Rio de Janeiro is synonymous with how we imagine Brazil, from magnificent views over miles of sun-kissed beaches, to the lofty heights of Christ the Redeemer, and marked signs of the country’s social inequality represented by its notorious favelas. With these images being known throughout the world, Rio is undoubtedly a global icon.
However, many travellers do worry about how to be best prepared to visit a destination that attracts a notable amount of negative media attention, both internationally and within Brazil itself. Fortunately, the Foreign Office provides some reassuring statistics: 202,671 British nationals visited Brazil in 2016, with the majority of visits being trouble free. A bit of common sense and some simple planning in advance will ensure your 48 hours in Rio will fly by, so here’s your guide to the city’s top spots, along with some helpful tips minimise the risk and maximise the fun!
Wander around Santa Teresa
A district that is quintessentially Carioca (the Portuguese word for describing anything related to Rio), Santa Teresa has a village-like feel that harks back to the city’s noble past as the capital of Brazil, both as an independent nation and as part of the Portuguese empire. Whilst somewhat dilapidated nowadays, the nineteenth-century architecture found in the neighbourhood provides a stunning backdrop for a leisurely midday stroll. Along with the iconic bondes (trams) that rattle through the streets, as well as the wonderful viewpoints over the city offered by Santa Teresa’s privileged hilltop location, this area offers a refreshing contrast to the highly energetic vibe found in other parts of Rio. When walking around this bairro, make sure that your route doesn’t take you into a favela: if staying here, ask your accommodation if they know of any roads that would be best be avoided.
Catch the sunset at Ipanema Beach
Whilst Copacabana is famous for its glamourous hotels and memorable views of Pão de Açúcar (known in English as Sugar Loaf Mountain), Ipanema is the place to head to if you want to make the most of a typically Carioca sunset. Relax with a refreshing caipirinha as the waves crash against the beach’s golden sands and the sun sinks behind the Morro dos Dois Irmãos to create a stunning scene that will stay with you long after leaving the city. As with any beach in Rio, it’s important to keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of potential thieves looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Your best bet is to leave all but the essentials back at your accommodation, stopping at your room once the sun’s gone down to prepare for an unforgettable night out.
Go on a bar crawl in Lapa
A trip to such a notorious party city would be incomplete without sampling the buzzing atmosphere of Lapa, a neighbourhood packed with bars and clubs, attracting locals and tourists alike. Start off at Arcos de Lapa, a square dominated by the imposing eighteenth-century aqueduct that serves as a meeting point for revellers. With vendors selling tasty snacks and formidably strong drinks, you’ll soon be well on your way to hopping between the many establishments that litter the area. Offering a range of genres including samba, Forró, pop, rock, techno and Brazilian Funk, Lapa’s nightlife is defined by its multi-faceted character. Of course, with this comes unpredictability: busy streets and a wide variety of places to go, added to the likelihood that a lot of alcohol will be consumed, means it can be difficult to plan effectively and easy to get lost. It’s worth always sticking with at least one other person and have a fully-charged phone on you with a taxi app installed. Make sure you know the address of your accommodation (or have it saved on your phone), and be aware of local laws and customs that are specific to Brazil. Keeping these tips in mind, remember that Cariocas are famous for their warmth and hospitality, so be ready to make new friends and experience the passion and beauty of Rio for yourself!
– by James Landymore