Rio de Janeiro
This cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city) is one of
the most densely populated places on earth. The thick
brew of 7 million cariocas - as the inhabitants are
called - thrive on dance, drink, beach, sport and
sun. It's a city of Dionysian spirit whose people
grab life head-first.
international tourist crowd take advantage of Rio's
ritzy side - there are innumerable opportunities
to be decadent. But Rio also has much to offer the
budget traveller. There are cheap hotels and restaurants
aplenty, and the beach is a free entertainment zone.
Area: 1,170 sq km
Population: 7 million
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -3
Telephone Area Code: 021
Rio is divided into a zona
norte (north zone) and a zona sul (south zone) by
the Serra da Carioca, steep mountains that are part
of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. These mountains
descend to the edge of the city center, where the
two zones meet.
Rio is definitely a tale
of two cities: The upper and middle classes reside
in the zona sul, the lower class in the zona norte.
Favelas cover steep hillsides on both sides of town
- Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela with 150,000
to 300,000 residents, is in Gávea, one of
Rio's richest neighborhoods. Most industry is in
the zona norte, as is most of the pollution. The
ocean beaches are in the zona sul.
When to Go
Rio has a classical tropical
climate, so expect some rain. Summer (December to
March) is hot with top temperatures ranging from
25°C (77°F) to 40°C (104°F). It
can also be dreadfully humid; there are more showers
in summer than at other times, but they rarely last
long. Winter temperatures range from around 20°C
(68°F) to 30°C (86°F), with plenty of
good beach days.
Carnaval is often a more
important consideration than weather for travelers
deciding when to come to Rio. The city is in full
party mode, and the excitement on the streets is
unsurpassable. However, everyone becomes a little
unglued around the time of Carnaval - there are
more car accidents than usual, prices are noticeably
more expensive and you won't have a moment alone.
Still, it is Carnaval.
The streets of Rio go tchica-tchica-bum!
when Carnaval comes to town for five heady days
that begin at midnight on the Friday before Ash
Wednesday. Every year, wealthy and spaced-out foreigners
descend on Rio en masse to get drunk, get high,
bag some sun and exchange exotic diseases. Dancing,
parades, head-dresses and bare breasts are all part
of the spectacle.
The four-day Carnival commences
on the following dates: March 1 2003; Feb 21 2004;
Feb 5 2005.
The Festas Juninas in June
is one of the most important folkloric festivals
in Brazil. In Rio, it's celebrated in various public
squares throughout the month. Music, colorful stalls
and a procession into the streets mark the Festa
de NS da Glória do Outeiro on August 15.
Every Sunday in October, the lively Festa da Penha
is one of the largest religious and popular festivals
in the city. Not surprisingly, the year ends with
a bang on New Year's Eve & Festa de Iemanjá,
as millions of people celebrate while tons of fireworks
explode in the glittering sky.
Work on the ultramodern, cone-shaped Catedral Metropolitana
was begun in 1964 and inaugurated in 1976. It's worth
stepping inside to see its four huge stained-glass
windows. The cathedral is situated behind the Petrobras
building and holds 20,000 people.
spectacular places of worship include the baroque
Igreja São Francisco da Penitencia, overlooking
the Largo da Carioca; Nossa Senhora de Candelária,
which was built between 1775 and 1894 and was the
largest and wealthiest church of imperial Brazil;
and Mosteiro de São Bento, one of the finest
examples of colonial church architecture in the
do Banco do Brasil (CCBB)
The CCBB is the best cultural centre in the country,
as its 120,000 visitors per month will attest. Its
world-class facilities include a cinema, two theatres
and heaps of exposition space; most of the exhibitions
are free. There's a permanent exhibit about the
history of money in Brazil. Something is always
abuzz in this complex, so flip through the entertainment
listings to do some research before your visit.
Next door, the Casa França-Brasil
is another cultural centre with diverse exhibitions.
It's in an old customshouse dating from 1820 and
is considered the most important classical revival
building in Brazil.
Going to the beach is a ritual and way of life for
the Carioca. People of every colour, class and creed,
in all shapes and sizes, congregate waterside. One
of the world's most famous beaches, Copacabana,
hardly needs any introduction - it's a sensuously
spectacular and very crowded spot of sand fronting
the ocean and backed by steep hills. It's where
skin sizzles and shines, cameras forever flash,
money changes hands in a stream and excitement rides
through the salty sea air.
Copacabana, so big in concept
and fantasy, runs just 4.5km (3mi) along the Atlantic,
yet crammed into this narrow strip of land are 25,000
people per sq km, one of the highest population
densities in the world. There is always something
happening on the beach during the day and along
the footpaths at night: drinking, singing, eating
and all kinds of people checking out the scene.
Tourists watch Brazilians, Brazilians watch tourists;
the poor from the favelas eye the rich, while the
rich avoid the poor; prostitutes look for tricks
and johns look for treats.
Southwest of Copacabana
is Arpoador, a small beach with good surfing, even
at night when the beach is lit. There's a giant
rock that juts out into the ocean where you can
enjoy a great view.
Rising straight up from the city to 710m (2330ft),
the mountain Corcovado (Hunchback) offers spectacular
panoramas of Rio and its surrounds. Its prominent
feature is the statue Cristo Redentor (Christ the
Redeemer). At night, the brightly lit statue is
visible from all over the city. Christ's left arm
points toward the zona norte, and Maracanã
(see below) is easily visible in the foreground.
In front of Christ is Pão de Açúcar,
in its classic postcard pose. Choose a clear day
to voyage up the mountain, lest you be disappointed.
Ipanema, like the suburb, is Rio's richest and most
chic beach. It's less frenzied than Copacabana,
as well as safer and cleaner. Different parts of
the beach attract different crowds. Garota de Ipanema
beach, right off Rua Vinícius de Morais,
is also known as the Cemitério dos Elefantes
because of the old leftists, hippies and artists
who hang out there, but it's also popular with the
young and beautiful joint-tokers who come out at
The beach in front of Rua
Farme de Amoedo, also called Land of Marlboro, is
the gay beach. Ipanema is an Indian word for 'dangerous,
bad waters'. The waves can get big and the undertow
is often feisty. Be careful, and swim only where
the locals are swimming.
This stadium is Brazil's temple of soccer. It's
a giant among coliseums, easily accommodating more
than 100,000 at a time. If sports interest you even
the littlest bit, or if you just want a new insight
into Brazil, then by all means check out a game
of futebol here - preferably a championship game
or one between local rivals Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense
or Botafogo. It can be an intense, quasi-psychedelic
experience. The sports museum inside the stadium
has photos, posters, cups and uniforms of the greats.
Museu Nacional de
With more than 800 original paintings and sculptures
in the collection, this is Rio's best fine arts
museum. The most important gallery is the Galeria
de Arte Brasileira, with 20th-century classics such
as Cândid Portinari's Café. There are
also galleries with foreign art (these aren't all
that incredible) and contemporary exhibits.
This museum and its grand imperial entrance are
still stately and imposing, and the view from the
balcony to the royal palms is majestic. However,
the graffitied buildings and unkempt grounds have
suffered since the fall of the monarchy. The park
is large and busy, and, because it's on the north
side of the city, you'll see a good cross-section
of Cariocas. There are many interesting exhibits:
dinosaur fossils, sabre-toothed tiger skeletons,
beautiful pieces of pre-Columbian ceramics from
the littoral and planalto of Peru, a huge meteorite,
hundreds of stuffed birds, mammals and fish, gory
displays of tropical diseases and exhibits on the
peoples of Brazil.
Tijuca is all that's left of the tropical jungle
that once surrounded Rio de Janeiro. In 15 minutes
you can go from the concrete tangle of Copacabana
to the 33 sq km (13 sq mi) tropical forest of Parque
Nacional da Tijuca.
A more rapid and drastic
contrast is hard to imagine. The forest is exuberant
green, with beautiful trees, creeks and waterfalls,
mountainous terrain and high peaks. It is home to
several different species of birds and animals,
including iguanas and monkeys. The park also has
an excellent trail system, with several good day
hikes. The heart of the forest is the beautiful
Alto da Boa Vista with several waterfalls (including
the 35m/115ft Cascatinha Taunay), peaks and restaurants.
Pão de Açúcar
Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf)
is almost too beautiful to be real. Two cable cars
lift you 396m (1300ft) above Rio and the Baía
de Guanabara. From here, Rio is the most dazzling
place in the world. Sunset on a clear day is the
best time to make the ascent; as daylight dims,
the city lights start to sparkle down below. Avoid
going from to and to , when tourist buses begin
to herd in. The two-stage cable cars leave about
every 30 minutes from Praça General Tibúrcio
There are 50 established
climbing routes here, and one of the best hikes
is up the back side of Pão de Açúcar.