Rio. Carnival, Copacabana Beach, Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf mountain, Ipanema Beach, Churrascaria… can they all be done in a day? Yes – kinda.
The direct flight from London took a little over 11hours and with a whole lot of nothing to see over the Atlantic for most of the journey, the sprawl of lights across the windows provided welcome food for the eyes as we descended into the city’s Galeao International Airport.
If you only have a short amount of time in a city, don’t waste your time wandering around with your head down in a travel book, get a guide who comes recommended and let them do all the hard work whilst you take in the sights and smells. Gustavo from Xplora Rio was exactly that – local, knowledgable and a dab hand at negotiating the rather exciting roads around the city, leaving us to make the most of our day out.
Picking us up from the hotel at 10am in a comfortable 4×4, first stop was a viewing point over Ipanema Beach. Copacabana may have the international name but the locals know that Ipanema is where the party’s at. Divided into various ‘Posts’, each one has become synonymous for the type of people who like to hang out there. Be it Post 7 for surfing or Post 8 for the gay scene – just be sure to do your research first… or ask your guide!
Onwards down the coast to that other famous beach – Copacabana. Grab a fresh coconut at one of the many beach side kiosks and settle down to watch kids showing off football skills like you never seen before and scantily clad sun worshipers (less is definitely more here) casually taking on the ‘refreshing’ waters of the Atlantic.
It’s then back in the car for the short drive to experience, in my opinion, the best view in Rio – from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. The original cable car was built in 1913, a rickety looking contraption which carried just a few people to the top of the 396m high hill. Its modern day incarnation now transports up to 65 people in just 3 minutes. I’d advise either boarding first or last to ensure you get a space by a window! From the top you can see most of this incredible city – along the beach at Copacabana, over the white boats dotted around the bay of the Yacht Club of Rio de Janeiro and across the city to the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain.
By now you’ll have worked up a decent appetite for lunch so stop off at A Mineira restaurant for some authentic Brazilian meats and salad. Don’t leave without trying the sausage off the BBQ and the local favourite, feijoada- stewed black beans with generous cuts of pork and beef. Finish off with some dulce de leche and you’ll be fuelled up for the ascent up to Christ the Redeemer.
Perched atop the 700m Corcovado Mountain, one of the most iconic landmarks in the world was finished in 1931, designed by a French sculptor and built as a collaboration between French and Brazilian engineers. It is now recognised as one of the 7 Wonders of the World and is visited by over 1.8m people every year. The car can only take you so far up the hill – National Park busses shuttle visitors the last few hundred metres up the hill where a series of steps (or escalators if you’re feeling lazy) take you up to one of the most dizzying viewing platforms in the world.
Many people now seem to be hiring what can only be described as camping mats to lie back and admire the view up towards the sky of Christ with his arms wide open. It does however give it the feel of a giant outdoor sleepover so be sure to watch your step when getting that perfect angle for your selfie!
So, the only thing missing is Carnival – and that is all about timing. Lasting about a week in February each year, this is probably the most famous party in the world – although I’m sure New Orleans might argue with me on this one. If you’re planning on being in Rio for Carnival, book well ahead of time as, understandably, the city gets a little busy. Some of the major sites I’ve mentioned above also close so be sure to check that out when planning your trip.
So yes, you can hit up Rio in a day, you just need a plan and a good guide!