Cariokas or Rio de Janeiro locals call their home “cidade maravilhosa” meaning marvellous city. Visitors unanimously agree to this at first sight of its picturesque landscape surrounded by huge rocky-mountains, warm beaches, green hills and amazing old and new architecture.
This second largest city of Brazil celebrated its 450 years anniversary in March this year. Founded by the Portuguese colonisers in 1565, the settlement evolved over centuries as the epicentre of the European empire in Southern hemisphere, politically as well as culturally. After theoretical independence in 1822, the former home of many Portuguese kings continued as the sovereign capital until 1960 when seat of the Brazilian government was shifted to Brasilia. Even after losing the governmental thump, it’s still the nation’s utmost touristy venue. Though it lives with a reputation of being crime infected, arrival numbers soared during last year’s World Cup football tournament and promises to reach record high during the Olympics in August 2016.
The attractions of the cosmopolitan metropolis range from sweeping coastline and towering mountains to colonial architecture, vibrant culture and mouth-watering cuisine.
Edging the Atlantic Ocean, Rio is blessed with several beaches which are almost second home to the six million inhabitants. They assemble here almost daily to jog, cycle, swim, sunbath, play beach volleyball, football or “futevolei” (kind of volleyball played with legs and head instead of hands) or to just socialise with friends, families and visitors of course.
From early morning till late at night, these magnificent confluences of land and water are brimming with activities from health fanatics exercising, elders gossiping, youngsters romancing and beach vendors doing business to buskers performing, kids showing off football skills and locals and tourists lining up for “caipirinhas”, Brazil’s national drink or green coconut water at one of many kiosks lining the mosaic promenades. Amongst the many waterside locations, Copacabana Beach is most glamorous, fashionable and popular. Facing this sandy stretch is the majestic Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel, a Rio landmark which since opening its art-deco doors in 1923 has been welcoming guests from round the globe who enjoy elegance and style punched with aristocracy. The other strand that draws attention of visitors is the Ipanema Beach. Brazilian singer Tom Jobin made it world famous by composing “The Girl from Ipanema” one of the most recorded songs of all time. The bar from where Tom sighted the girl, whose beauty instantly inspired him to do the composition, still exists. It’s now called Girl from Ipanema. Locals crowd there to watch the sunset, drink “cachaça” a type of sugar brandy and listen to many recordings of the 60’s evergreen number.
While energy and excitement splash the seaside neighbourhoods the Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado Mountain dominate the skyline overlooking the lively scenes below. The Corcovado Mountain peak is the home to a giant statue of Christ, better known as Christ the Redeemer. The image of this 1931 built, 30m high figure which enjoys the status of one of the “seven wonders of the world”, is the accepted emblem of Rio and without dispute the most visited spot. It can be reached by a twenty minute train ride through the Atlantic jungle. However the best location to picture this statue is from the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain accessible by cable cars, one of the oldest of its kind in the world.
Beyond the seafront locations, Rio presents several neighbourhoods including the city centre that displays architectural legacies of the Portuguese and lively lifestyle of Brazilians who believe life is for having fun. That’s why they love eating, drinking, socialising and swinging their hips to the tunes of the intensely rhythmic samba music, a type of singing, drumming and dancing that was introduced into the local culture by the African slaves of the European colonisers.
The cradle of bohemian Rio is the neighbourhood of Lapa well known for its lively cultural life. The suburb is sprinkled with bars and clubs where artists, writers and intellectuals regularly meet to inspire their creative energies while commoners gather to chill out and enjoy various forms of high pitch Brazilian music. Rio Scenarium is considered as the city’s most beautiful club that presents a great sparkling ambiance and best of live musical and dancing performances.
As Brazilians love to enjoy life, food has become an integral part of their lifestyle. The restaurant scene in Rio is very cosmopolitan. Nice Japanese and Italian eateries join hordes of others leading to an epicurean odyssey. An interesting feature of some Rio restaurants is the “comida por quilo”, where payment is made by the weight of the food taken on a plate from a nice buffet spread comprising of several local and international dishes. Tourists love this as it gives the opportunity to try different items of choice in varying quantities, without simply committing to one or two dishes.
Rio has plenty more to justify why it’s worth touching its shores. This includes a nice park named after Mahatma Gandhi with his statue at the gate and a bust figure inside.
Brazilians esteem piece and hence is their affiliation with Gandhi who is recognised as a symbol of piece.
Getting There: Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) to Sau Palao from where Rio de Janeiro is a short flight with TAM airlines (www.tam.com.br).
Accommodation: Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel (www.belmond.com/copacabana-palace-rio-de-janeiro) is the most exclusive and sophisticated choice.
Eating Venues: Various options from coffee and “salgado” at the 19thy century café Casa Colombo, lunch at Dom Camilo Italian Restaurant while gazing at the Copacabana beach scene, fine dining at the Cipriani Restaurant at the Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel to sampling diverse selection of barbecue meats at the Churrascaria Palace Restaurant or filling up with local delicacies like “milho”, “taipacos” and freshly grilled cheese and shrimps when enjoying time at the beach
Don’t Miss Sights– Guanabara Palace, Imperial Palace, Municipal Theatre, Metropolitan Cathedral and the Selaron Steps at Santa Teresa.
Local Tour Operator: Brazilian Incentive and Tourism (www.bitourism.com) for all ground arrangements in Rio.
Local currency: Brazilian Real, 1 USD = 2.9 BRL