Saturday, May 7, 2016

WHEN IN RIO: MUST-SEES & QUICK TIPS

There's a reason why there are so many songs written about Rio: it's beautiful, it's ugly, it's hectic, it's calm. Basically, what I'm trying to say is: Rio is a huge, diverse city with a lot to offer. Despite having visited twice, I still haven't managed to check off all of the places on my list. 

As aforementioned, I've been lucky to visit this crazy wonderful city twice so far -- once in 2014 & again just a few days ago. Both times I was absolutely awestruck and in protest of leaving. I can't wait to go back again. 

Here, I share my must-sees and quick tips (so far!) for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

MUST-SEES...
 One of many stunning views of Rio from the top of the Pão de Açúcar.  Note the "bondinho" and faint Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue in the distance to the left. 

PAO DE AÇÚCAR (SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN) - The best view of Rio (and perhaps the best view I've witnessed in my life, to date) can be found at the Pao de Acucar. In order to reach it, you must purchase tickets and take a cable car ride ("bondinho") from another nearby mountain called Morro da Babilonia (Babilonia Mountain). Don't forget to bring your camera! 


Imperial palm trees in the Jardim Botanico

JARDIM BOTANICO (BOTANICAL GARDEN) - Fellow stroll-lovers, this is the place for you. The Jardim Botanico is the perfect place to take a walk. Bonus: you'll be surrounded by pretty plants the entire time.  Points of particular interest: the cactus garden, Friar Leandro Lake (it's filled with Amazonian giant water lily pads called Victorias), and the imperial palm tree rows. 

Up close & personal with the Museu Do Amanha

MUSEU DO AMANHA (MUSEUM OF TOMORROW)Though I didn't get a chance to enter the Museu Do Amanha itself,  and therefore can't speak for the inner content, it was worth stopping by to set my eyes on the building and appreciate the design. The building, which resembles a sort of massive futuristic space ship I'd imagine seeing in the Independence Day sequel (note: I'm aware that this description definitely isn't doing it justice), and the surrounding area are stunning. Architecture porn, if you will.


Graffiti of the iconic yellow tram in Santa Teresa

SANTA TERESA - This quirky neighbourhood is filled with colourful colonial architecture, endless walls of graffiti art, and artisan shops (hint: a souvenir goldmine). The core of Santa Teresa is located on a giant hill, so be sure to take the free (and super iconic) tram to get there. 

PRAIA IPANEMA (IPANEMA BEACH) - Beach culture is a huge part of the Brazilian lifestyle and therefore, in my opinion, a must-have experience while in Rio. Ipanema Beach is one of the most popular beaches among both local Cariocas and tourists;  the never-ending stream of beach-goers makes it a prime location for people watching. The stunning views of the Morro Dois Irmãos in the distance are one of Rio's most well-known. Also note that you can purchase everything from towels to jewelry to food and coconut water from passerby sellers. Imagine enjoying a breathtaking view while relaxing with a fresh coconut water in hand. Sounds good, doesn't it?  


QUICK TIPS...
A wide range of cachaça at Academia da Cachaça
LANGUAGE
I was fortunate to have native Brazilians (and therefore Portuguese speakers) around to assist me with ordering food and any other communication needs. If you don't have this luxury, try to get a grasp on the basics of the language before your trip. I saw many tourists get flat-out ignored by counter staff at juice bars and food stands when speaking English or bad Portuguese in attempts to order food.

The Duolingo app is a great place to start. Also consider printing out hard copies of useful translations for every situation (ordering food, asking for help, etc) before your trip.

Also note that many restaurants carry English menus and generally waitstaff are more understanding.


SAFETY
-Be mindful about everything from your surroundings, what you wear and how you carry yourself.

-Avoid wearing jewelry, handbags and exposing your electronic devices (phone, camera, etc). It is best to only bring the essentials with you on outings. If needed, wear a crossbody bag.

-Do not explore favelas without the assistance of a trained tour guide.


GET THE "CARIOCA" FEEL: 
-Go juice bar hopping. There are juice bars with seemingly endless varieties of juice to be tried at nearly every corner in most areas of Rio (noteably Copacabana). Order a drink, take a seat or stand, and people watch.

-Do nightlife on a budget. Every Monday night, you can join in on a free live samba party (called "roda" in Portuguese) at the Pedra do Sal.

-Eat Brazilian cuisine. Don't be afraid of the food; Brazilian food is amazing. Trust me, you don't miss out on açaí, coxinhas, feijao, farofa, pao de queijo, churrasco and more. (If it's any indication, I'm currently working on an upcoming post all about Brazilian food titled "A love letter to Brazilian food") If you're into experimenting with alcohol, be sure to check out the Academia da Cachaça. It's basically a bar and emporium dedicated to Brazil's native alcohol of choice: cachaça.

Have you ever been to Rio? If so, what're your top picks? Would you visit Rio if you had the chance? If not, where would you go? Let me know in the comments below.

Tchau!
-R

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