It’s not easy to express what I feel about one of the most famous places on earth…one of the most beautiful places on earth. Yes, I’m talking about Rio de Janeiro. The wonder city. The city of The Girl from Ipanema. The city that, whenever we talk about Brazil, we say: Rio? Samba? Futebol? Carnival? Yes, that is Rio, and, whenever I leave it, I feel like I’m an incomplete person. Because that is just the way you feel about it.
Feelings about Rio de Janeiro
Everything Once you step in Rio de Janeiro, you will be in love with the energy of the people, in love with the heat, the music, the nature, in love with all of it. If you still has not been in Rio yet, be sure to book your ticket to the next summer. This surely is one of the top 5 places you must have on your primary list. You just have to be there to understand what this feeling is all about.
Ipanema Beach and The Girl from Ipanema
Ipanema is known as one of the most wealthy and expensive places to live in Rio. Bordered by Leblon and Arpoador Beach, Ipanema is the beach to see and to be seen. Divided in groups, goes like this: young and beautiful; high-class; athletes; alternative; and on the weekends, also the people from the favelas. Don’t be curious about the canal, not very busy, quite empty, and should be avoided during day and night.
Also in Ipanema, we have the Farme Beach, the gay beach of Rio de Janeiro. Often visited by muscle gay men, everyone is welcomed and expect to see affectionate behavior. The artistic side of Rio de Janeiro is also in Ipanema. Within its area, you can find lots of galleries, movie theaters, shops, coffees, etc. The night in Ipanema is also very nice. Sophisticated bars, best restaurants, live show and dance clubs. It’s also more expensive to be there. Ipanema is surrounded by the best hotels in Rio, like Fasano and Caesar Park Rio de Janeiro .
From the beach, you have the view of the amazing Two Brothers Hill. Seeing the sunset is one of the most hypnotic experiences you can have, and if you want more, you can also cross the Vidigal favela and take a tour. It takes more or less 4 hours, and from the top, you’ll have the view of all Rio de Janeiro. Quite an experience. On Sundays and Holidays they close one side of the avenues beach for the people have a leisure time, like running, bicycling, skateboarding, etc.
And how Ipanema became known world-wide? The Girl from Ipanema is until today one of the most listened musics from all time. Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, the song was inspired in their muse Helô Pinheiro. It was the swing of Helô that put the sands of Ipanema known cross-country.
Written in 1962, and inspired in Helo’s come and go everyday in the sidewalk of Ipanema, Tom Jobim and Vinicius were assiduous regulars in the Velozo Bar (today know as The Girl from Ipanema) and everyday they saw Helo passing by. Thanks to the song Helo became a celebrity from day-to-night, and the song until today has been recorded more than 300 times, by musicians like Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz, Diana Krall, etc.
By the time you get to Ipanema, you will immediately understands why the music became so famous, why it’s called the pride of Rio de Janeiro, why reflects so fiercely the spirit of the ‘cariocas’. Two different suggestions to eat in Ipanema: Zazá Bistrô Tropical, a mix os scents and flavours from all over the world and Adega da Pérola, a portuguese ‘boteco’ (bar) established since 1957 by people from Ilha da Madeira, with more than 100 snacks, along with beers and wines, you won’t miss it,
Carnival at Sapucaí
How can we explain the emotion once you set foot at Sapucaí, where happens the biggest Brazilian Carnival? The Carnival that is known as the “Greatest Show on Earth”? Even more, by the time you hear the ‘carnavalescos’ of the several ‘escolas de samba’ (samba school) playing the drums it seems your heart will explode so amazing that sound is! People from all over the world are there to see it, and people also pay a lot for it. Prices can range from $ 178,00 up to $ 5.000,00. Not to mention the famous beer boxes. Most famous one is Brahma. But the thing is, everyone wants to be there.
Celebrities from all over the world have already been there. You name it: Gerard Butler, Gisele Bündchen, Madonna, Sharon Stone, Ronaldo, Paris Hilton, etc. This is that kind of event that memory will remain for good, that not even videos or photos can explain it. The people from the ‘escolas’ prepare themselves the whole year to be there for you those 4 days of parade.
There are more than 70 ‘escolas de samba’ in Rio de Janeiro and all of them parade during the 4 days of Carnival. They choose the topics, write lyrics, make the allegorical costumes and cars and practice throughout the year in order to succeed in their shows . They are subject to a strict hierarchy and are organized in six competitive leagues . These are: The Special Group and Groups A, B , C, D and E. The first 3 groups parade at the Sapucaí. All other ‘escolas de samba’ parade in the streets and are free to attend and join the Sambódromo (Sapucaí).
But how does it works? Each ‘escola de samba’ has its own distinctive colors (its insignia ) and costume style. The color scheme is reflected in many ways of the parade, generally on what the lyrics of the ‘escola de samba’ express. And, if you want to see it before the parade, you can also go to a rehearsal samba night in any of the ‘escolas de samba’. The most famous are: Mangueira, Salgueiro, Unidos da Tijuca and Vila Isabel.
They are located near the South Zone and Suburban, close to the ‘favelas’. Have to tell: been to Mangueira, the biggest and most famous one, and it was quite an experience. Lots of guests, lots of tourists, lots of police, lots of favela people. At a first moment I was a bit intimidated, if not shocked. So many people, from all over, but by the time you listen to the drums, that sound that gets into your soul, and never leave you again, you forget about everything, and all you want, is to be there, listening, singing, dancing, moving your body, even if you don’t understand any of the lyrics! Plan to arrive anytime after 11:30pm, the ‘escolas’ starts playing usually after midnight.
Take a taxi (for security reasons). There will also be plenty of taxis outside when you’re finally ready to go home, and that’s it’s going to be early morning. Usually you pay an entry fee between R$ 15,00 and R$ 30,00. I hope these pictures can bring a bit of the emotion that was to me being at Sapucaí, and I was lucky enough to also see Mangueira at Sambódromo
Sugarloaf Cable car, or how Brazilians call it: the famous ‘Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar’ is, one of the icons that displays the magnificent overview from Urca Mountain. From there, you can see the wonders that Rio has to offer: the view of Niteroi (small town from Rio de Janeiro), the beaches of Copacabana, Leme, Ipanema, Botafogo, Flamengo, the Gávea Stone, Christ Redeemer, Guanabara Bay and much more. They came and go of the ‘bondinhos’, the tram, is a trademark in the Brazilian tourist map. Its age is greater than 600 million years ago, the mountain is a unique piece of rock surrounded by tropical vegetation of Atlantic Forest.
Located in the Red Beach, rises 396 meters from the harbors, with its glass cable cars running every 20 minutes with capacity for 65 passengers. The origins of its name happened in the heyday of sugarcane by the Portuguese in Brazil. To reach the top, you have to take 2 cable cars. The first ascends to Morro da Urca and the second to Pão de Açúcar. And, if you are brave enough, you can also climb it! Yes, from below, you can seat and watch the climbers on the Sugarloaf Mountain, Urca Mountain and Babylon Mountain.
Copacabana and the Magic Masked Ball at Belmond Copacabana Palace
When we hear the name Copacabana, immediately comes to our mind the beautiful sands of the most famous beach in Brazil, not to mention worldwide. And how to describe it? Again Rio de Janeiro is ahead of us always surprising as one of the most beautiful cities that exists. Copacabana is considered as one of the most nobles and famous neighborhoods in Brazil. It sets border with another’s very nice districts: Leblon, Ipanema, Botafogo, Lagoa and Leme.
With more than 80 hotels surrounding its area, Copacabana is also center of big parties, shows, parade of the ‘blocos de Carnaval’ and the mighty New’s Year Eve with pyrotechnics displaying millions of fireworks over the long beach with a mix of people from everywhere. Another trademark in Copacabana: the famous sidewalk. One of the symbols of Rio de Janeiro, the sidewalk is made of white calcite and black basalt imported from Portugal. Its layout is based upon the Square of Rocio in Lisbon, which means the encounter from the waters of Tejo River and the waters of Atlantic Ocean. Has 4.15 kilometers of extension and reaches also the sands of Leme Beach.
But what’s one of the this things that give us the big thrill in Copacabana? Try to seat at the end of the day in one of those kiosks in the ‘calçadão’ and have a nice beer or ‘caipirinha’ the famous Brazilian sugar cane drink, and simply watch the sunset and see the ‘cariocas’ pass by. It’s Rio, it’s Copacabana, and it’s emblematic. With that said, I have to mention here the amazing hotel located at Atlantica Avenue, the Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel. Opened in 1923, this hotel is another representative mark of the city, and officially known as the most luxurious hotel of Brazil. The hotel of rich and famous, as The Rolling Stones, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Madonna, Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Janis Joplin, Nicolas Sarkozy, just to name a few, is a high standard symbol of glamours until nowadays.
And one of the best things that Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel offers is, also in Carnival time, the fantastic Masked Ball. The Rio Carnival is an once-in-a-lifetime event that feature the carioca spirit. And once again, I was lucky to be in one of those Masked Ball. The glamour, the masks, the celebrities, the dancers, the samba music, the costumes each year with a different theme, the summer, the heat, the warmth of the ‘carioca’, the Brazilian food mixed with the best wines, vodkas, champagne, cachaças, it’s an unique experience of a lifetime.
This Masked Ball brings again all the glamour of the old Venetian ball masks, the spirit of another era and a quite different experience from everything you have ever seen before. But do prepare your pockets. It costs a lot to get in. But once you’re there, forget about all parties you’ve been before. It’s an irresistible bliss.
Santa Teresa and Ruins Park
The neighborhood of Santa Teresa in Rio is a unique picturesque place that seems it stopped in time. Surrounded with old houses, small palaces, little restaurants, handicraft shops, Santa Teresa is located on top of a hill cut by tram tracks. This place has one of the best views of Rio de Janeiro, and a different choice of tourism in the city. In July 2015 the famous tram, or more know, ‘bondinho’, got back to circulate after 4 years still.
The ‘bondinho’ goes around for about 2 kilometers and if you chose to go there, there are 2 choices: walking or by taxi. By walking, which I think is a far more interesting choice, you get to know the famous ‘Selarón Ladder’ with 215 steps, all colorful covered with ceramic tile in green, yellow and blue. The ladder was named after the Chilean artist who signs the work. Also, don’t wear high heels, the streets are formed by big stones, boulders, which give such a charm to this place, a hidden gem in Rio de Janeiro.
Don’t rush there, take your time to photograph, enjoy the narrow streets, the ramp streets, stop in one of the many bars and appreciate a nice cachaça or one of the Brazilian beers. Once you hit the top, you can visit the ‘Parque das Ruínas’ or Ruins Park, a cultural center with one the most beautiful views of ‘Lapa’. The Ruins Park was long ago the residence of Laurinda Santos Lobo, The host of one of the most effervescent lounges of the carioca Belle Époque.
There she used to entertain her guests with the best music, poetry, dance and finest cuisine. It was a residence and a center of Brazilian modernism, the scene of numerous soirées, and already had national and international artists such as Villa Lobos, Tarsila do Amaral, João do Rio and Isadora Duncan. A great scenario of the carioca Belle Époque.
Today, the Ruins Park is a space dedicated to the production and dissemination of different forms of artistic expressions such as cinema, visual arts, music, performing arts and dance. The cultural center hosts and carries out projects developed by new artists. Within this space, you will find exhibition galleries, theater, stage, gardens, panoramic terraces and a gazebo with privileged views of Lapa and all the contour of the Guanabara Bay.
Along with its historical and cultural values, Ruins Park reinforces its commitment to preserve the history of the neighborhood of Santa Tereza as Rio de Janeiro heritage. The old palace ruins, had its furniture built on iron and glass structures. A Palace built to deal with the time of glamour, sophistication and culture. Free entrance. The best places for a feijoada or a caipirinha at Santa Teresa: Aprazível, one of the most amazing restaurants views in Rio de Janeiro, and, Bar do Mineiro, the typical carioca ‘boteco’ (bar).
Oh Lapa, the nightlife of Rio
Lapa is synonymous of nightlife in Rio. The second neighborhood most visited in Rio de Janeiro has all kind of attractions. Famous for its historical monuments and nightlife, Lapa is another important location and touristic place in Rio de Janeiro. Since the early 50’s, Lapa is known as a center of cultural life, and its postcard here is the magnificent Carioca Aqueduct, the Arcos da Lapa. There’s a cool blog post done by Jet-Settera about the samba nights in Lapa and other amazing impressions about there here, take a look.
During the day the neighborhood works as a calm business center of Rio, with lots of antique shops and cafes. Go visit the exquisite São Sebastião Metropolitan Cathedral. Different from any other conventional cathedral, its architecture is based upon a greek cross, maximum symbol of Christ among men, and it was also inspired on Maya pyramids of Yucatan, Mexico City. Its stained glass window is another detail to pay attention. Free entrance, located besides Arcos da Lapa.
By the night, everything changes. Lapa is transformed into an exciting and provocative place.
Show houses like Circo Voador and Fundição Progresso bring cariocas and tourists from all over to hear national and international shows. Full of bars with all kind of music, the ‘samba’ here is the main choice. Lapa is the heart of the carioca Bohemian, and the night here means the beginning of everything. Just to name a few places that you must go, Rio Scenarium is one of the most beautiful places there. With 3 floors, lots of antique furniture and objects, gathered over the years, with more than ten thousand pieces (none are for sale), it’s called as Hall of Culture.
Placed in an old townhouse, Rio Scenarium is that kind of place that embodies the carioca spirit. As a Rio de Janeiro addicted as I’m, I must say, if you like samba, gafieira, choro, MPB, great Brazilian cuisine, and even if you don’t, Rio Scenarium is a must go show house for everyone. Lapa also has lots of hostels and hotels, and it’s only 15 min from Copacabana Beach. Two other places that I highly recommend for those who love genuine samba music: Bar Carioca da Gema, where every night there is a new band playing the best samba; and Lapa 40º, with gafieira dance and snooker tables.
The best for the last: Christ Redeemer
Chosen in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, Christ the Redeemer, the one whom welcome with his open arms people from everywhere, is known much earlier than that. To me, one of the top 5 sites you must visit before you die, unmatched and different from any other monument, Christ Redeemer is located on the top of Mount Corcovado in the Tijuca Forest, with 38 meters tall, 30 of the Monument and 8 of the pedestal.
From there, you have the best view 360º from Rio de Janeiro. One of most beautiful panoramic views ever. Constructed between 1922 and 1931, this art deco statue is made of soapstone and reinforced concrete. Christ Redeemer has become a symbol of Christianity across the world, and a major icon of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.
How to get there? Open from 8am to 7pm, there are 3 ways to get there: by foot, trains and vans. Can’t even start to explain the emotion once you set foot there. The Christ itself, the view, all that people from every corner in the world, and if you are lucky enough, you will also have the 40º degrees with the most amazing blue sky. Take time to be there. Enjoy the view. Enjoy the energy. Just be there.
Rio de Janeiro. Cidade Maravilhosa. The city of all. The city that will always receives everyone with open arms. The city that looks like its has been sculptured. And I can assure you one thing: once you visit it, your life will be split in 2 periods: before Rio and after Rio