A city that runs on the swinging beat of soulful samba, Rio de Janeiro is a place you visit once, return to multiple times, and continue to dream of forever. It is easy to see why the city has gained the title of the Marvellous City: although it is incredibly chilled, there is an addictive energy. Days could be spent in the busy shopping district of Centro, or sipping on coconuts on Copacobana beach, two seemingly different worlds linked by one wild bus ride around Guanabara Bay.
Although the two most well-known sights are perhaps the Christ the Redeemer statue on the Corcovado, and the iconic Sugarloaf mountain, there is so much more to do in this vibrant city. Taking a break in nature to spot some toucans in the Tijuca forest is just as likely to be part of the daily routine as is visiting a samba school in one of the city’s many favelas. Each and every neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro has its own unique vibe – from the Bohemian calm of Santa Teresa to its neighbour, Lapa, bustling with samba bars and cafes. With the 2016 Olympics being held in Rio, this is the year to consider visiting, or in fact re-visiting, this wonderful city.
Brazilian people are warm, generous, and full of life – nothing could reflect their spirit more than the colourful array of food available throughout the city. If you think you know what good food is, come to Brazil and you will discover a whole new world of deliciousness. Brazilian locals feast on food from street vendors: buttery corn-on-the-cob, hot churros filled with dulce de leche, and frozen acai topped with granola. Taking a cooking lesson not only introduces you to the basics of Brazilian cooking, but to the richness and diversity of this vivid culture. Not only will you leave feeling like you have learnt more about the Brazilian people but, as the Brazilians themselves say, you will gain the confidence to create exciting dishes with new ingredients that will make you want to throw open your windows and let the world smell the mouth-watering aromas.
Samba: the name of the famous Brazilian dance celebrated through the annual carnivals and the music that beats throughout the city all day and night. In the summer, the samba schools open their doors for the whole day; both locals and tourists can feast on the famous Brazilian feijoada stew while the eyes admire the spirited performances put on by talented dancers and musicians. Throughout the city, schools like Manguiera host events where you can dance the day away with your new Brazilian friends, and end it with a toast of strawberry caipirinhas.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable ways to get to know any city is visiting the local flea market. Rio hosts one on the first Saturday of every month in Rua Lavradio, where the road closes off any form of transport, allowing the stalls to spread from one end of the road to the other. Spend the day looking through stalls selling anything from vintage telephones, to fragrant soaps shaped as extravagant wedding cakes, to plant pots painted in the colours of the Brazilian flag. Stall vendors here do not hassle, and instead welcome you to look around their goods and even invite you to sample that chocolate flavoured cachaca you had your eye on. The evening ends with a local band playing beats on the drums while strangers samba together in the street, the sun leaving a warm glow over the art deco pavements.
If you crave a peaceful haven, away from the bustling streets full of football fans and market merchants, head straight to Parque Lage. Perhaps overshadowed by the large Parque Flamengo, Lage park offers delights of its own and provides an adventurous space full of caves to climb through, and castles to climb up. Set against a backdrop of the Corcovado, this park is set in the Rio rainforest and houses a beautiful building complete with a pool of turquoise waters. Relax in the grounds with a typical Brazilian churrascaria or have a coffee in the cafe. Located near the beautiful Rodreigo de Freitas lagoon, where all different kinds of people take part in sports as diverse as cycling and pedal boats, it provides a day out for people of any age group and interest.
Visiting Rio without taking a tour of a favela would be a massive shame, especially one as beautifully colourful as Santa Marta. You might have heard a whole host of stories about the dangers of walking through a favela – and many favelas are still not appropriate to visit alone as a tourist – but since it’s pacification Santa Marta has been nothing but welcoming to outsiders, whether from Rio, Brazil, or abroad.
Santa Marta is not the largest favela in Rio, but it was one of the very first to get pacified. Take a tour with a company that is created by the favelas residents, an important thing to look out for to make sure that you are feeding back in to the livelihood of the neighbourhood. You will normally be driven to the top, then with a guide you will walk down through the favela looking at the crowded houses and meeting the residents. People who live in the favela are extremely cheerful in welcoming visitors to Santa Marta, and so even with a language barrier they do their best to communicate through arm gestures, ushering you in to their homes and showing you their families.
It is an incredibly special experience to visit the favela, because you get to see another completely different side of Rio; and it opens your eyes to some of the country’s major political issues. Wherever you visit in Rio, you can be sure that it will be special. The DNA of this city is so unique, it has a number of different personalities for you to continually explore and most probably never get tired of. This colourful city is most definitely worth a visit for anyone; especially those who love to soak up a completely different culture. Rio de Janeiro is not only a city for dreaming about, but a city you must see.