What First Comes to Mind When You Think of Rio?
Is it the sun, sand and beaches?
Is it the men? The women? Beautiful people?
Is it an image of Sugarloaf?
The annual Carnival?
It might even be soccer …
On the surface, all of these images would be correct. But that’s one’s first impression. Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in South America. It is the world’s fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population and there are some 190 million people residing in this fascinating land.
Brazilian culture is incredibly rich due to the many influences the country has absorbed. The Portuguese, who gave the country its’ most popular and dominant language and culture were a dominant influence, but so too were the Native Indians.
Brazil is a land of many and distinctive contrasts. But the most important thing to know while planning a trip to Brazil is that the country, cities, people and culture pulsate with life – regardless of where you may be.
Brazil’s hot tropical beaches and vivid carnival parties stand out against the remote backwaters of the Amazon where untamed colorful wildlife rules.
An Afro-Brazilian slave trade history in the north in lively Salvador sharply differs from the world’s largest wetland, the peaceful Pantanal, home to crocodiles and anacondas.
Cosmopolitan Brasilia (the nation’s capital), Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo with their disparity of luxury and favelas contrast sharply to the lofty natural wonder that is the Iguaçu Falls in the south
Rio de Janeiro
It is not an uncommon error to assume that Rio is Brazil’s capital, as in fact it was until 1960. (The capital of Brazil is in fact Brasilia). Rio is one of the country’s major transportation hubs, seconded only by São Paulo. International and most domestic flights land at Tom Jobim International Airport (known as Galeão).
Simply put, Rio de Janeiro deserves its reputation as one of the most striking cities in the world. Rio de Janeiro’s reputation precedes itself, being the must-see city during a visit to Brazil. Even those who know nothing of Brazil are struck with images of its beautiful beaches and beautiful people. Perhaps one of the first things you will notice is that the residents of Rio, called Cariocas, are known for being easy-going and friendly, in contrast to the more reserved citizens of other cities like São Paulo.
Rio de Janeiro is divided into three zones: the North (Zona Norta), the South (Zona Sul) and the Center (Centro). The North is the least interesting, and not to be wandered into at night. The South contains the beautiful beach areas of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Leme, Loigoa and Sao Conrado. The Center is where the majority of the city’s highlights can be found, and stretches from the Morro de Sao Bento in the North to the monuments of the fallen soldiers of World War II in the South. Each of these areas has a distinct flavor, for just like the rest of the Brazilian culture, the influences are vast and varied.
The Cidade Maravihosa (Marvelous City), as Brazilians call it, is a unique blend of contrasts: a bustling metropolis amidst beautiful mountain ranges, rain forests and wetlands, tremendous wealth amidst crushing poverty, old traditions juxtaposed with desires for modernity. All of the thriving life and diversity of Rio de Janeiro is showcased between the outstretched arms of Cristo Redentor, the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city.
However you may spend your time in Brazil and Rio, you must spend some time on a beach. The beaches in Rio face the Atlantic Ocean, thus providing bigger waves and cleaner waters. Surfers and boogie boarders are welcome at one of the many beaches, and sailing is highly recommended. It’s an experience not soon forgotten! Bikinis are teeny-weenie and street vendors line the areas selling all kinds of local artistry and crafts.
Join the crowd during New Year’s Eve
If you enjoy ushering in the New Year at a party, you can join the 2.5 million people who gather at Copacabana Beach to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The crowd, mostly dressed in white, celebrates all night at the hundreds of different shows and events along the beach. People celebrate the New Year by sharing chilled Champagne. It is considered good luck to shake the Champagne bottle and spray around at midnight.
But if you are really looking to party … Visit Rio during Carnival
In 1840, the first Carnaval was celebrated with a masked ball. As years passed, adorned floats and costumed revellers became a tradition amongst the celebrants. Carnaval is known as a historic root of Brazilian music. Although Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) is celebrated in towns and villages throughout Brazil and other Catholic countries, Rio de Janeiro has long been regarded as the Carnival Capital of the World. The Rio Carnival is not only the biggest Carnival, it has also a benchmark against which every other carnival is compared and one of the most interesting artistic events on the planet. Almost everyone has heard of the Rio Carnival. Foreign visitors alone number around 500,000 every year.
Rio Carnival occurs 40 days before Easter. It officially starts on a Saturday and finishes on Fat Tuesday, usually happens in February, which is the hottest month in the Southern Hemisphere, when the Rio summer is at its peak.
With such a wonderful Atlantic coastline and calendar of events, visitors to this marvelous city will not lack for things to see and do. And one of the must-dos is taking in the panoramic view from Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açúcar). And apart from the beaches, other attractions include a number of important green spaces, such as the Jardim Botanico (Botanical Gardens) and the Parque do Flamengo, the latter of which is near Guanabara Bay and offers a selection of outdoor activities. Also quite commanding is the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) on the Avenida Republica de Chile, which was only inaugurated as recently as the 1970s and can accommodate some 20,000 worshipers. Architecturally, Rio is quite diverse and offers a number of interesting contrasts. Some buildings and monuments have stood proud through several centuries. Rio’s glorious Central Station, or Central do Brasil, made famous by the movie of the same name, serves mostly local commuter lines, so it’s unlikely that you will use a train service. But the Central Station is worth a look.
And guys; you will want to impress your partner by visiting a samba show or even a school! If you happen to be in Rio during the months prior to Carnival, you can visit practice sessions held by the various samba schools in the months leading up to Carnival. You will find only a small number of tourists attending these sessions. These go on into the wee hours of the morning, with the fun really only starting at 1-2 AM. A good hotel concierge should be able to hook you up, and cabs are available to take you back to your hotel when you are samba-ed out. But if you really want to impress your sweetie, you can attend any number of samba schools for lessons …
Rio de Janeiro is also very well known for its soccer scene and many major football matches are held at the recently renovated Maracana Stadium (Estádio do Maracana).
The downtown neighborhood of Centro offers great deals for shopping. There are enthusiastic street vendors everywhere, and street markets that sell crafts ranging from locally designed jewellery to musical instruments such as the berimbau. A great fair in Rio is called Fairarte, which is located on Rio’s historic square Praca XV. This is a craft market that features artists showing off their works such as ceramics, glass, leather and silver.
Restaurant and dining choices in Rio, as you would expect, are endless, for the Cariocas love to eat out, savouring the taste and the ambience of every meal. There’s never a rush or worry. The dining choices consist of pasta, seafood, beef and chicken, yet most dishes are zested with local tastes and flavours. Street vending is also usually safe, not to mention a delicious and inexpensive source of many different choices.
If you are planning to visit other cities / regions of Brazil it is helpful to know that São Paulo is 430 km from Rio, Belo Horizonte 450 km, Brasília 1160 km, Porto Alegre 1550 km and Salvador 1730 km.
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