Put on your dancing shoes! The rumba, the samba; all things dance and music come to mind when travelling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most vibrant city. It is also the country’s second largest city, found on the coast of Brazil where it cools down next to the Atlantic Ocean. Famous for the sunny beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Mount Corvacado and its colourful nightlife, Rio de Janeiro should be first on the itinerary for Brazil. It harbours all the charms of a seaside city, without lack of rich cultural heritage.
In 1565, it was named after the Portuguese Captain Rio de Janeiro and became a domain of the Portuguese empire. Its old Downtown district was in 2012 named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical and cultural treasures. For these, and for other reasons, it has become one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere. In 2012, it was named the best beach city in the world. Significantly, it has also claimed the title of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World because of its beautiful harbour which looks almost like the opening of a naturally forming river mouth.
Between December and March, Rio de Janeiro sees its most rain where this city has a wet summer season. Generally, the inland areas are warmer than the coast, where the seaside breeze brings the temperature down. However, the average temperature does not succeed beyond 30 degrees Celsius, so wherever you may be it will generally be pleasant. This is perhaps one of the reasons why it was one of the cities which hosted the 2014 Fifa World Cup and is set to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.
The world’s largest carnival is found here in Rio de Janeiro, where parade floats, flamboyant costumes, loud music and dance takes over the streets. Colourful and fun, no one can miss this annual spectacle which takes place before Lent. The first carnival festival dates back to the 18th century, and it has since grown to about two million people in attendance during the festivities. The dance of the day is the samba, so take a few classes before you arrive so you can join in with the fancy footwork.
If you are a keen surfer or simply enjoy watching such athletes putting their skills to work, take a trip to Prainha beach, where the waves are as they say cooking! There are many upmarket hotels or else sleepy hostels and backpackers, depending on what your budget dictates. If you have always wanted to learn to surf, now is your chance, as there are various informal ‘schools’ which give lessons. If you are more into lazing around under the Southern sun, then grab your costume and a cocktail and head on down to the sandy Copacabana or Ipanema beaches.
There is still lots to do, even if one is not near to the beach in Rio de Janeiro. Travel to the Tijuca forest where there are many hikes under the umbrella of the majestic rainforest. Experience the fauna and flora first hand in this natural tropical beauty. Or take a cable car up to the Sugarloaf Mountain, which is a peak of almost 400 meters above the harbour at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. Soak in the almost aerial and most certainly splendid panoramas of the city and its coastline.
Saving the best for last, is the famous iconic feature of Rio de Janeiro, the statue of Christ the Redeemer which stands at almost 40 meters high and was completed in 1931. In 2007, it was listed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World for its cultural significance in both Rio and Brazil. From Sugarloaf Mountain, the back of the statue and its surrounding panorama can be seen clearly on a sunny day. It has floodlights that bring it to life at night, particularly spectacular from the urban forest of Tijuca.
As one of the cities that hardly ever sleeps, Rio de Janeiro is a culture shock in all the best ways. Be prepared to party and relax hard!