Top 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Going on holiday can be extremely stressful. You are constantly torn between running around seeing as much as possible and the resting in the comfortable sun chairs. How many times haven’t we been optimistic and packed two novels, only to discover them in the bottom of the suitcase when we return home and unpack? Most people I know come back to work after their holiday saying they need a “holiday from their holiday”. They have clearly opted for the “run and see everything” attitude and come back with an unattractive pink sunburn with white backpack straps and a sunglasses bridge on their nose. We all holiday differently.

I have however found that I need the first day of my holiday to be extremely relaxing. I’m a better person for the rest of the time away if I get one good long sleep, some sunshine and a parasol to sleep under after the light lunch. Day two, three, four and even five can then include excursions and tourist attractions. I usually use my first day in the sun to read up on the country and pick my top five our ten things I want to see. I’ll rather do a selected handful of attractions properly, than to run around to a million of them and not remember half. Therefore ladies and gentlemen, here are my top five must-sees in Rio below.

Coconut delivery
Coconut delivery

1. Coconut & Juice bars

Get a fresh juice from one of the million juice bars long Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches. South American vegetable and fruit farms are outstanding and you can get a vitamin kick for barely no money at all. A coconut costs you 4 Brazilian Real, so about £1 or USD1. Order any combination of fruits you want and I bet they’ll have it. The juice bars also offer shade from the burning sun (if you have a tendency to go pink and peel that is…).

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Juice bars in Leblon

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Coconut on the beach
Coconut on the beach
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Açai juice with a spoon, just for me :-)

2. Corcovado and The Sugar Loaf mountain

You can’t go all the way to Rio and not head up to the enormous statue of Jesus, Corcovado. Nor can you skip out on The Sugar Loaf mountain. I have grouped the two together because most tours include both attractions. It is well worth going for an organised tour as it usually means less time in long warm queues. Make sure you pick a sunny day as both mountains are  very high (700m and 400m above sea level).

We actually had to go twice to Christ the Redeemer because the first time it was so cloudy we didn’t see anything. Or, we did see Jesus’ feet, but not his head. The top is the clouds’ favourite hangout and you need a clear day to get the best out of the excursion. The statue pretty impressive, but the view is rather lovely too! There is a small chapel at the bottom of Jesus’ feet and there is also free “Jesus wifi” for you to upload your selfies. I can recommend both the train, Trem do Corcovado, and the tour Jeeps to get up to the top. There is a Jesus café with toilets should the magical experience be a little too much for your bladder.

The Sugar Loaf mountain requires two cable car trips which is worth being aware of if you are travelling with someone afraid of heights. I was hanging out of the window to get the best pictures which made some of the fellow passengers rather nervous for some reason(!). As you’ll see in the pictures, the weather Gods weren’t with us and the view in the cable car was better than the view from the top. We didn’t see anything but milky clouds and didn’t have enough time to go back another sunny day. Shame, but nothing to be done apart from going back one day.

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Corcovado attempt 1
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Corcovado attempt 2
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View from Jesus on a sunny day
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The Sugar Loaf mountain on a cloudy day.
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Beach near the sugarloaf entry point really gives the tropical feel.

3. Beach life

Lets face it, Rio is famous for its beach culture and if you are going to be in the city, you should embrace it. You have three main beaches to choose from and the pavement pattern changes for all three. Copacabana is the most famous one, but I would recommend Ipanema actually. Even if you aren’t keen on tanning, you can have a penguin beer in one of the many beach cafés (deferent from the juice ones) or shop for colourful beach coverups. I couldn’t recommend paddle boarding enough. It was the prefect way to see the famous beach strip from a different angle. Do bring your GoPro!

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Went nuts for the coconut
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Paddle boarding outside Copacabana with my GoPro camera.
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Sunset in Ipanema
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Penguin beer!
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First pair of Ray-Ban glasses I lost in the waves. Miss them still!
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Second pair of Ray-Ban sunnies that I also lost during the trip.
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The famous pattern on the Copacabana beach pavement

4. Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

This is not another boring church. Imagine a pyramid in grey stone but with church windows in four primary colours… Can’t explain it more than that! Seeing is believing. Go!

The walls and ceiling inside. GoPro makes it look round.
The walls and ceiling inside. GoPro makes it look round.

5. Room with a view

We always choose our hotel and room based on what kind of holiday we go to. Since we knew we were going to spend the last day at the hotel by the pool we booked Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort for the final 24 hours of our trip. They offer the best pool & private beach combination in Rio. We paid just under £200 for one night without breakfast. For the remainder of the trip we had a very basic room at Hotel Golden Tulip Rio Copacabana as they offered a great New Year’s Eve party on the roof with a view over Copacabana and the fireworks. The only thing we used the room for was sleeping and washing off sand from the beach. I say it was a basic room, but we had “his and hers” bathrooms, an enormous bedroom, a living room and a decent minibar. Golden Tulip charge £110 per night including (an amazing!) breakfast.There was also free wifi, something Sheraton charges £20 for per night!!

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View from the rooftop at Golden Tulip
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Sheraton beach towels has the same pattern as Copacabana’s pavement.
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Sheraton balcony view
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Sunrise from our Sheraton balcony
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One final drink before taxi to the airport
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Sunrise from the balcony
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Private beach from above
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View from the Sheraton pool area

Rules of engagement: Rio has a reputation for being unsafe and yes, we did take a taxi everywhere we went apart from in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. The city center is like a ghost town as you don’t see anyone walking on the streets. In the hours of darkness you should definitely take a taxi wherever you go, they are cheap and safe. We don’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, which became a problem quickly. Nobody, especially the taxi drivers, speak English so our only way of communicating was to point at a map or in the guidebook. Make sure you book guided tours before you go to Rio or on your first day. They fill up quickly and you don’t want to miss out because the tour was fully booked.

One final comment on Rio’s favelas, the slum villages around the city. The poor citizens of the city live here and is rumoured to be run by drug lords and criminals. There are tourist tours that will take you around them, but I don’t take pleasure in seeing other people’s misery. I also don’t like that the tour companies earn money on showing a poor person’s “house”. If you want to educate yourself on the topic I suggest doing some proper research and giving money to specialised charities.

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Because we all need a reminder of how some people are less fortunate in life.
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