Welcome to Rio!
I should probably start by saying that I like to travel, most likely like everybody around the world, but I am not a traveler that is used to luxury or business lounge, nor to hostels or shared bathrooms. I simply want to enjoy my time spent travelling in a new destination as much as I can by keeping in mind some of my principles: near, clean, paradise, cheap, secure and jaw dropping. Not that hard, right? 😀
Having all the above said, I will share my experience from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Rio has been a dream to me since I was a little child and I watched all of the action movies or soap operas that took place in Brazil or they spoke Portuguese. I was fascinated by the colors, the language and the latino vibe that is so close to my nationality – Romanian.
Although I have dreamed of this place for so long, I never imagined that I could get there so easily. My journey would have taken place, in my mind, when I would have been 35 maybe and had a more stable financial situation.
Luckily enough, I didn’t have to wait until then
I was planning my trip to
Bali when I stumbled upon some great ticket prices to Rio, Tokyo and and some other cities. Having planned out more than 90% of my trip to Bali, I didn’t know what to do and for 2 nights I went to bed at 2 am while browsing the tickets. The 3rd day I bought them! Until then, I didn’t know much about Rio and I started looking for reviews, movies and trips to Rio so that I could plan my trip (I like to know in advance what to do, where to go, what to see, where to eat! and basically, to plan each day of my holiday with an activity).
I watched the Ciudad de Deus movie 1 month prior to my flight and that was a big mistake! :))
I also started seeking information about Rio and there were several safety wearings. That didn’t sound so much fun so I started to look for accommodation in Santa Teresa neighborhood which was recommended as one of the safest in Rio. I found a great condo in a new building that has a great reviews and a STUNNING view of the Sugar Loaf mountain.
Trying to find more about Rio, I also browsed a lot of local agencies for trips and I found out that Rio is pretty expensive (that would blow up my budget of 1.100$ for the trip) in terms of transportation, food and accommodation. Doing my homework, I managed to put together a list of this of sightseeing musts: Christ the Redeemer, Pao de Acucar, Jardim Botanico, Buzios, Ilha Grande, Santa Teresa, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Ipanema and Copacabana beach, Tijuca National Park, Lapa district and Pedra Bonita.
My stay was 11 nights long in Rio, so I had plenty of time to see everything I wanted.
Tips and tricks about getting to the city
When I first arrived at the GIG airport in Rio, I wasn’t very impressed because it isn’t very big and it was around 5 am. Back home I read about how to get to town from the airport and it was quite expensive by taxi (and most of the time you could get over charged) and by bus it was a little unsafe (I was really scared of what I read on blogs before getting there). There are 2 taxi companies: the yellow ones that are also called Radio Taxi which are always there and you have to negociate the fare and the Blue Taxi which have fix rate, but are more expensive. We were very lucky to grab a taxi, drove by a woman that didn’t speak very well English, at the second floor destined to leaving flights, not to arrivals 😛
At the end of our destination – Santa Teresa neighborhood – we exchanged Whatsapp contacts with the driver in order to call her again when we needed transportation.
Where to stay in Rio
Fred, the Sugar Loft building administrator, was awaiting us in front of the building to takes us upstairs to the studio. The studio was exactly as we saw it in the pictures, very clean and with a gorgeous view. Fred was so nice that he also lend us a prepay mobile card so that we can use in Brazil for our stay because if you do not have an Brazilian insurance number you can’t buy one for yourself – it saved us a lot of time and we could get around easily by using Google Maps.
What to see
The next days we went with a private car booked through Fred to see Christ the Redeemer and a tour of Santa Teresa. We went by ourselves to Jardim Botanico (MUST SEE and must reserve about 3 hours for it) and Tijuca National Park, where we took a cab that left us at the entrance (while stopping at Vista Chinesa). We wandered through Tijuca National Park by foot and saw some great scenery and nature, although there is a possibility to rent a jeep and ride along the paths up to the top of the forest (need a lot of mosquito spray with you). On our way back we tried the local buses and passed by Pedra Bonita, arriving at the the neighborhood of Tijuca which was stunning (where the Olimpycs take place). From there we took an express buss that took us over to Ipanema where you can enjoy a beautiful dinner at a terrace.
We stayed at the beginning of the Santa Teresa barrio which was close enough to the Lapa stairs (Escaderia Selaron) – a colorful 215 steps covered in colorful tiles as a tribute to the Brazilian people made by Chilean-born artist Jose Selaron, which has also died in 2013 on those stairs. At the corner of our building we had a bar – Bar do Serginho – that was full every night of people – both locals and foreigners – enjoying a cold cervessa. Every day we had to climb up and down the Lapa stairs in order to leave or come back home and we could see that starting from Thursday, the Brazlian people became very lively and went out to bars in the Lapa district for good food and music – forro, live concerts and dancing.
2 days of our holiday we booked with Rio Maximo agency a trip to Buzios and Ilha Grande. The first one is a famous location situated about 180 km of Rio that became famous due to Briggite Bardot and her visit there. The town is very posh and when you step in it you would’t say that you are still in Brazil. There are a lot a great sceneries over there and you can also enjoy a boat ride along the coast to see the most famous places of the town.
Ilha Grande is a remote island, inhabited only by w few people and it has the most serene scenery. The tour will walk you through a rain forest, let you bathe in a blue lagoon and have lunch on a remote beach. It is truly overwhelming!
Another not to miss destination in Rio is Pao de Acucar or the Sugar Loaf Mountain. It has stunning view around Rio and it is best to go there around 16:30 so that you can catch it while the sun is setting and also in the night time. The road leading to Sugar Loaf Mtn. is passing through an area of universities and big companies, so the architecture is great.
While you are in the first cabin climbing on the mountain you will see a beach right under it which is amazing for the first part of the day because afterwards the sun does to pass over the mountain.
Right between Ipanema and Copacabana beach, on the shoreline, there is a rock named Sunset Rock where people get together to watch the sun set and surfers doing their thing. When the dark falls, there will be music, dancing and a lot of Caipirinihas. If you want to have the best taste of Rio, you will get it from there, on that rock with every sun set you see.
Beach life in Rio is busy and you are always offered a drink or something to eat by a vendor that walks by. A good way to enjoy Ipanema or Copacabana is to drink a coconut to cool you down.
More to come…
In Rio it is pretty easy to get around with the subway or buses (locals or express ones) and you will always find someone nice willing to help you out. If you are careful and don’t flash around your jewelry or money (to us it even happened with food…) you will be safe.
Rio is fascinating and I plan to go back there soon as I plan to visit Iguazu Falls and Florianopolis, maybe Bolivia and Peru too.