opposite the famous Fasano Hotel, where the hip rich and famous stay on their vacations! There’s a great vibe on the beach and is a bit less crowded than Copacabana beach, but only a little less! Be sure to grab a Caipirinha to go and watch the sunset over Corcovado Mountain from here.
This is the beach we’ve all heard of and is right in front of the Copacabana Palace hotel. Again you get great vistas from here. The atmosphere is lively, the beach is beautiful with white powdery sand but make sure you pitch up early to get a good spot! There are plenty of stalls selling coconut water and other snacks and alcoholic beverages. This is why Rio is just so amazing-perfect beached in the middle of a city!
Santa Theresa District
This district is pretty close to the centre of Rio and is famous for it’s winding streets leading up to Santa Teresa Hill. It’s a district I would associate with the boho-chic artist types and the street art is truly inspirational.
Rio’s Street Art
You will literally see fine examples of street art all over the city. Just keep your eyes peeled!
THE ROCHINA FAVELA
Up until this point, I had witnessed the so called high life in Rio but I have travelled enough and therefore have not fallen into the trap of naivety to realise that the city also has a huge history drug trafficking and associated crimes, a whole new side, which shows off the lower class communities of Rio’s favelas.
I will be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect but in my mind, I was expecting the slums of Mumbai. However this just wasn’t the case! The tour has to be booked through a company as you cannot enter the Favelas alone for safety reasons and it is recommended to visit in small group tour with a guide who has grown up and lived here and is familiar with the Favela and its community. Our company named, Favela Tour picked us in 4 wheel drive and we took the short drive into the heart of the Rochina Favela. This is known as Brazil’s largest Favela with over 100, 000 residents however justbefore entering the area, I was rather shocked to see just how close these communities lived to the upper middle –class. It is just so ironic as on your approach to the Rochina Favela you will see perfectly manicured gardens and houses almost at the entrance. Quite a contrast of two communities.
Let me just make things clear, these were not slums, there was a good level of sanitation and the surroundings had been cleaned up. There wasn’t wasteland all over the place and a good level of organisation existed.
One top tip before you travel, leave all valuable, engagement rings, any bling and just go in a T-shirt, a pair of shorts, some comfy shoes you can walk in (there’s a lot of walking!) and a camera! Our guide assured us it was safe but then again he knew the place and knew where he was going, of course there were pockets of ‘no go’ zones. Additionally in certain areas of the favela we were not allowed to take any pictures and told to respect the wishes of the locals. This is something we would not have realised without our guide.
A lot of charity programs work with the favelas in order to promote education and a supportive community network to improve the future for those living in these communities. When I use the plural for favelas, I do this because in actual fact there are hundreds of favelas in Rio de Janeiro alone and I literally have only been to one so I have no experience of the communities. In hindsight I wish I could’ve experienced a couple but time wasn’t permitting. Something that did strike me in the favela was that it felt like there was levels or classes just with the community, so almost like a upper class, middle class and working class feel in Rochina.
We visited a support centre, which incidentally had one of the best views of Rio, selling crafts and artworks made by the community including children, to give them a chance to develop their skills and further encourage their education and career prospects.
There is clearly a long way to go in terms of education opportunities, better health and medical care, which I am sure will evolve over time, but personally I was really grateful for the insight into life in the favela. I was particularly optimistic to learn that there was scope for the future and that it wasn’t the place of doom and gloom I had built up in my head! I saw social and economic development, I even saw satellite dishes in households! Things were improving and all said, this is a community who are growing with the world and allowing their generation to improve with outside help.
My advice is that if you are planning a trip to Rio, make sure you spare some time in your Itinerary to go and visit the favela. It will give you a totally different perspective of Rio and life on the other side where you have the beaches and lifestyle of Copacabana and Ipenema! You can get more information at The Favela Tour and we opted for a small group tour of 6 people. Roundtrip transportation is via 4 wheel drives and just bear in mind there is quite a lot of walking once at the favela with uneven pavements so good tennis shoes are a must!
It goes without saying as with all major cities, take as little as possible with you and leave all jewels and valuables locked away in your hotel safe. Stick to busy stretches or take a cab. This is particularly important around the beaches as they are enjoyed by many people and at the end of the day, you want to enjoy your holiday and not worry about replacing valuable items.
Have you visited Rio? What did you think of the views, Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain?I’m keen to know your opinions in the comments below.
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