Four days was not enough. The food, culture, beauty, beaches and energy was like no city we have ever been to. It seemed to be a mix of the Northwest, NYC and Newport Beach all in one with an outdoor yet electric feel. It’s beauty stems from the dichotomy of a big city meeting nature including beaches and the largest urban forest in the world, covering more than 32 square kilometers right in the city. It is easy to see now why Rio was selected as the first ever city in South America to host the Olympics.
We started our all-too-quick Rio blitz late Saturday night when we arrived at our Airbnb in Copacabana (yeah, the one from the song) shortly after 9pm. Our host, Celso, was up and waiting with a full spread of charcuterie, dips, snacks and drinks. His significant other, Cely, was also there and another lovely Brazilian family who was renting the other room in the apartment (Hi Letticia and fam if you are reading this!). What we thought would be a quick hello turned into a lively three language conversation (English, Portuguese, Spanish) until after midnight. There was never a time everyone in the room knew what everyone else was saying. Quite comical.
We kicked off the next morning with a 7km walk across the city and around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (Seattleites: think Green Lake but 10x bigger and cooler) to Jardim Botânico which is Rio’s botanical gardens. It was created in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal and contains more than 6,500 species. I know what you’re thinking, botanical gardens sound lame but they were gorgeous! Very cool. After the gardens we cabbed to Ipanema beach for lunch then walked the 4km Ipanema/Copacabana beach stretch back to home. The beaches are each long stretches but are separated or marked by “Postos.” It’s the best way to indicate which part of the beach you’re on to friends and family and certain ones are known as more family friendly, party centric, etc. The beaches are lined with vendors making drinks, selling umbrellas and trying to nickel and dime everything they can while you are there. Great for people watching.
The second day we attacked the two largest tourist attractions, Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer statue). Sugarloaf is a mountain peak that sits at the opening of Guanabara Bay. It is almost 400 meters tall and got its name by being shaped like a loaf of sugar. The reason people love it so much is from the top you have amazing panoramic views of the city. You reach the top via two cable gondola cars. Cristo Redentor was what we were looking forward to most but unfortunately even Cristo can’t guarantee a clear day, every day. We took the 40-minute ride to the top via van and by the time we reached the highest point in Rio (2,300 ft) we were in the clouds. There were hundreds of people at the foot of the 100-foot-tall soapstone statue waiting for the clouds to break and when they did everyone cheered and took at least 10,000 collective selfies. In the end, we got our picture and checked one of the new seven wonders of the world off our list.
We wrapped up the last two days of Rio spending time on the beach, eating great food including a wonderful churrasco dinner (meat shaved off skewers onto your plate) and getting a private tour of Tijuca National Park from Celso. The city has so much more to offer but we tried to make the most of the time we had. We both agree this will be a future vacation destination when we can visit for longer and with a more liberal budget.
We left Rio on Wednesday morning and headed to Paraty (four hours south along the coast) where we are spending the next four nights. More to come on that.