We have just returned from our second trip to Rio. We went last Easter for 8 days and loved it. I have to say that this report will not be as detailed as recent ones as we were very lazy this time! We chose the same hotel as last time, the Ipanema Plaza ,as we couldn't beat the location and the hotel is lovely.
The first thing to do when you arrive is to take off all your jewelry and leave them in the safe for the duration of the holiday. Rio is a city of contrasts- very rich and very poor. It is very common for instance to see people raking through buckets. Don't let yourself become a target by showing off jewelry, cameras etc. It does feel strange going out at night without jewelry but if you take a look at others you will see you are in the majority!
Saying that we never saw any problems and I never felt in any danger. It just takes some common sense.
The beaches are the main reason why people go to Rio and they are pretty unique! There are 3 main ones- Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon. All are fabulous. We stuck with Ipanema as our hotel( like most others) provides an area of the beach with sunbeds, towels and most importantly a couple of attendants who are constantly on the look out!
Along the beach front there are police all over the place. We did not have this last year but I do know that there had been some problems with gangs coming down from the favelas(slums) and running down the beach on masse gathering up any possessions along the way. It would have been impossible for this to happen now.
The beach is full of locals- I would say holidaymakers were almost in the minority. Life appears to revolve around the beach with everybody spending every spare moment on it. They certainly socialize! You can buy almost anything on the beach- from food, drink, suntan lotion, teashirts, hammocks(!), string dresses, cds, sunglasses, bikinis, cigarettes- the list is endless. There are hundreds of sellers but they do not pester you at all. A simple headshake is enough. People go down to the beach with as little as possible. It is commonplace to see men walking down the busy city streets wearing only speedos, flip flops and a smile! ( Speedos are the fashion there- all the locals wear them. Not the best fashion accessory in my opinion!).
There are different sections of the beach for different groups although these are not exclusive to them. We were next to the Rainbow part of the beach- I'll let you guess what that was!
As the beaches are man made the waves are pretty extreme, it is not uncommon for waves to be about 12 feet high close in. Most would be over 6 feet anyway. It is not really advisable to go far out as even knee deep you can really feel the pull of the water. There is a rescue helicopter constantly going up and down the beaches and we saw several rescues. I spent ages just watching the waves.
Right along the beaches is a walkway and we had several long walks down to Leblon and up to Copacabana. Husband got up early a couple of times to do a run along it- loads of people do this. Along the walkway at regular intervals are beach shacks where you can stop off for a coconut or for a caprihna. The caprihna is the drink everyone has over there. It is sugar cane based and you mix the spirit with limes, sugar and ice. It is great stuff but very potent!
We did a few trips last year. A good one was up Sugar Loaf. You take a cable car up and it was featured on one of the James Bond movies. As I am not a fan I can't remember which one it was. The views are spectacular from the top. In fact my favourite photo of Rio is one of these.
Look at the Rio skyline one ( the rest are mine as well)
Last year we also took a trip to Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer. We took the train through the tropical rainforest to the top. Unfortunately we couldn't see a thing when we got there as it was covered in clouds. We were literally standing right next to the statue and couldn't see it. All of a sudden the clouds cleared for a minute and we caught a glimpse. It was almost like a religious experience! We could see nothing of Rio down below us though. This happens frequently on booked trips and , to be fair, the tour company offered us a free return any other day of our choosing.
The two main attractions( apart from the beaches!) are unfortunately very much at the mercy of the weather. Rio has beautiful surroundings in the mountains but this does attract a lot of cloud. Quite often you can be boiling down on the beach and unable to see the tops of Corcovado and Sugar Loaf.
This time we decided to make our own way to Corcovado. We waited until there was a clear day and booked a taxi that morning to go right away( it isn't worth booking to go pm as things can change quite quickly)
We chose the hotel car which was probably more expensive ( but not too much more). This took us the steep journey up the slopes, passing many little communities along the way. Just as we got to the entrance of the monument there was a cloud of smoke from the merc and it packed in! We had to have another car sent to take us down.
This visit was out of this world. The views were incredible. I could have spent the whole day there just gazing down at Rio. It was also good to get a clear view of the statue!! I will add this years photos to the album eventually. As usually happens the photos don't quite do justice to the views! By the way, what was refreshing( in more ways than one!) was that the cafe there was cheap- they have a captive audience and could have got away with charging what they liked.
So, if you go to Rio, try if possible to book and go on the same day- when you have checked the clouds out!
We had two trips to the Hippy market in the centre of Rio. This is held on Sundays. There are a lot of really good quality stalls there and we spent quite a bit there!
We took a day trip out of Rio- to the mountain city of Petropolis. It takes about an hour and a half to get there. Shorter to get back as the road system is one way only. This can lead to a few heartattacks for those who haven't noticed as the bus seems to overtake on hairpin bends and you are waiting for a car coming in the opposite direction! I think the city was 800m above sea level so you can imagine the views you get along the way. Petropolis is also known as the Imperial city after the Emperor Pedro 2nd. He had his summer palace there. It is now a museum. Worth a look around. I'm afraid though that I had a fit of giggles in the middle of being shown round. As you enter you have to put on these overshoes which are more like boats! These are to protect the marble floors-however, they are not easy to keep on and the only way to do this is to shuffle around. All you needed was a pair of ski poles. I just watched my husband negotiating them and thought it was the funniest thing.
Also in the Petropolis you can see the Crystal Palace which was designed for the Empress. The city itself is so unlike Rio it is worth a look. On the outskirts the houses look almost Alpine. There are some wonderful house designs within the city itself and architects would love it! I suppose the alpine look may come from the fact it was founded by German immigrants in the mid 1800s. Funnily enough there was another big influx of Germans in the mid 1940s!!! I would have liked to have spent more time in the City and have since found out that it is easy to get a local bus from Rio and there are good walking tour plans available.
A tour you can do, which we didn't, is a visit to a favela. Favelas are the slum type areas where vast amounts of people stay. We passed the second biggest Rio favela on the way to Petropolis- it has 100 000 people in it. Houses built on top of others- some open to the elements. These are where almost all the crime takes place. I think it is mainly drug related. It has to be stressed though that the vast majority are ordinary, lawabiding people and this is what you would see if you take the tour. Tours are usually run by well respected locals. Profits go to local causes ( eg schooling)
However we thought about this trip both visits to Rio and decided that we would not be too happy to do them- not for any safety concerns but more for the "lets go and see how the poor people live" feeling we had about these trips. I wrestled a bit with my conscience because I also feel that you should know how life is lived there. I have to say though that just by passing by a few massive favelas you get a good enough idea. Most of the beach sellers probably came from them. There were also a few enterprising people who made the most of their talents (legally!) and serenaded around bars etc. There was one particular group of older teenagers/early 20s who performed some brilliant gymnastic moves. Some of it involving somersaulting over burning ropes. They also did a form of martial arts, I can't recall the name of it at the moment but it originates from the slavery days. I'm sure they made a bit as those who saw it were enthralled.
In all the time we were there, I only had one meal I wasn't particurally enthralled with. There are so many restaurants to try! We mainly stuck to ones within the Ipanema area but did try Leblon and Copacabana as well. Our localÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â was actually the famous Garota de Ipanema bar. It was 5 minutes walk away. Translated it means The Girl from Ipanema.
Back in the 60s it was known as the Veloso bar. An 18year girl called Helo Pinteiro walked past there on her way to the beach every day and inspired two people sitting there to compose the music and write the lyrics for the most famous bossa nova song in the world. ( their names were Jobim and Moraes) Nowadays, the walls of the bar are covered in memorabilia but funnily enough we never heard the song once when we were there! We never had a meal there but had quite a few caprihnas!
The type of restaurant that Rio is most well known is a churrascaria.
Churrasco is the cooking style, which translates roughly from the Spanish for 'barbecue'. Servers come to your table with knives and a skewer, on which are speared various kinds of meat, be it beef, pork, filet mignon, chicken, sausage, fish, or any other sort of local cut of meat. This has been slowly cooked over charcoal and is basted with something like a salt and garlic mixture, although the garlic is not really noticeable. It is difficult to describe the taste but it is delicious. The one we liked the best is called Porcao. The best cut of meat is picahana. You pay one price. There is a buffet with everything from salads, pastas, fish, cheeses etc. On your table you have a card disc which is green on one side and red on the other. The red has nao obrigado on it and the green has sim por favor- no thankyou and yes please. Turn it to green and any passing waiter will stop. If you like the cut of meat he will carve and you have a small pair of tongs which you use to take the meat. Turn the disc to red and no waiter will approach. Porcao also did a mean caprihna. A different and very expensive churrascaria we went to was in Copacabana- Marius Seafood. It had been highly recommended and so we decided to splash out. It had every conceivable form of seafood,there comes a time when you can't face another lobster though!
A restaurant I would highly recommend is Bar De Beto- family run and popular with locals. Zaza is also good, it is a fusion restaurant blending South American with Asian cuisine. I had grilled duck in a Asian type sauce with strawberry risotto. Sounds strange but it was great!
A must try is one of the succo bars during the day- these take fruit juices to a new level. Brazilians love them and they can be very filling. It was one of the many places where the menus are only written in Portuguese so take your phrase books! Another place for a simple lunch is Garlitos which is vast food but very good. They do grilled chicken with their own marinade- wish I knew what they made it from! Many restaurants will have an English version of the menu. However, you may find the menu a lot smaller in English as they can't seem to translate all the choices and some descriptions probably wouldn't lead to a lot of interest-eg chopped meat!! Bread there is very tasty and has a lovely texture. Be sure to try black beans, they are done in a beautifly sauce and very popular. Also I found palm hearts over there and have had them several times since returning but the tinned version is not quite the same! We went to several other restaurants but that gives you an idea.
We loved our holiday. Waking up in the morning to see Christ the Redeemer from one window and Ipanema beach from another is something else!
A tip for going to the airport on the way home- don't go any earlier than you need to!! For an international airport it has pathetic amenities. Literally a handful of shops, one self service place with about 6 tables and one bar which hasn't changed since the 60s( or so it seems!!)
Would I go again- yes I certainly would!! ( In fact I like it so much we have just bought some land!)