One of my life’s personal highlights is experiencing Rio de Janeiro from a local’s perspective. My girlfriend is from South America. She has a friend who graciously lent us his gorgeous flat on the beach in Leblon. It’s typical for Brazilians to work in the financial capital, Sao Paulo, and have a house in Rio, where they spend weekends and holidays.
Rio de Janeiro is full of life, color, inspiration, poverty, corruption, turmoil, love, soccer balls, festivals, and samba. Wherever you are in the city, there’s always a good excuse to party. But you need Rio Travel tips about Rio de Janeiro points of interest to hit the best spots.
Dancing is in every Latino’s blood. Watching locals shake and swing their hips to Samba is popular in every neighborhood, although Lapa is more prominent than the rest. Lapa illuminates at night with rows of tapa bars, clubs, and live music. Beer is sold in the street, so it’s perfectly acceptable to samba yourself from one end of the street to the other. Everything is a giant street party here ― also know as a “bloco”.
Favelas ― also known as shanty communities ― have their own blocos. I recommend talking to locals about which favela party is the safest, as some may even be risky for residents. I felt perfectly comfortable in the favelas, but I had local sources directing me.
Considered the biggest festival in the world, Carnival is one hell of a celebration. Beautiful women dressed in feathers and sequins and men dressed in drag turn the city into a giant street samba. There are numerous blocos every day during Carnival. The biggest are: Cordão da Bola Preta in downtown (January 31), Monobloco in Centro (February 14), Sargento Pimenta in Aterro do Flamengo (February 8), and Afroreggae in Centro (February 8). There are fun things to do in Rio — and then there’s Carnival.
The most popular of Rio’s beaches, Copacabana is the place to go to for beautiful sunsets. Everyone flocks to climb the rocks at the end of the beach during sunset. When the sun starts its descent behind the horizon, the crowd starts clapping and cheering.
Made famous by the well-known Bossa Nova song, “The Girl from Ipanema,” this two-mile stretch of sand offers gorgeous mountain views, beautiful Brazilians, and blue water. While sunbathing, you’ll observe wildly entertaining games of futevolei, which is the Brazilian version of volleyball (without hands).
Leblon is the most affluent area in Rio. Many luxury buildings, high-end boutiques, and incredible restaurants line the coveted streets. I suggest starting your night out at Sushi Leblon for one of the best Sushi dinners in Rio.
Called Brazil’s “little” beach, this remote paradise sits about 20 miles west of Ipanema. Prainha’s magnificent shoreline features a backdrop of rolling hills and rainforest. Surfers covet the waves, while beachgoers marvel at the shore. I watched for hours, as men, women, children, and dogs kicked soccer balls around. It was fascinating! Just be mindful of the current. It’s quite strong here, and there is no lifeguard.
Largely hidden away is Grumari Beach, where you won’t find beachfront restaurants, luxurious hotels, or kiosks. This spacious beach is about an hour’s trek away from the tourists at Copacabana and Ipanema. It’s a clean, beautiful beach that’s well worth the drive.
Standing 395 m (1,299 ft) high, Sugar Loaf Mountain cascades over stunning Guanabara Bay. From Praia Vermelha, in the residential Urca district, you can take a three-minute cable car ride up to Morro da Urca, and then hop on another cable car that rides to the top of Sugar Loaf. If you like to see cities at their highest peak, this is one of the major Rio de Janeiro points of interest.
Covering 3358 ha (8,300 ac), Tijuca National Park is the largest urban rainforest on the planet. It’s mind blowing to trek around a rainforest while still considered to be in a major metropolis. There are varied terrains, waterfalls, more than 1,600 plant species, and more than 350 different species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. It’s one of the best Rio de Janeiro points of interest for nature lovers.
Recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, this statue of Jesus Christ stands on Corcovado Mountain’s staggering 710 m (2,330 ft) elevation, with arms outstretched to the city below. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to climb the stairs and see this marvelous creation standing at 125 feet tall. Make sure to check the weather, as it’s best to see it on a clear day.
I had the perfect day in Rio. I woke up at my friend’s beautiful apartment in Leblon and had breakfast on the terrace, under massive palm trees. Then we drove to the northern beaches, where locals play soccer all day and the waves are perfect. After that, we drove to the rainforest and went for a short hike.
Back in Leblon, we walked to the end of Copacabana beach ― up to the rocks ― before the sun went down. As the sun started setting, people began to cheer. After the sun had set, everyone in the crowd clapped, cheered, and hugged. We went back to the apartment and dressed for dinner at Sushi Leblon. After an incredible dinner, we went to a favela party, and then sambaed into the wee hours of morning.
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