One of the things that made Rio so great, I thought, was that it both had great selection of beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema and Lebron) and lots of hikes and sights close to the city. There was no need to make compromises as we could spend several days relaxing at the beach and then have most of the sights done with a single day tour that we had booked in advance as everything was within such a close distance. In our packed day trip we first set off to see a waterfall, that I must say did not impress a single bit as we had just seen Iguassu Falls and were soon heading back to Norway where big waterfalls are sights as common as the many eucalyptus fields we had spotted while driving here in Brazil.
Next stop was the Corcovado mountain, where shuttlebuses and an elevator took us up to the summit where statue of “Christ the Redeemer”, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, was awaiting us. The platform where the statue was standing had great panoramic views over the city from all angles, but was just increadibly small for the amount of tourists that were there. There was no way of getting a picture with more than your head together with the statue without getting at least ten more people in your picture. The place was quite claustrophobic and we were happy to say “been there, seen that” and leave after just ten- fifteen minutes there.
From there we drove with a beautiful view through our windows, through the hilly neighbourhood of Santa Therese, where all the rich people fled to escape the tubercolosis that was raging downtown in the sixteenth century. After that we stopped sor lunch and a walk through the Selarón Stairway in Lapa, made of random tiles from all over the World. It was quite interesting to see how there were three tiles from Norway, including one saying “God Jul”/ “Merry Christmas”, while there were over ten from Khazakstan, including one tile for every letter in the countrys long name.
When the tour was finished we had the option of getting dropped off at our hostel or at the bottom of the Sugarloaf Mountain, which is the symbol of Rio and a place that really has to be visited for a sunset view. We had heard that walking a path halfway up (took us 30mins) was gonna get us half price on the tickets, but we soon found out that those rhumors were false and that there is no way of escaping the 30 usd that the cable car costs other than bringing your student id which gives you half price on the ride.
After having seen the upper class houses in Sao Paulo just a few days earlier, it was also quite interesting to do a guided trip to Rochina (means little farm) which is the biggest Favela (Brazilian shantytown) in Rio de Janeiro. Here it is said that over 1% of the population do drug dealing, and our friends who had done the same tour a week before got their tour cut short because there was a murder occuring in the favela at the time they were there. When taking pictures in all directions, we caught some people shying away from the cameras and hiding their faces. “Thats just because they are drug dealers”, said the guide, but even though the favela was full of crime, really poor, dirty and noisy, a lot of the people we met were smiling friendly at us and kids were happy to pop up in front of our cameras for pictures.
Now I feel absolutely no need to go to Rio for the Carnival or when the World Cup kick off, as the city is definately both expensive and lively enough already, and I would have guessed double prices and owercrowding could not make a stay here better. Go see some samba in the clubs, hike the summits, visit the stadiums for a football game or just relax on one of the many beaches and I am sure you will also love Rio as much as we did.
Just some travel tips you should consider when traveling to Rio:
Brazil is pretty expensive, and Rio even more so! Expect to pay around 30 dollars for a dorm bed if you want to stay near the beach (eg. the one we stayed at).
If you are on a budget, you should consider eating at the many “por kilo” houses where you weigh the food you choose from a buffet and order drinks from the waitors. The tap water in Rio is also the best I have tasted in South America and drinking that instead of bottled water can save you some money.
The Hippie Market in Ipanema is huge, runs every Sunday and should be visited if you can. Because we were tired from turning our clocks around we did not go, but we got to visit the night markets that open at 6pm on weekdays which we found great for shopping, and we were told that the Hippie Market was even better!
If you decide to visit the favela you should really go with a guide in order not to get lost and go to the wrong places, but the rest of Rio (and Sao Paulo) felt really safe and clean and prepared for the World Cup starting here in two weeks.