The city of Rio de Janeiro earned the nickname ‘Cidade Maravilhosa’, ‘Marvelous City’ after a popular march composed in 1935 for the city’s carnival which went on to become an even more popular song by Aurora Miranda. While it may be called marvelous, I can find a few other adjectives to sprinkle in; Rio you are beautiful, breathtaking, stunning, amazing, magical, and oh so major. Thank you for welcoming me with arms as wide as the Cristo Redentor.
This famous and vibrant Brazilian city nestled by the sea-side is home to popular beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, the world’s largest Carnaval festival, the pulsating and electrifying Samba, Corcovado Mountain and The Christ Redeemer, the views atop Sugarloaf Mountain and of course the Favelas.
I spent five days in the heart of this pulsating city, discovering, exploring and soaking up the culture. Rio is a major-must, and I can’t wait to return to experience its carnival. If you’re heading down south to the Marvelous City, here are a few major sights & to-do’s that are not to be missed.
- Christ The Redeemer – Nothing truly welcomes you to Rio quite like Cristo Redentor. It is spellbinding and it is larger than life. In 2007, the statue was officially named one of the new seven wonders of the world, and rightfully so, it is a wonder! The Christ, located 2,329 ft atop the Corcovado Mountain sits atop a 26 foot pedestal and stands 98 feet tall with a wingspan of an astonishing 92 feet. This symbol of Christianity and an iconic Brazilian monument was designed by Brazilian Heitor da Silva Costa and created by French sculptor Paul Landowski, and according to my tour guide Fernando was the brainchild of the Roman Catholic Church. While the Christ is the reason for the trip to Corcovado, don’t forget to take in the views. Oh, it is a stunning view of the entire city of Rio atop the mountain.
Fun Fact: This is the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world.
Getting There: I visited Christ on two different occasions. The first I had a guide drive me, and the other time I took the Trem do Corcovado. My advice would be to take the train, especially if its a busy time. The train is much faster, and less hectic. The twenty minute drive takes you up the scenic Tijuca Forest, while making occasional stops. Sit on the right side of the train, its a better view. It is a round-trip journey, and tickets can be bought online or at the ticket counter.
Fun Fact #2: Ironically the best time to visit the statue is during winter (June-September), during the summer (December-March) it is quite foggy and views can become obstructed. The reason I visited the statue twice was because the statue was obstructed by clouds on my first visit. Many people tend to grab a mat and lay at the base of the statue to wait out the clouds.
- Sugarloaf Mountain – If you’re looking for even more eye-popping views, you’re in luck. Rio’s got more than enough! The views from Sugarloaf Mountain are absolutely insane. If you’re afraid of heights, this may not be for you. This adventure includes a cable car which whisks you up two mountains. The first is Morro da Urca mountain, which is simply a primer to the main attraction. Up 395 ft above sea level, is the most visited Sugarloaf Mountain which provides sweeping views of the city, including Pedra da Gavea mountain, Downtown Rio, Christ the Redeemer and Corcovado mountain, the Copacabana Beach, the Red Beach, Botafogo cove and the Guanabara Bay.
Getting Here: I opted to use a tour-guide, but to be honest, one is not necessary. The most convenient part of the tour was that the guide picked us up from our house. If you’re not interested, hop in an Uber, tickets are sold at the station located at Red Beach.
Fun Fact: According to our guide Guillerherme, the mountain gets its name from the refined sugar produced in Brazil and formed into the shape of a loaf for export and local retail.
- Tijuca Forest – Looking for mountains, waterfalls, exotic flora, hiking trails, a toucan or a monkey? I think I’ve got the right place for you; the lush and green Tijuca Forest located in the heart of Rio. The forest, located in The Tijuca National Park, is the largest reforested urban area in the world measuring 12 miles. My fondest moments in the forest was coming THIS close to a wild monkey and watching him chomp down on a banana. I also realized that the saying, ‘monkey see, monkey do’, is actually spot on!
Fun Fact: According to my gangsta guide Fernando, the forest was actually an attempt to restore water to the city. The land was once used to grow coffee and sugar and due to deforestation began to effect the water supply. Efforts to replant the forest began in the 19th century, and were deemed successful.
Getting There: The forest is extremely big and a knowledgable guide is a necessity. Many people have gotten lost in the forest. Don’t be a statistic!
- Rocinha Favela – I was so indecisive about visiting the favelas; I think I caught a case of anxiety to be honest. My number one concern was safety. I could sense the annoyance of my tour company when I What’s-app’d them concerning the tour. “We wouldn’t send you somewhere that wasn’t safe.” OK, I booked. Then, the gangsta guide of mine, Fernando goes and tells me before we enter, ‘If you see little kids with assault riffles, don’t run.” WHAT!? I finally worked up the courage to go in there and he tells me this!! My visit to Rio’s most infamous Rocinha Favela was an eye opener. I was ignorant about the favelas. I thought it was just some ghetto; just one big slum. What I didn’t realize was that it was a living, breathing, thriving community. The Rocinha Favela is the biggest favela in Rio De Janeiro and is the home to almost two hundred thousand Brazilians; poor and the new “middle-class”. It has a hospital, schools, supermarkets, churches, a police station, banks, pools, beauty salons; it’s a full fledged community! Some residents don’t even know any other part of Rio; the favelas have it all. As I toured the alleyways and took a look at the maze of colorful homes stacked on top of each other and at the people living their daily lives, I couldn’t be more thankful for the life that I am afforded.
Fun Fact: The favelas “represent working-class affordable housing options for about a quarter of the city’s population,” its not just for the impoverished.
Getting There: There are many favelas in Rio, whichever you decide, a guide is mandatory. I used Rio Adventures and paired my favela tour with my Tijuca forest tour. When in a favela, put your cameras, phones and other valuables out of sight. Always be on guard.
- Escadaria Selarón – Made infamous by Snoop Dogg’s song ‘Beautiful’ featuring Pharrell, the Selaron Steps are simply just that, beautiful! Located between Joaquim Silva in Lapa & Pinto Martins in Santa Teresa, the steps are the life work of Chilean born artist Jorge Selarón, who spent 20 years creating one of the most recognizable attractions in Brazil; a tribute to the people of Brazil. The 215 steps are an explosion of color, decorated with more than 2,000 pieces of vivid tiles, mirrors and ceramics from over 60 different countries. It is a major must when visiting the artsy Santa Teresa and Lapa neighborhoods. I visited the steps on two separate occasions. As it was the Olympics, it was teeming with hundreds and hundreds of visitors. In order to appreciate Jorge’s masterpiece, I just had to return and I’m so happy I did; it’s stunning.
- Copacabana Beach – On the Copa, Copabana….lalalala. While I didn’t spend much time on the Copacabana, you can’t go to Brazil and not at least get some sand between your toes. As an island girl I don’t go traveling for the beach, I’m from The Bahamas. So, any other beach doesn’t impress me much. What’s certainly cool about Copacabana is watching the kids play soccer or taking in the impressive sandcastles! You can pick up some souvenirs or enjoy a Brazilian caipirinha while watching the sunset.
Not So Fun Fact: Pick pockets or “banditos” prey on tourists, especially on the beach. Keep your cell phones and valuables close. One Brazilian man who spoke not a lick of English made sure to school me on the dangers of having my phone out. I couldn’t understand him, but I’m sure this is what he was saying by flailing his arms, pointing to my phone and saying ‘banditos’.
There is so much to see and do in the electrifying city of Rio de Janiero. From the panoramic views, to the people, the history, the culture and the food, (picanha is a must) it’s safe to say, I’m counting down the days to my return!