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There’s only one word to describe Rio and that is mega. A mega Jesus, mega landscape, mega juices, mega nightlife. In Portuguese, there’s a word, saudade, which describes a sense of longing for something in the past, and that’s how Steve and I feel about Rio now. We were only there for two weeks but we’re both pretty sure we’ll return, perhaps when a little richer as it’s a surprisingly expensive place. Here’s our rundown of what we found to be the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
Things to do in Rio de Janeir0
Strolling around Santa Tereza
When somewhere is described as bohemian, it’s a good bet that Steve and I will like it. Santa Tereza was no exception. It’s winding, cobbled streets on a leafy hill overlooking Rio are lined with interesting street art. It’s quiet and peaceful to walk around, with little pockets of cosy restaurants, bars and shops. A lot of the city’s artists live there and you can feel that as you explore. It’s one of our top things to do in Rio. We spent one of our favourite nights in Rio at Lago das Neves where we ate pizza, drank caipirinhas and watched a capoiera dance circle that had set up for the night. One of the wonderful things about Rio is the mixture of age groups that socialise at once; everyone was out that night – from the babies through the teenagers to the grandparents.
Other excellent things to see in Santa Tereza are the view from Jardin de las Ruinas, and the extraordinary tile steps by Jorge Selarón. We interviewed him for our other blog If I had a superpower.
Visiting the favelas
We worried about the voyeurism of a favela tour but jumped at the chance to go to lunch at one with our couchsurfer Alena. You can read more about the day and see some photos in our favela blog, or read some interviews with the residents on If I had a Superpower.
We’re not sure about favela tours as we didn’t do one, but if you can visit a favela with a local, then don’t miss the opportunity to explore a fascinating type of neighbourhood in the city. We’d recommend Alemao, a large complex of favelas in the north of the city, as then you get to ride on the cable car – an incredible example of urban planning that has changed life for the favela’s residents.
Nightlife in Lapa
As you turn the corner and see the bright white arches of Lapa and start to hear that samba beat, you know you’re somewhere special. It’s the crucible of Rio’s culture, a melting pot of everything that makes the city. The energy is awesome and the sights entrancing. From rich to poor, everyone is there, revelling in the night. Bars and clubs line and spill out onto the streets, where stalls sell cheap caipirinhas and late-night snacks. Impromptu samba circles form beneath the arches, while others practise the moves of the dirty favela funk. You could people watch for hours. We saw a man do an explosive drum solo for a hour straight, women teaching children their funk moves and an old woman lost amid the madness. On the first night, an anarchist group performed a ritualistic protest, samba-ing themselves in a frenzy, while an African queen spat paint. It’s surprising, electric and wild. You shouldn’t miss it.
We also went to an excellent restaurant/bar/club in Lapa called the Scenarium. It’s located a little way from the main action on a bustling, pedestrianised street lined with restaurants and outdoor seating. The club spans three floors with a central balcony and is filled to the brim with a hodgepodge of antiques. There’s live samba and a mixed crowd that gets younger and busier as the night goes on. It’s an non-intimidating place to practice your samba moves in a mixed, friendly crowd.
Monkeys on Pao de Azucar
Most people who go to Rio will put a visit to Pao de Azucar on their list of things to do in Rio, but not everyone sees the monkeys. When you get to the peak, make sure to explore the far side of the mountain where many sagui monkeys live in the trees. They’re used to people so Steve was able to get some wonderful photos of one he christened George.
People watching on the beach
With our brighter than white, non-gym bodies, we were a little apprehensive about hitting Rio’s beaches, famous for their bronzed beauties, but it was certainly worth the visit. The beach is a brilliant place to people watch while sipping on fresh coconuts and eating acai. We especially enjoyed watching the men posing in their tiny pants, engrossed in debate and all the while glancing around to look and see who’s looking. It takes ‘to see and be seen’ to new heights.
Spot El Christo
If you go to Rio, you should also perhaps visit the mega Christ, although we more so enjoyed spotting him from various parts of the city. It became like a constant game of Where’s Wally? He really does surprise you.
Where to stay in Rio
If you’re on a budget and looking for a party, here’s a guide to some of Rio’s best party hostels. It’s part of a really useful site for working out your trip costs for different countries around the world.
Is there anything you’d add to this best of Rio de Janeiro list?