Arriving in Rio we really didn’t know what to expect. On one hand you hear tales of beautiful beaches, excellent scenery and great night life. On the other, warnings of violent crimes and the dangers of Rio for tourists. Well, luckily we experienced all of the former, and none of the latter. Brazilians (or Cariocas – residents of Rio) were nothing but friendly, helpful, laid back and very welcoming. The city has it’s rougher edges, as many cities do, and homelessness is clearly an issue, but Rio has an excellent charm that within a few hours, you feel at home.
On our first day we arrived in the early hours, and still feeling apprehensive we decided to wait until it was light before we got the bus to our hostel. We didn’t much fancy wandering around the streets at night with our big bags looking like vulnerable and lost tourists. It didn’t seem we had much to worry about though, after a couple of cups of fairly disgusting coffee we found the right bus and it took us all the way to Flamengo, a lovely district of Rio where our hostel was.
We met Shela and Lucas, the guys running the hostel, and they showed us to our room and advised us where we could get some breakfast. We walked to the nearest beach, Botafogo, and had some mysterious cheesy pastries and got our bearings. It was a cloudy day, but the view of Pao de Açucar (Sugarloaf mountain) was still pretty spectacular.
Later we headed to central Rio, and walked around Lapa and downtown. We didn’t really know where we were heading, but with a map and some help from the locals (a very cheerful builder in particular) we found Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião, a modern cathedral based on the Mayan architectural style of the pyramids, with beautiful large stained glass panels. From there we walked to the Escadaria Selarón (Selarón steps), a set of wonderfully tiled steps by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, with ceramics from all over the world.
By the end of the afternoon, we were pretty tired. We hadn’t slept much on the plane and lots of walking meant we needed to relax and have a beer. We headed back to our hostel and spent the evening drinking cheap (but tasty) local beer before we headed off to bed.
By day two, we were in full swing. We visited Pao de Açucar, the famous Sugarloaf mountain, taking the cable car up to the peak to be greeted by gorgeous views of Flamengo, Botafogo and Centro to one side and Copacabana and Christo Redentor on the other. Looking back on our time in Rio, I think this was definitely one of my favourite things. Rio is blessed with excellent natural scenery that makes every view look like a post card.
In the afternoon we went to Copacabana beach, and I can see why it’s so famous. It was bustling with vendors selling all sorts, from scarves and sarongs to coco verde (delicious green coconuts) and caprinias (a very alcoholic but very refreshing cocktail that’s a bit like a mojito, but without the mixer!). We relaxed on the beach and soaked up the atmosphere that Rio’s so famous for.
Under the recommendation of our roommate Alex, a Swedish guy who had been in Rio since January, our third day was mainly spent tracking up to Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) through beautiful monkey infested rainforest. The hike was difficult and steep, but not that long. With breaks to look at monkeys and eat snacks it took us about an hour and a half. The shade was a blessing and a lot of the hike consisted of climbing almost vertically up the mountain, clinging onto huge tree roots acting as natural hand and foot holds. The monkeys were predictably cheeky and loud, making their presence very known, but they seemed disappointingly reluctant to have their photos taken, the buggers. After what seemed like a whole day (which it really wasn’t) we reached the top, very sweaty but feeling very accomplished. We paid a man some money and he gave us a ticket to go and see Jesus. It was swarming with tourists. Jesus was very impressive, and it was great to see him up close (as from many parts of Rio you can see him from a distance), but staying up there for 20 minutes was enough. I got hit with several selfie sticks, which pretty much sums up what it was like a the top. I’m not sure Jesus would’ve liked it…
After getting a few hasty snaps ourselves, we decided to walk back down through the rainforest instead of getting a bus. After all that exercise, we rewarded ourselves at the bottom with a huge pizza, which we ate by Lagoa (the city’s huge lake) and watched the sun go down.