Soaring mountains, white sandy beaches and beautiful natural settings, Brazil’s capital offers much more than just the amazing Christ the Redeemer. Visit the hidden bars or simply enjoy the samba nights
Catching the red eye to Rio de Janeiro after a day’s work was not the best way to start a trip, but it did mean we had the most time in the places we wanted to be.
After a short layover in São Paulo, we arrived in the early hours. Outside Santos Dumont Airport, we had a choice of tram or taxi. As we had just come off a long flight and the tram/metro was going to take twice as long, we caught a taxi to the Ritz Boutique Hotel where we were staying.
The hotel was cheap, had great transport connections and was in a fantastic location. It’s situated in a vibrant neighbourhood and only a couple of blocks away from one of world’s most famous beaches, Copacabana beach.
Rio is world renowned for is golden beaches. The beach was home to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, New Year’s Celebrations and is 6km long. Locals play sports, sunbathe and dance 24hrs a day.
After a short trip to Largo do Machado on the metro to see the Parish Church of Our Lady of Glory and a refreshment, we headed back to our hotel and were given a room.
The hotel was brilliant, with clean, spacious rooms and helpful staff. Our first port of call was Christ the Redeemer. Catherine and I had purchased an online ticket for the minibus ride up to the top and so we went to the meeting point, Praça do Lido.
Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer is one of the top things to see, not just in Brazil but the whole world. At 710 meters above sea level on top of the Corcovado Mountain, Christ overlooks the city below. With his outstretched arms the statue welcomes and protects the city. It doesn’t matter where you are in Rio, he is always keeping a watchful eye on you.
There are three ways to arrive at the redeemer. One is by Corcovado Train starting at the Trem do Corcovado station. The vertical cog train takes you to the base of the summit. From there, visitors climb the hundreds of steps to reach the top. Another is a hike up the mountain, but be advised as muggings do occur on this trail.
The third is the one we picked – the minibus at Praça do Lido. We were worried that there would be queues, but we were lucky that there were none. 30 minutes later and we were at Paineiras Visitors Centre for a quick look around and then on to the next van for a short trip to the top.
Christ’s feet is where we arrived, and we were rewarded with amazing views of Sugar Loaf Mountain, the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and the Maracanã Stadium. Knowing that football is a way of life here, the stadium, where Pele and co once played, is a treat for footie fans.
It’s the home of the two main teams in Rio –Flemengo and Fluminense. The neighbourhood isn’t the greatest, but it is still worth a visit.
Time of day at the Christ is critical to enjoy your visit, depending where you want the sun and how many tourists you want to encounter. We had chosen to have the sun behind us as we wanted to see the bay in all its glory. The experience was brilliant, and we spent a good couple of hours taking it all in.
The lack of queues meant that the reverse journey back to Copacabana in the minibus was pleasant as we could really enjoy the views without any stops. A long swim and lounging on the Copacabana beach was a great end to the day.
To see more on how to visit Christ the Redeemer, click here.
After an amazing buffet breakfast with incredible views overlooking Copacabana beach and with Sugar Loaf in the background, Catherine and I walked to the metro station, Cantagalo, to catch the train to Uruguaiana. The walk to the Candelária Church down the road was a little nervier.
The streets were quiet, apart from street kids stationed either side of the road. Luckily the church wasn’t too far and we hoped in for a look. The Candelária Church has had a troubled history, with the police force and the street children in 1993.
From the church, we walked to the old history centre old Rio, Praça Quinze de Novembro Square. The square is flanked by the Palácio Tiradentes and the Paço Imperial and has a ferry terminal at the end of the pier.
Walking north through the cultural centre was a great experience and we ended up at pier Maua looking at the Museum of Tomorrow. This new science museum was designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2015.
The old motorway that used to blight this area has been removed and has left a pleasant open space, Praça Mauá. The next stretch of our route moved down the Gamboa Port and ending with the Mural Etnias. This amazing mural was painted by Eduardo Kobra and is 15 metres in height and 170 metres in length. The old warehouses provide a perfect canvas for this type of work.
After looking around the street stalls and having a refreshment, we ended up at Parada dos Navios Station where we caught the tram to Sete de Setembro. Walking through Praça Estado da Guanabara and cutting our way through downtown, we were on our way to Praça Floriano. With modern skyscrapers all around the twentieth-century Teatro Municipal Theatre, it is a great surprise when entering the Praça Floriano.
The amazing facade is inspired by 1900s Paris and the symbol of architectural renovation promoted by the republican regime. The theatres luxurious interiors house frescoes, paintings and statues. Viewing one of the many shows is a good way to experience the building in full or book a guided tour.
After a short walk to Square Cardeal Câmara in the Lapa neighbourhood and we were faced with the Carioca Aqueduct. This structure was built in the 18th century to carry fresh water from the Carioca River to the city. It’s an impressive example of colonial architecture and engineering.
Since the late 19th century the aqueduct serves as a bridge for the tram that connects the centre of Rio with the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. The Santa Teresa Tramway is well worth a ride. Next, we headed to the Escadaria Selarón, a very colourful, tiled staircase.
The ‘Escaderia’ is made up of over 2,000 tiles and has 250 steps to the top. Tourists are aplenty and so you need to get there early if you want a picture on the steps by yourself! The tiles depict the work of a Chilean painter named Jorge Selarón and his romantic homage to the city that adopted him.
Catherine and I always use public transport wherever we are as it’s cheap and efficient, but for Rio de Janeiro we used caution, especially on the buses. This made us take taxis more than we would have liked, but as they were cheap and a bit safer, so we decided to catch one to the mountain.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
Sugar Loaf Mountain is an egg-shaped mountain, a 395-meters tall rock emerging from the waters of the Guanabar Bay. It is one of the best tourist attractions in this beautiful city. Again, like Christ the Redeemer, you will need to check the weather and decide where you want the sun for optimal views.
Catherine and I chose the afternoon with the sun behind the Christ. This gave a lovely spiritual effect as the beams of light broke through the clouds onto the city. The natural environment this city is situated around is second to none and the 360° views will blow you away.
The best way to reach the top is by a couple of cable cars. We were worried about queues for these amazing attractions, but we shouldn’t have worried, Rio was quiet. We returned to the hotel and grabbed some food before we turned in.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian
On our final day, Catherine and I jumped in a taxi and headed for The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. This Cathedral is not of traditional design and looks like something from the film Jurassic World.
Once inside and when your eyes adjust from the light, it is spectacular. This Roman Catholic Cathedral was designed by Edgar de Oliveria da Fonseca and was based on the Mayan architectural style of pyramids.
Construction finished in 1979 and replaced the aptly named Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro which sits near Praça Quinze de Novembro Square, also worth a visit.
In the afternoon, we headed to Parque Lage in the Jardim Botânico neighbourhood. With views of Christ the Redeemer above, we decided to enjoy a refreshment or two in the tranquil atrium and walk in the pleasant gardens.
Once recharged, we took off to the airport. On the way, once again, we witnessed the natural wonders that the city holds, and a visit is a must for them alone, but Rio has so much else more to offer.
With many museums, a joyful culture and vibrant streets, the city is a must for anybody travelling around Brazil. As our taxi driver dropped us off at Galeão International Airport in the north, we passed the Maracanã and a few favelas and wondered how much more amazing this city could be.
Buenos Aires was our next stop, but we really didn’t know how it was going to top Rio de Janeiro.
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Checking out J & C.