Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, presents an image which is one of the most recognized in the world — Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach, closed in by skyscrapers, with Sugarloaf Mountain looming overhead, and, behind and looking over the city at the Corcovado, the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor). What an incredible panorama!
This calm, magnificent setting is juxtaposed with a scary reputation for lawlessness and crime, especially directed at tourists. What is a potential visitor to think? Actually, the consolation seems to be that the crime aspect is being addressed, although no one should think the problem has been solved. Also there are things a tourist can do to minimize the danger. For instance, take taxis instead of buses, try not to look affluent (wearing expensive jewelry), and certainly stick to places where there is a police presence, if possible.
First of all, attend to the views. Take the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf, which, at 1296 feet (430 meters) offers a great look, for orientation purposes, at Guanabara Bay and the city beyond. Rides leave from the Praca General Tiburico every half hour. There is a required stop at Morro de Urca which also offers excellent views, before proceeding to the mountain top.
A second classic view of Rio comes from the Corcovado, northwest of the Centro in the Cosme Velho neighborhood, and accessed by a narrow-gauge railroad or by bus. The classic view at the top of the 2300 foot (750 meter) peak is breath-taking. The 100 foot (32 meter) statue, Cristo Redentor, presiding over this glorious domain is also impressive.
The third important view of Rio is from the beach looking outward toward Sugarloaf. Perhaps the best vantage point for this famous image is from Copacabana Beach, a beautiful 2 mile (3.2 km) stretch of sand lined with a landscaped sidewalk, cafes, and hotels.
The second great beach, made famous in the song, The Girl From Ipanema, is Ipanema Beach, another incredible 2 mile (3.2 km) strand where the “beautiful people” come to play. There are volleyball and “Footvollei”, the same game but without hands, and vendors selling everything from beers to bikinis. Sundays are especially crowded when the Avenida Veira Souto which parallels the beach is closed to traffic. There is also great shopping in the vicinity.
Other worthwhile attractions in the city include the Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) which is on the outskirts of the city, in the Lagoa neighborhood. It offers some peace and tranquility in a fairly intense destination. Some buildings of note are the unusual Catedral Metropolitano, the Ilha Fiscal, the exquisite blue-green ceramic, castle-like custom house, located on an island belonging to the Navy in Guanabara Bay (the Navy offers tours), and the Palacio Gustavo Capenema, which is a good example of the Modernist movement in architecture.
City squares of note include Cinelandia (Praca Floriano), the location of Rio’s Opera House (Teatro Municipal), one of the city‘s most striking buildings, and Largo do Machado, which is the site of Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Gloria, an interesting looking church. (Check with hotel staff about safety in these areas before going)
For a markedly different experience in this big city, take a cab to Parque Nacional da Tijuca (Tijuca National Park), an urban rain forest which offers hiking, wildlife and an accessible waterfall.
Of course, Rio is world-famous for its elaborate Carnaval celebration whose activities, parades, etc., consume the four (4) days prior to the start of the Christian sacrificial period of Lent.
1. Continue north beyond Ipanema Beach and past Leblon Beach, then up into the hills to the Parque Penhasco Dois Irmaos to find Mirante de Setimo Ceu (Seventh Heaven Lookout) for another picture postcard view of the city and its environs.
2. A great excursion from Rio which involves a minimum of two (2) days is to the well-preserved hilltop town of Ouro Preta. The trip is about 300 miles (480 km) north from the city, and there are also buses available. The city is a marvel of elaborate Baroque architecture, and, although the streets are steep, a delight to explore by foot, as beautiful buildings await the visitor on virtually every turn. Especially magnificent are the city’s churches, many of which are adorned with the sculpture and stonework of Ouro Preta’s favorite son, artist Aleijadinho.
A few of the must-see churches include Sao Francisco de Asis, with its exquisite pulpits, altars, and baptismal font, Nossa Senhora do Rosario, the simple and unusual “slave church”, and Matriz da NS do Pilar, with its numerous gilded angels and other figures.