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Published: January 31st 2012
Rio De Janeiro
Other than Machu Picchu in Peru, Rio de Janeiro seemed to be the most iconic destination to begin my travels in South America. So my friend Mary and I set off, completely blind to customs and native tongue, to Brazils second largest city. With no plan in mind, we decided it was safest to book into a hostel for the first two weeks, to organise ourselves and re-immerse ourselves into the backpacker, shared-room lifestyle.
After a night stopover in London Heathrow followed by a 12 hour flight to Rio’s international airport ‘Tom Jobin’, we finally arrived into 26 degrees Celsius heat at 8pm on a Brazilian summers evening. Walking through the arrivals gate we were greeted by our hostels assigned airport transfer driver. A quick twenty minute drive later, we arrived at Rio’s bohemian quarter Santa Teresa and our hostel, ‘Rio Hostel’. Santa Teresa sits on a series of hills and consists of winding cobbled streets with amazing views of the city. The colonial Portuguese mansions sit banked vertically off the streets and most buildings have been decorated with detailed graffiti. Our hostel had a similar vibe to the surrounding scenery, with a pool, hammock area, steps upon steps and a constant flow of Brazilian anthems which gave us an indication of what to expect from the nightlife.
Our closet neighbourhood, Lapa, is where we ventured out to experience this. Famed for its street parties on Friday and Saturday nights, a group of us took to the streets on our first Friday. The streets are open only to pedestrians and have vendors stationed every five metres along the pavement selling fried food, beer and the country’s famous cocktail, ‘The Caipirinha’, which consists of crushed ice, fresh lime, and 40%!c(MISSING)achaça( sugar cane rum), with no liquid mixer. At an equivalent € 2.50, three of these will leave you stumbling back up the hills of Santa Teresa. What makes the street parties so lively is the abundance of percussion bands pounding on various drums in rhythm, leaving even the most incapable dancer trying to shuffle to the beat. The parties usually end at 4am but many climb the hills to the Favella’s to watch the sun rise.
Our days were filled ticking off our list of tourist criteria. On one of our first days, we visited Pão de Açúcar (The Sugarloaf Mountain). A cable car traverses directly from the base of the mountain to the peak, or if you’re feeling adventurous (like us), you can hike to the lower peak (220 metres), which takes roughly thirty minutes, and then get the cable car the rest of the way, which saves you an equivalent €10. The view from the top of the Sugar Loaf is unmatched as it sits on the edge of city in the Urca district. The panorama captures the rolling hills of the city with the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches along with the Corcovado. We were lucky to arrive on a clear day before the afternoon, otherwise a thick fog sets over the mountain in the afternoon.
Many of our days were spent exploring the different sections of the Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches (a euphemism for laziness and getting drunk). The Copacabana waters were murkier and colder, while Ipanema had better surf. Leblon beach and its surrounding area was the most glamorous of the beaches and the adjacent streets were dotted with expensive boutiques and high-end hotels.
We finally mustered up the courage during our second week in Rio to face the hordes of tourists and visit Brazil’s modern wonder of the world, ‘Corcovado’ or ‘Christ the Redeemer’. After many warnings from other travellers we arrived early at the base of the mountain, which worked hugely in our favour. A 40 minute wait for our tram up seemed like nothing compared to the expected two hour wait at peak midday times. A 20 minute, €20 euro tram ride later we reached the peak, took the standard blasphemous ‘Jesus on a Cross’ posed photo and then quickly hopped back on the tram to escape the crowd.
Another day consisted of a visit to the world famous Escadaria Selarón (Selarón’s staircase), which contains over 2000 tiled paintings from over 60 different countries. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our Rio visit. We finished this day in Lapa with a visit to the truncated cone-shaped Catedral Metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro. Both sights were free of charge and within walking distance of the hostel.
Our final day in Rio resulted in us finally making our way out to one of the world’s largest urban parks, Parque Nacional Da Tijuca. We hiked for 4 hours throughout the well marked trails visiting waterfalls, keeping an eye out for wildlife. This finished our Rio de Janeiro visit off nicely, feeling like we had a well rounded balance of sightseeing and nightlife, but maybe not enough beach lounging, which brought us to our next checkpoint on our trip. An 11 day tour of the beaches up the Brazilian coast...
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