What to see in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ipanema and Leblon beaches
Even the most seasoned tourist will find the beaches here quite amazing. They are wide and clean, with soft white sand. The main beaches from Leme to Barra have plenty of services for the beach goers, including free showers at the beach, wet paths to walk on cool sand, clean pay toilets, life-savers and police, tents and chairs for rent, soft drinks and alcoholic bars, and food.
- Vermelha (oceanic) – Mostly appropriate for bathing
- Leme (oceanic)
- Copacabana (oceanic)
- Arpoador (oceanic)
- Ipanema (oceanic)
- Leblon (oceanic)
- Barra da Tijuca (oceanic)
- Recreio dos Bandeirantes (oceanic)
- Grumari (oceanic)
- Abricó (oceanic, nudist beach).Abricó is the only official nudist beach in the area of Rio de Janeiro; it lies next to Grumari beach. Only accessible by car/taxi.
It is also worth visiting the beaches in the island Paquetá, particularly:
Cariocas have a unique beach culture, with a code of customs which outlanders (even Brazilians from other cities) can misconstrue easily. Despite what many foreigners may believe, women do not go topless on Rio’s beaches. The majority of females wear thong bikinis (fio dental). This is the cultural norm, even for some older or larger women, and it doesn’t mean they’re exhibitionists; most women find it offensive to be stared at. Until the 1990s, men and boys wore speedos, but then wearing bermuda shorts and baggy trunks became more common. Speedos (“sungas” in Portuguese), especially with a square leg cut, have made a comeback. In contrast to women, it is not the cultural norm for men to wear thong swimwear in Rio, and the tiny minority who do so will feel conspicuous. Jammers are less common but still accepted. If you don’t want to stand out like an obvious tourist, and therefore a target for thieves, it’s best for both women and men to wear similar swimwear to the locals. Walking vendors on the beach are often the best place to buy Brazilian swimwear with low prices and a wide choice.
It is important to look after your possessions, particularly on the beaches most popular with tourists – Copacabana and Ipanema. Don’t pack all your valuables and clothes into a bag while on the beach, as this only makes it quicker for a thief to steal everything in one go. If you do take valuables to the beach, keep them in front of you while sitting or under your head while lying down.
Waves in Rio vary from tiny and calm in the Guanabara Bay beaches (Paquetá, Ramos, Flamengo, Botafogo, Urca) to high, surf-ideal waves in Recreio. In Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Ipanema, and Leblon, there’s a popular way of “riding” the waves called pegar jacaré (literally, “to grab an alligator”). You wait for the wave to come behind you then swim on top of it until it crumbles next to the sand.
Commerce is common in Rio’s beaches, with thousands of walking vendors selling everything from sunglasses or bikinis to fried shrimp to cooling beverages (try mate com limão, a local ice tea mixed with lemonade, or suco de laranja com cenoura, orange and carrot juice). For food, there is also empada (baked flour pastry filled with meat or cheese), sanduíche natural (cool sandwich with vegetables and mayo) and middle eastern food (Kibbehs and pastries). Vendors typically shout out loud what they’re selling, but they won’t usually bother you unless you call them. Some even accept credit cards. All along the beaches there are also permanent vendors who will sell you a beer and also rent you a beach chair and an umbrella for a few Reais.
The beaches in Barra and Recreio (Quebra-Mar, Pepê, Pontal, Prainha) were favored by surfers and hang-gliders until the 1980s, but now they are outnumbered by the middle-class and nouveau riche from the suburbs and also West Zone favela residents, such as now world-famous Cidade de Deus (City of God, made famous in the eponymous film).
Viewing Rio from top of the 710 m high Corcovado (meaning hunchback) hill with its landmark statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is most impressive and a truly breathtaking experience. There are superb views of the Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and Botanical Garden) and inland to the Maracana stadium.
Pedro II ordered the construction of the railroad to Corcovado and, in 1885, a steam train brought the first visitors up the steep mountainside. Some 50 years later, the elegant art deco statue of Cristo Redentor was assembled on site and opened on October 12, 1931. Ever since, Cristo Redentor on top of Corcovado hill is Rios ultimate symbol, receiving over one million visitors a year.
Before going, check the weather, because sometimes the clouds envelop the peak, some days throughout the day and more often in the late afternoon. On the other hand, afternoons usually have less haze and no backlight when taking pictures in the direction of Pão de Açúcar. At dusk, enjoy watching as the city lights come on and the statue is bathed in golden lights. When there are low clouds, consider going to the Dona Marta lookout. At 340m the view is not bad either and there are no crowds.
The trip atop Corcovado starts at the base of the Corcovado train in Cosme Velho, Rua Cosme Velho 513.
The most popular way of reaching the top is the funicular train, ascending 20 minutes long through lush vegetation. It operates 365d/a 08h00 – 19h00 every 30 minutes. You can purchase tickets at numerous lotto kiosks and post offices throughout the city or online with the option to reserve a seat for any time between 09h00 and 18h00.
The queue for the train, in Cosme Velho, can get rather long. Try going when the morning coach parties have already passed through (and many tourists are having their lunch) or in the afternoon.
Going by Van
The official van leaves from three points in the city which makes getting around that little bit easier. The points are at Praca do Lido in Copacabana, next to the metro at Lago do Machado and at Città America in Barra da Tijuca. You can buy the tickets at the bus points (which include the way there, the way back and the entrance for the Christ) but it’s worth buying online – the queues in Copacabana and Largo do Machado have been known to be up to an hour and a half during high season! Picking up the van in:
Copacabana The vans leave from Praça do Lido at posto 2 (Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana between Rua Ronald de Carvalho and Rua Belfort Roxo). They leave every 15 minutes and the non-stop route takes about 45 minutes to arrive with usual traffic.
The van does pickups in Copacabana every day between 8 am and 5 pm. The final trip back down Corcovado is between 6 pm and 6:30 pm
Largo do Machado. The vans leave from Praça do Largo do Machado in front of the church and happen every 15 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes in all to get from there to the entrance to the Christ.
The van does pickups at Lago do Machado every day between 8 am and 5 pm. The final trip back down Corcovado is between 6 pm and 6:30 pm
Barra da Tijuca. The van leaves from Shopping Città America on Avenida das Americas, 700 and takes place every 30 minutes. It takes about 50 minutes to get from the shopping mall to the top of the Corcovado.
The van does pickups between 8 am and 4:30 pm every day and the last van to go back down Corcovado leaves between 6 pm and 6:30 pm. You can take a taxi or non-official van to the Visitor Center then take an official van the rest of the way (they’re the only ones that are allowed to do that last stretch up to the Christ). I would strongly recommend avoiding the hassle of driving your own car there – there is no parking and it’s so much easier to make the most of the other transport options available.
The van leaves from the Visitor Center every day between 8 am and 6 pm with the final van leaving the top of Corcovado between 6 pm and 6:30 pm
Note that the return trip will be to your point of origin; you cannot, for instance, depart from Praça do Lido and then return to Largo do Machado.
There’s also a hiking trail that begins at Parque Lage and gets atop. Alternatively, you can hike but the last 3km from the funicular station Paineras on a picturesque trail that passes by several waterfalls and the Dona Marta lookout. Due to numerous robberies on the forest-trail up Corcovado, the path has been closed to the public in past and individuals should opt to take the bus or van up to the top.
Pão de Açúcar
Although located across Guanabara Bay, one of Rio’s best views (one that includes both the Christ and the Sugarloaf in your camera frame) can be seen from this Museum in Niteroi, a neighboring city only 15 minutes away from downtown Rio by ferry boat.
The Sugar Loaf Mountain with its smaller companion, Morro da Urca, is another Rio top landmark. Going atop is one of the most popular activities in Rio and a definite must-do. Several vantage points offer magnificent views of the bay, the city center and west to the famous beaches and beyond, so that you will get a good idea of the layout of the Marvelous city. Do not make the mistake of thinking you have seen enough once you have seen the view from Corcovado. Try Sugar Loaf at sunset for a truly mind-blowing experience.
The huge vaulted twin peaks of Morro da Urca and Pão de Açúcar are a natural monument, made mostly of 600 million years old granite. The massif is endowed with lush vegetation, a remnant of the forest that once covered all of the bay area. The lucky ones can see toucans, parrots, monkeys and butterflies flitting through the trees.
Access is by means of an aerial cable car offering magnificent views. Built in 1912, the so-called Bondinho was one of the first cable cars of this type in the world. The Bondinho is used by 2000 people every day and has two sections: the first going to Morro da Urca (220 m high), the second atop Sugar Loaf (396 m). On top, there is well-developed infrastructure like cafes, restaurants, shops, a cinema and even a helipad.
The gondolas, accommodating 64 passengers each, are in service between 08h10 and 20h00.
At the southern foot of Pão de Açúcar is a safe walking trail, the Pista Claudio Coutinho. There, you can stroll along the Atlantic shore or take an unsigned turnoff uphill to the middle station on Morro Urca. The trail starts on the northern end of Praia Vermelha and is open daily 08h00 to 18h00 for free.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas
The Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is large lagoon in the middle of South Zone, with great views to Corcovado and Ipanema and Leblon beaches; you can jog or cycle all the way round; there are skating areas and you can hire little peddle-operated boats.
The Maracana Stadium is the largest football stadium in South America and once the largest on Earth. It has recently been renovated for the 2014 World Cup. Inside is the Soccer Museum.
Arpoador, Barrio Arpoador 22080-050. Beach offers without any doubt one of the most beautiful sunset views in Rio and it’s the last place on the beach where the sun’s rays emerge, before disappearing into the ocean between the Morro Dois Irmãos two twin cones. Consider the view from the top of the rocky point or terrace Arpoador Inn.
Jardim Botânico. Open 8am-5pm daily. This well-kept, magnificent and very lush botanical garden is both a park and a scientific laboratory. Situated east of the lagoon it is one of the most beautiful parks in Rio. With an area of about 137 football fields, it’s worth spending a few hours in the haven of sunny beaches, with shady avenues, fountains, statues and ornamental ponds. Emperor John VI founded the Botanical Garden in 1808 as a nursery for herbs, teas and spices imported from Asia, exclusively for the royal family. In 1822 the garden was opened to the public, with the addition of ponds and scenic trails and the introduction of a wide range of plants. Today is one of the most important botanical gardens in the world, with 8000 species of plants growing in their natural habitats and in greenhouses. Highlights include orchids, bromeliads, ferns, splendid forests of giant bamboo, a collection of medicinal plants, stunning trees which red flowers perched on the same tree and giant cacti. Colorful parrots, hummingbirds, butterflies and monkeys live in the vegetation. A good place to start your visit is the Grotto Kar Glasl, where you see the giant water lilies in the pond adjacent and can see the statue of Christ the Redeemer in the distance. Best-known is the Avenida das Palmas Imperiais, a long central avenue shaded by 200 imperial palms, huge trees descended from a single planted in early nineteenth century. They retain some of the original buildings of the garden, the Interpretive Center is located in an old sugar mill. There is also a Japanese Garden and two restaurants with terraces that allow prolonging your visit. Not far from the cafe, you may hear swooshing sounds – look up and you can see small monkeys swinging from tree to tree. If you take the bus, note that Jardim Botanico is also the name of a neighborhood, so make sure you get off at the right spot for the entrance.
Instituto Moreira Salles
Instituto Moreira Salles. 13:00-20:00. this white modern building houses an important collection of Brazilian art, Roberto Burle Marx designed the courtyard and the mural. The foundation created by the wealthy banker occupies the old home of the family clan. Perspectives and refined materials, the building was designed by Olavo Redig, the garden by Burle Marx. It has the best private collection of photography in Brazil (Marc Ferrez). It also holds exhibitions of painting and sculpture. Temporary exhibition hall, always of great interest. Displays a large collection of photographs of the city of Rio de Janeiro. It also has cinema, library and cafeteria.