Lively city with the largest carnival and famous beaches
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Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has a rich and boisterous past. Once the home of the Tamoio Indians, it is now a city full of opposites, where the poor and the rich live side by side.
A trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is more than carnival, Copacabana, football, the statue of Christ and the favelas. Walking through the city provides an image of South America in all its diversity.
On top of the Corcovado is the world famous statue of Jesus. With his arms wide, he seems to be blessing the city and its inhabitants. The inhabitants say, 'God created the world in seven days, but on the eighth he dedicated himself to Rio de Janeiro'. The statue is 38 meters high, making it the largest statue of Christ in the world. The Catholic Church commissioned and the statue was built in 9 years, between 1922 and 1931.
See my tips Christ the Redeemer
Sugarloaf Mountain is a 396 meter high piece of rock with a striking cone shape. It is from the seven cone rocks that lie in and around Rio. They are all badly eroded, what you see nowadays are just the remnants of an immense mountain range. The summit is easily reached via a 1,400 meter long cable car, but it is also possible on foot.
See my tips for Sugarloaf Mountain
The 704-meter-high Corcovado (meaning the hunchback) is a must for those visiting Rio. This hill towers over the city. And on top of the Corcovado is the world famous statue of Jesus the Redeemer. In addition, the mountain is famous for its view over Rio de Janeiro. The Corcovado is relatively rough for a city park where hordes of tourists come. You can go up on foot and with a special tram.
According to many visitors, Ipanema beach is more beautiful than that of the much more famous Copacabana. In fact, it is sometimes called the most beautiful beach in the world. On the western side of the beach are two overgrown hills: the Dois Irmãos (two brothers). Ipanema and Copacabana are adjacent, but Ipanema is in a slightly more upscale neighborhood. With numerous fine restaurants, cafes, shops, night clubs, art galleries and theaters.
The 4 kilometer long stretch of sand of the Copacabana is perhaps the most famous beach in the world. But it is, in fact, the name of a neighbourhood in the south of the city. The name was already known in the 1920s, when the luxurious Copacabana Palace Hotel opened its doors. Gambling was then legalised and numerous casinos popped up. Several celebrities took a look. Gambling has now been banned again. The heydays of the beach and the neighbourhood are long gone, but a visit is a must.
Parque Nacional da Tijuca is an enormous city park. However, it is also a real national park, despite its location, smack in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. It comprises Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain, among other things. This remarkable jungle is easy to reach and ideal for a (lengthier) walk.
The rain forest boasts many flowers, butterflies, and birds and you are relatively alone here, especially when you take to the hiking trails. Be quiet; you may encounter monkeys, snakes, and countless other animals.
When you think of carnival, you think of Rio de Janeiro. The whole city usually becomes a stage in February for scantily but colourfully dressed ladies and gentlemen who dance exuberantly to the rhythmic, uplifting music. On the Saturday and Sunday before Ash Wednesday are the processions of dozens of floats.
See my tips for Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
This is literally a dive into the past. Santa Teresa and Cosmo Velho are the two oldest districts of the city. It feels as if you have stepped into the 19th century and you can catch a glimpse of life as it was way back then. Walk between the blocks of houses, through the narrow streets and gape at the large old houses and gardens.
According to experts, the Jardim Botânico in Rio is one of the best botanical gardens in the world. With its magnificent location on the foot of the Corcovado Mountain, you can see over 10,000 trees and flowers here. They come from all over the world, but a great deal of them are from South America, including many, many orchids.
The Convento de Santo António is a monastery built by the Franciscans, followers of the Italian Saint Francis of Assisi. The monastery is one of the oldest in the country and is best known for its location and interior. The choir, located on the raised forecourt, is completely decorated with gilded carvings. Check the view from the monastery over the city.
The Museu Nacional de Belas Artes is one of the best in the city. The museum contains Brazilian art from the 17th to the 20th century. Works by famous masters such as Victor Meirelles, Pedro Américo and Eliseu Visconti can be seen in the various halls. The museum is built in the style of the French Renaissance. It is located on Av. Rio Branco.
The Mosteiro de São Bento is a Benedictine monastery, with a church. It is considered the finest example of the Brazilian Baroque. Construction started in 1589, but only after a dam was built around the surrounding swamp area. The walls and altars are richly decorated and mostly gilded.
The Noss a Senhora da Glória itself is not that special, but the location of the church is. It is located above the Bay of Flamengo and you get a very nice view over the bay. This is a popular place to get married. Note the wall tiles with biblical scenes from the 18th century in the church.
The Museu Chácara do Céu cannot complain about the location either. It is idyllically located on a hill in the Santa Teresa district. The museum is best known for its collection of modern paintings. In February 2006 the museum became world news. Four paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Monet and Dalí were stolen by four armed men. The total value was more than 30 million euros.
The Museum of Modern Art has made the city known to many art lovers. The museum is shaped like a spaceship that hangs over the rocks by the sea. The design comes from Oscar Niemeyer. This Brazilian also designed, among other things, the United Nations building in New York. The interior of the museum fits in seamlessly with the round shapes of the UFO. Including large windows that give a view of the city. The museum features the best of Brazilian contemporary art, including abstract sculptures and paintings.
The striking white Arcos da Lapa (also called Aqueduto da Carioca) is one of the few relics of the Portuguese era in the city. The aqueduct dates from 1750 and is very similar to aqueducts in Portugal, such as the Aguas Livres aqueduct in Lisbon. It has 48 arches and is more than 100 meters long. The aqueduct once carried water from the Rio Carioca to the city. Today the popular Bondinho da Teresa tram runs over it. It transports people from downtown Rio to the hilly Santa Teresa neighborhood. The aqueduct is located in the Lapa district.
The Passeio Público is also a relic of the colonial era. The park was created in 1779. Passeio Público is the oldest park in Brazil and possibly even in South America. One of the reasons was to dredge the surrounding lagoon, which significantly reduced the risk of disease in the city. Countless memories of the Portuguese can still be seen here. This park is also located in the Lapa district.
The Estádio do Maracanã is one of the most famous football stadiums in the world. This football temple was built especially for the World Cup in 1950. And is now one of the largest football stadiums in existence. All four major clubs (Fluminense, Botafogo FR, CR Flamengo and CR Vasco da Gama) are based here. The stadium is named after the district where it stands.
It is the ultimate dream of people who love to eat meat. If you visit a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) you will see a huge charcoal fire. On the fire, there are skewers with sizzling pieces of beef, pork, lamb and chicken. The staff walks around the place with the skewers and will stop at your table to cut off some of the meat.
However, take it easy, you can eat until you drop here … Salads, vegetables and several other side dishes complete the meal. You can find them all over the city, but the most famous one (and most tourist-oriented) is Marius Degustare at the Copacabana. Conclude your evening with a cafezinho, a cup of sweet black coffee.
Rio must be one of the most remarkable helicopters flights you can ever take. This due to its position around the hills. And diversity. A helicopter flight comes highly recommended. Especially in the early morning or in the late afternoon, when the colours are soft. This is perfect for taking photos of all the highlights the city has to offer.
The slums of Rio are both famous and notorious. Art House movies like Cidade de Deus (about young gangsters in a violent favela in Rio) bring all the problems to the attention of the greater public. You can follow a workshop and go into Rocinha, which is the largest slum in the world, according to many. Here you will get acquainted with the population in a realistic manner and see how they live, what their problems are, and their chances in life. The organizers refer to the tour as a safe, sustainable, and unique undertaking. It’s up to you to verify this.
Despite the early French presence, Governor-General Mem de Sá was seen as the founder of Rio de Janeiro in 1567, over sixty years later. The mercantile town gradually grew and apart from the French, also the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands tried several times to conquer it.
The continued attacks by the Netherlands were not without success: from 1630 to 1654 almost all of Brazil was a Dutch colony. It was named Dutch Brazil or New Holland, but the colony did not last because the number of immigrants from the Netherlands was insufficient, so the city remained vulnerable. In 1654, all immigrants were either slaughtered or driven out by the Portuguese again, this time for good. That was the end of the Dutch history here.
The inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro call themselves cariocas, which is a local Indian term for home of the white people. This generic name is a good indication that the inhabitants are descendants of people with different backgrounds. Brazil, and also Rio for that matter, was very popular among Europeans at the end of the 19th century. Even back then, the city attracted many German, Italian and Dutch emigrants. This is still evident around the city. These days, the city is divided in a northern section (zona norte) and a southern section (zona sul) and in between there is a huge park named Tijuca National Park.
Rio, as the city is popularly called, has a remarkably long history. According to archeologists, the native people here were the Tamoio Indians. They kept to the jungle most of the time but also used the sea as a source for food. Apart from the food they gathered by hunting and fishing, they also ate fruits and roots.
In 1502, a group of Portuguese explorers arrived, led by Amerigo Vespucci, who left the Indians alone at first. When the Portuguese first saw the bay of Guanabara they thought to have found an estuary of a large river. This is why they named their settlement Rio de Janeiro, or ‘January river’.
The French were the first to build a settlement in the spot where Rio de Janeiro now lies. For a long time, this had been their only settlement in South America and they especially looked for hardwoods which they shipped to Europe. The stories of gold and other minerals caused an increasing interest by the Portuguese, who attacked the French settlement in 1560.
The result was that the Tamoio got caught in the middle of a war. The French forced the Tamoio to support them in driving out the Portuguese. As the Portuguese were better armed, they eventually won the bloody battles and the Tamoio were driven out of the area.
The Brazilian winter is short: from June to August. These are the coolest months, which means the temperature will be around 25 degrees.
In summer (from December to February) it is very warm in Rio and the humidity is high. Most Brazilians will go on holiday then, so hotel rooms will be more expensive and harder to come by. This is especially so during carnival (which is mostly held in February) and you will be required to make your reservations at least a year in advance.
Rio de Janeiro is notorious for its many burglaries and robberies. They occur very frequently, particularly at Copacabana. The Southern region of the city is considered to be much safer than the Northern region, but robberies take place here as well, even in broad daylight. An old trick in Rio is that thieves will sneak sleeping pills into your drinks at the outdoor cafés, to make you an easier victim. Please beware of this.