The geographical setting of Rio de Janeiro is enough in itself to warrant visiting. Nestled into steep undulating mountain ranges on territory carved out further by the parabolic arches of its beaches and harbours – sharp mountain promontories rising in every direction – this is possibly the most visually spectacular city in the world. But with world-famous beaches, pulsating musical rhythms and dynamic festivals, clubs and bars, Rio, most importantly, knows how to have a good time.
Start by taking it all in on a vista-filled two-stage aerial tramway journey to the top of the Sugar Loaf mountains. Or take the cog railway up mount Corcovado where the iconic statue of the Christ Redeemer will introduce you, arms outstretched, to the panorama of it all. Better still, paraglide off one of the surrounding hills and let tropical air currents show you the city’s beaches, harbour, streetscapes, monuments and more.Hit the coast and rent a beach chair and umbrella at famous Copacabana or Ipanema beaches. Employ the services of the vendors selling ice tea, empanadas, fresh juice and beer, then sit back and marvel at the bikini babes, beach soccer games, sand, surf and sky. Then maybe later, settle in to a beach kiosk bar with a cool caiparinha as the sun goes down. But be warned: close to Ipanema is a dangerous favela (slum) where life is cheap, crime and violence standard and opportunities few and far between.
A hothouse of culture for centuries, three styles of music have emerged from Rio’s fertile cultural soils: samba, choro and bossa nova. Samba continues to be popular, and you can check out the best of its beats at one of the clubs in downtown Lapa. For local and international music of every kind though, head to the clubs in Casa da Matriz, Ipanema and Copacabana.
Like any big city, Rio is filled with numerous museums showcasing the country’s achievements, culture and style. If you’re limited to one, catch a ferry across Guanabara Bay to the surreal flying saucer shaped Niterio Contemporary Art Museum (Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói — MAC). Dwelling on a rocky cliff on the coast of Niterói, the MAC is host to wonderful Brazilian and international art and a spectacular view of the city. Then take a hike through the city’s Tijuca tropical rainforest, a wonder through its extraordinary botanical garden, or hire a peddle-operated boat with your lover in the city’s southern lagoon (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas).
In early colonial days Rio de Janeiro was a Portuguese backwater. From 1720 onward however, after gold, diamond and ore were found in the nearby Minas Gerais region, Rio, as the nearest port, bloomed. It’s been blooming ever since. Most intensely during Carnival, when elaborate floats, plumed dancing girls and samba bands provide the audio-visual backdrop to a non-stop two-week party – the most famous street festival in the world.
With gorgeous beaches, dramatic mountains, magical parks and gardens, and a dynamic nightlife, Rio is a city with more.