Lively Rio bursts with character and colour
The fabulous Rio de Janeiro is a city simply fizzing with life and colour. This Brazilian gem was gearing up for its famous carnival week – which ends on Saturday, March 9 – which is always guaranteed to deliver some serious fun!
Voted one of the top 10 places in the world to visit, it is easy to see why. How many cities can you sit by your pool on a winter’s morning and soak up the sun as you admire the surrounding dramatic Urca Mountains and impressive skyline?
Hosting the Olympics in 2016 helped this South American city shake off its image as a violent, dark place. Today, it is a vibrant venue full of fascinating things to see and do, but also with a unique feel to it as the locals embrace new times, while continuing to hold on to the best of their traditions.
It’s a long-haul flight from Scotland, but the sight of the city as you land will refresh any visitor. Ubers fight with the official taxis to transport you the 20-minute drive into town and, in our case, Copacabana Beach, where hotels are in abundance and you are in the heart of the tourist sights.
We stayed at the Pestana Rio Atlantica, a fresh modern hotel, with a top-floor swimming pool, an ideal place to retreat after a hard day’s sight-seeing.
The hotel’s position means you wake up to all the different activities on the beach, which is famous for the annual carnival celebrations. From volleyball to beach gyms, the sand is packed from sunrise.
Thanks to the local buses – which are cheap as chips but a little scary as they are fast and bumpy – and reasonably priced taxis, you can get to places quite easily.
First up for us was the Christ the Redeemer statue. This symbol of Christianity follows you around the city. Perched 700 metres high on Corcovado Mountain, it is a sight to see. It was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and can be reached by taking a train through the Tijuca National Park.
The sculpture is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and weighs 635 tonnes. Seeing it up close is quite an experience, especially as tourists try to copy his pose for a souvenir photo. Because it is so high up, you are also afforded stunning views of the city and across to the area's other main attraction, Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Sugar Loaf is a must do and is probably the best attraction in Rio. It is wise to head there before sunset, especially if it is a clear day as the views across the Urca Mountains and to Christ the Redeemer are amazing.
Two funiculars take you to the top. There is an opportunity to walk up the first part of the ride on a special trail and when you reach the second station, there is a museum showing a history of all the different types of cable cars from the start in 1908 when engineer Augusto Ramos managed to persuade the moneymakers of Rio to invest in his dream, to the modern-day bubble shaped cars which glide up the 395-metre-high mountain with ease.
Below you can see the city and its skyscrapers and also Guanabara Bay and the turquoise sea. There is not much vegetation on Sugar Loaf; the granite rock dates back 600 million years and the mountain is so distinctive that even today it is a landmark for sailors and a defensive lookout.
The Botanical Gardens are a lovely spot to enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and are home to 6500 of Brazilian and foreign flora. Trails take you to waterfalls, through a rainforest crammed with colourful butterflies and insects to orchids and an avenue of palm trees.
Founded in 1802, it was originally intended to use to acclimatise spices such as nutmeg and pepper. It was opened to the public in 1822 and covers 140 hectares of land. It also attracts 140 species of birds and is used to carry out important botanical research.
Rio has a rich culture of museums, many based near the old port in the heart of the historic part of the city and transformed into an upbeat and vibrant area when the Olympics were here.
The Museum of Tomorrow is one of the highlights, encased in a strange-looking building which juts out into the sea and inside features science through sustainability, rather than objects.
The neighbouring Museum of Modern Art is packed full of art through the centuries and has a great exhibition on samba music which has archives of films showing concerts and parades through Rio as well as the drums themselves, so you can have a go.
Rio Aquarium is the biggest of its kind in Brazil and home to 3000 animals, featuring 350 species. You are taken underwater as you travel by the tanks full of brightly coloured fish and some fearsome looking sharks!
The white sands and blue seas are a major attraction for visitors to Rio. As well as Copacabana, the nearby Aproader beach and its famous rock is where the locals go and sit and enjoy the sunset and is next to Ipanema beach, popular due to it stunning white sands.
The locals are very friendly and happy to stop and chat and as many have never left Rio, they are curious to know all about your home country. One of the best places to make friends is the local juice bar, where you can enjoy refreshing coconut water served with a straw and still in its huge green shell, and an empanada, a pastry crammed full with fillings from chicken to shrimp and cheese.
What better way to enjoy this colourful but quirky country!
Need to know
Almost all the main carriers head for Brazil from Scotland, so there are lots of bargains to be had if you shop around. The best months to visit are from December to March as the hot weather is guaranteed. We opted for Air France, which had good flight times and excellent fares. www.airfrance.co.uk
As with most major cities, there is accommodation to suit all budgets. We found the main strip by Copacabana Beach to be a good choice as prices are fair and you are in the right place to access main tourist sites. Our choice was the Pestana Rio Atlantica, where the rooms were good, had views of the beach and the staff could not have been more helpful. www.pestana.com
There is so much to see and do in this wonderful city that it is a good idea to work out your itinerary before you go. The excellent tourist information people can help you with this online at visit.rio/en