Rio de Janeiro is one of the most vibrant cities in South America with something for everyone. Whether you like to visit tourist attractions or simply taking it easy on beautiful beaches, you will be surrounded by beautiful scenery.
But if your time in Brazil is short and you want to take in as much as possible, you need to prioritize. With that in mind, what are some of the best activities to occupy your time, your mind and have the most memorable time in Rio?
Here are ten of my favorites. It is not an all encompassing list by any means, but I chose activities that I can personally vouch for.
Note: All prices mentioned will be in USD at an exchange rate of 2 Reals to 1 USD, the average exchange rate over the last 5 years. As of Feb 2014, the exchange rate is much better than that (2,40R to 1 USD). However, for simplicity, I will use the 2 to 1 rate.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
If you want to take in one of the most iconic views of the city, go to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. If you are familiar with the James Bond movie Moonraker, you probably recognize the view.
Getting to the top involves taking two separate cable car rides. The cable car stops at each level if you like and walk around for as long as you like. The views are amazing.
The cost per person is about $25 per person, again depending on the exchange rate.
At the top of the mountain, there are hidden trails that go around the mountain. It truly is one of the best 360 degree views of the city and the surrounding ocean and bay. You get a clear view all the way to the airport and across to Niteroi.
When you get ready to leave, you simply wait for one of the cars and go back down. A visit to Sugar Loaf should definitely be on your list of things to do.
Christ the Redeemer
Along the same lines, the other thing that cannot be missed is one of the most recognizable symbols of any city. In fact, the last time you saw a photo of Rio or a news story about the area, it probably showed a view of Christ the Redeemer, the giant statue that sits high on top of Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city.
There are a couple of ways to get to the top. You can ride a trolley car up the mountain, or take a van to the base. The van is quicker, but it costs twice as much as the trolley. There isn't much to say about the vans other than you ride up with 5 to 10 people, and they let you out at the base of the statue. If time is an issue, use the vans.
The more scenic route is to go by trolley car. It actually takes you up the side of the mountain through a lot of vegetation and occasionally there are amazing views on the way up. The cost of the trolley is about $25 per person.
Once you are at the top, the view is amazing. Again, 360 degree views of the city, and in fact it is much better than Sugar Loaf because you are up much higher. You can stay up top as long as you like and depending on the way you came up, you wait for the next van or trolley and head back down.
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Dine in Ipanema
When you are walking through Ipanema, at some point you will have the thought, I'm walking through Ipanema, and probably start humming "Girl from Ipanema".
Ipanema is probably the cleanest, most upscale part of the city with a lot of nice restaurants that really come alive at night.
You will have every type of restaurant to choose from but wherever you choose to eat, just focus on the moment. You are dining in Ipanema and life could not be better.
Visit Lapa at Night
There are plenty of places to go at night in Rio, but the hottest night spot is an area near the downtown (referred to as centro) called Lapa. You will recognize this area from the iconic arches that supported the old trolley cars that used to run through the city.
This place contains restaurants, bars and lots of different types of people including locals and foreigners. If you really like crowds, the best nights to go are Thursday – Sunday, but there is something going on there every night. If you are into night life and members of the opposite sex, this is the place to go.
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Ride the Metro to Centro
The metro in Rio is very safe and very efficient in moving people through. It can get extremely crowded during the afternoon rush hours so I recommend you avoid those times if at all possible or you will be standing nose to nose with someone in a car for an uncomfortable period of time.
However, it is one of the cheapest ways to get around the city. Currently, there is only one station in Ipanema, three stations in Copacabana and multiple stations all along the way to centro and beyond.
Walk Around Centro
One of my favorite things to do is get on the metro, ride to centro and get out and walk around during the week. The area is pretty dead on the weekends, but during the work week, it is vibrant. It is a great experience and during the work week, it is very safe with lots of people mulling about.
There are lots of small restaurants to grab lunch and if you are into old architecture, there are many colonial type buildings still remain in the area.
Take the Ferry to Niteroi
For the same amount of money as a bus ride, you can take a ‘bus’ across the bay to Niteroi. It is the cheapest way to get out on the water and see the city from a different angle. The ferry station is located in centro at Praca 15 (Square 15). You can take a taxi but what I recommend is taking the metro to Carioca station in centro, and walking down to Praca 15.
The ride across the bay takes about 15 minutes and there are shops, restaurants and a mall nearby if you want to do some shopping.
Visit Camboinhas Beach
Across the bay and past Niteroi is an area of beaches called Camboinhas and it is very beautiful there. If your goal is to get away from the touristy areas of Copacabana and Ipanema, this is a nice area to go. However, getting there can be a challenge as there are no buses that are allowed up the main street to the beach and taxis generally do not roam the area.
The best method would be to arrange to go with a local or make a deal with a taxi driver to come and pick you up at a certain time of day, or when you call them. It is a stunning area with beautiful views of the ocean and sheer cliffs so it is definitely worth a day trip.
Bike Around Lagoa in Rio
Another thing you must do when in Rio is rent a bike and ride up and down Copacabana and Ipanema on the bike trails by the beach. Also, the area just inland of Ipanema is called Lagoa because it sits around a large salt water lake. Lagoa simply means lake in English.
There is a bike trail that runs all around the lake, about 5 miles total and it is very scenic and very relaxing. The best time to go is during the work week because it can get extremely crowded on the weekends because people walk and ride in the pedal cars along the path.
In short, on Saturdays and Sundays, you will be dodging people left and right trying to make your way through traffic on the path, so avoid those days. Definitely take the time to do it though.
Drink a Caprinha Near the Beach
The national drink of Brazil is a called a caprinha. The best way for me to describe it is sort of like a margarita. No tequila, but the liquor in it is really strong like tequila, so be careful. It is just one of those things you need to experience while you are in a different culture.
A caprinha at one of the beachside restaurants overlooking the ocean cannot be beat.
Visit Rio de Janeiro
There is so much more to do in Rio. I have not even scratched the surface. However, everything I listed I have actually done and like anything, words do not do an actual experience justice.
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