Rio de Janeiro is the place to visit if you're seeking a combination of beaches, sports, sun, exotic parks and gardens, and spectacular mountain views, along with a big of dancing and drinking. Rio has a majestic beauty, as it's nestled between a glorious bay with dazzling beaches and a sharply rising mountain range covered by tropical vegetation.
With the establishment of Brasilia in 1960, Rio ceased to be Brazil's capital, but this second largest city is still a major cultural capital with museums housing a wide range of art and information on Brazilian life and culture. The city is one of the most densely populated on earth, with 6 million inhabitants.
This city loves the sun and the world-famous Rio beaches are free to all, with surfing is popular pastime. The legendary Copacabana Beach is lively, with people often playing beach volleyball with the samba playing in the background. The sidewalks are filled with drink stands and peddlers hawking everything imaginable you might need. Another beach, Ipanema, is known for its attraction to the young and fashionable, with numerous boutiques. Joggers and children of the wealthy hang out here.
On the cultural side, Rio's museums and privately funded cultural centers are filled with masterpieces and wonderful history. The Museu Historico National boasts a collection of 30,000 items, including ivory toys once owned by the imperial family. At the Mosteiro de Sao Bento you can view a richly adorned interior with magnificent silver chandeliers and ceiling paintings dedicated to the Virgin. A Franciscan convent is paneled in gilded wood, with painted ceilings depicting the glorification of Saint Francis.
It would take a full day to seek out all the large churches, but tours cover many of them. A highlight is the baroque Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Gloria do Outeiro. Overlooking the city, it"s known for its large dome, ornamental stonework, and vivid tile work.
One of the most thrilling sites is Corcovado, a mountain with a sheer granite face topped by the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue rising more than 100 feet from a 20-foot pedestal. You can reach the top on an 1885 cogwheel train or on a winding road with great beach views.
The second famous peak, Sugarloaf Mountain, is just as impressive, giving a different perspective of the city. Sugarloaf consists of a huge granite slab at the entrance of the Guanabara Bay. From the top at 1,295 feet, (photo 50-4), you can see the whole city, plus the beaches and the Atlantic Ocean. To ascend, you catch a two-stage cableway with a length of 4,265 feet. The sunsets as seen from the top are fabulous.
The city's festive life comes to a head during the annual Carnaval, which is enjoyed by the entire city for three solid day. Music, partying, balls, street parades, brilliantly costumed dancers--you name it.
Hints and Resources
Carnival is the best time to visit the city, if you don't mind if it's even more crowded. Carnival takes place in February or March, depending on the date of Easter each year. It's best to arrive a bit early to enjoy all the sights. And, most important, book your hotel at least a year in advance. The costumes and samba music are a great tradition, and pictures of Rio de Janeiro carnival costumes and photos of girls at Rio Carnival show the sexy style.
Things to Avoid
Sunburn: The sun is powerful here and rays can burn your skin in a very short time. Use sunscreen liberally.
Theft: Be especially careful at the beaches and at night. Leave your passport, jewelry, and most cash at your hotel.