In February 2018 I was lucky enough to embark on a month long trip with my best friend. We were ultimately making our way to Antarctica, but we made sure to casually make our way south. During our trip we visited Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Ushuaia, where we ultimately boarded our ship. Before I get too far ahead of myself, today we’re going to bring it back to things to do in Rio de Janeiro.
We chose simultaneously the best and worst time to visit Rio de Janeiro. The reason it was so great was because we were there for their biggest holiday season, Carnaval. With this popular event comes a ton of amazing things. Block parties, called blocos, caprihianas made right on the street in the sketchiest, but greatest, push carts, and of course amazing costumes, music, and people. Everyone comes out to celebrate, and it truly is an incredible time to experience Brazilian culture.
Unfortunately, for the tourist who is only in town for a few days, the fact that everyone is celebrating Carnaval means that it is extremely difficult to find anything that is open. Constantly through our four days in Rio, we struggled to find many basic things, including a money exchange, any restaurant except for fast food, or any store that sold more than bottled beverages and small snacks.
Ultimately, we were able to overcome these struggles, but you really have to do your research before adventuring out. Carnaval runs during the days before Ash Wednesday, starting with the Friday before. Most things are open regular hours on Friday, and the party truly starts that evening. After that you can expect that most things will be closed. We arrived on Monday morning, hence our difficulty finding anything open. These days are not strict hours of operation, there are blocos starting weeks before, and days after the official Carnaval dates, but the experience truly does peak during that week.
If you’re headed to Brazil for Carnaval, you should know what to expect if you’re committing yourself to the revelry. But the single most important information I’ve found is is an entire guide on using the toilet at Carnaval.
Finding the Parties:
We stayed in Centro during our four days, and that made it super easy to find Carnaval activities. Some people suggest looking online for the best blocos, but we would just head out our front door and stumble upon a party. We did this a couple days, and most nights, and the system never failed. Carnaval was an added bonus for us though, not what we specifically wanted to see in Brazil, so stumbling upon parties was much more appropriate for us than if you’re going to Rio to simply for Carnaval.
Things to do in Centro:
There are a ton of amazing things to see in Rio that are available year round, and here’s a shocker, none of them are Christ the Redeemer. Near our hotel in Centro it was super easy to visit both the Lapa Arches and the Escadaria Selarón. The arches became our North Star of sorts. Whenever we found ourselves lost after following along with a bloco, the arches would guide us home. Originally built as a aquaduct to bring fresh water into the city, the aquaduct was eventually converted into a tramway. The tramway still runs, but currently the Lapa Arches really just provide a panoramic backdrop for the many activities that take place in the square.
Also in Centro, specifically the Lapa neighborhood, there’s a beautiful art piece called the Escadaria Selarón. Created by Jorge Selarón, it was a passion piece of his. In the 1980’s he moved into a home right next to the stairs, and in 1990 he started beautifying the staircase, continuing to work on it for the next twenty years. Today the stairs are a popular draw for tourists, expecially considering it was Selarón’s tribute to Brazilian people.
When we ventured out past our neighborhood, we found out what a beautiful, and easy way it is to spend the day at Sugarloaf Mountain. There are two separate cable cars that go up the mountain, and the views at each stop are breathtaking. You can buy tickets for just one stop or two, but stopping at only the first would be a huge mistake. There are plenty of counter service locations selling food and drinks at the first stop, but there is a sit-down restaurant at the second stop with the most gorgeous views. We watched the sunset there, with a nonstop barrage of fantastic drinks, while also being surrounded by fun Brazilian music.
Beaches in Rio:
You definitely can’t go to Rio de Janeiro without stopping at a beach! We visited Ipanema, Copacabana, and Praia Vermelha. Each has a different feel to it, but each was beautiful. Praia Vermelha was our first beach stop, as we had been gazing upon it from Sugarloaf Mountain all day. Nestled between two mountains, it felt small and secluded, and also breathtaking. There were tons of people there, and all sorts of rentals available for water sports, just like the larger beaches.
Ipanema and Copacabana are basically neighbors, and we checked them both out from bicycles, finally settling on spending the evening at Ipanema.
Where to Ride Bikes:
Pedaling around the area was a lot of fun, especially when we turned to the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon bike route. I thought Rio would never seem more beautiful than when viewing it from Sugarloaf Mountain, but biking this area proved me wrong. You’re surrounded by mountains on one side, and the lagoon on the other. We only rode for around two hours, but it was one of the highlights of the trip.
We rented from Rent A Bike In Rio, a small shop in Copacabana. You should note that they need an ID to hold as collateral, and they only accept cash or debit card.
Why I Didn’t Visit Christ the Redeemer:
In an attempt to wrap up the three days I spent in Rio de Janeiro, I would say that it was one of the most fun places I’ve ever visited. More importantly, I never had to go through the touristy lines, and busses, and the other nonsense to get to see Christ the Redeemer. The statue can be seen from almost everywhere, constantly watching over you, and there is a certain beauty to that. Just not a beauty that this blogger thinks you have to get close to in order to appreciate it.
If you do insist on getting up close and personal, the next time I’m in Rio I’m thinking of hiking it. It sounds like a fun experience, and personally I feel like it will be way more satisfying than other methods.