Rio de Janeiro Overview
- Ocean, rainforest and a cast of millions
- City life
- Booty-shaking beach parties
Rio is one of the most spectacular spots on earth, where lush mountains plunge into the tropical sea. From Sugar Loaf mountain you can survey the skip-a-beat views down to the world-famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.
With its superabundance of natural beauty – mile-long tropical beaches, dramatic mountainscapes, lush jungle backdrop – Rio is one of the most attractive destinations on the planet. Add to that a population whose blazing spirit and passion are envied the world over: its glamorous citizens eschew conformity and dull days, and their energy enlivens every corner of this sprawling megacity-on-sea. From fashionable Ipanema to the arty, leafy community of Santa Teresa, the streets buzz with music, humour and the indefatigable Carioca spirit. Whether you’re a VIP in Joa (Brazil’s Beverly Hills), or a beach bum on Copacabana, life is lived at a hectic pace – dancing, flirting and posing are national pastimes. Caipirinhas, baile funk and bar hopping are all part of this electric ‘carpe diem’ culture, and never in more Technicolor glory than during Carnival, the tail-feathered, heart-racing, soul-uplifting celebration of life’s pleasures.
Remarkably Rio de Janeiro
Floresta da Tijuca is the world’s biggest urban rainforest, with hundreds of rare species of plants and wildlife. It is also full of historical attractions, from the obvious Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) atop Corcovado mountain to the gem-like Mayrink Chapel, adorned with murals painted by one of Brazil’s best-known 20th-century artists, Candido Portinari.
- Affordable and plentiful. Unless you speak Portuguese, write down the address, and don’t worry if the driver asks a fellow cabbie for directions. Make sure the meter is on.
- Tipping culture
- In restaurants, 10 per cent is usually added to bills. Apart from that, gratuities aren’t the norm, though cab drivers and waiting staff will appreciate any gesture.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Be ready to party late, especially during Carnival. Bar hours vary, but many keep it going till the last customer leaves. Most shops close at around 7pm.
- Packing tips
- Bring: teeny-weeny bikinis, dancing shoes, Carioca attitude, Astrud Gilberto CDs. If you’re a hungry bug’s dream come true, bring insect repellent as well. Leave behind: your best jewellery, inhibitions.
- Recommended reads
- A Death in Brazil: a Book of Omissions by Peter Robb, an insightful, tightly written analysis of modern Brazil; funny and instructive, The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl by Bruna Surfistinha is a suitably raunchy beach read; Priscilla Ann Goslin’s How to Be a Carioca is a tongue-in-cheek guide to the city’s people.
- Hard-partying Cariocas like their rocket fuel: strong, sweet coffee, plus exotic smoothies made with power-packed ingredients such as açaí, goji berries or guarana, which are ubiquitous and inexpensive. The main menu staples are rice and beans, and stews, such as feijoada and moqueca; fresh fish is good, as are churrasco steaks, straight off the southern plains. There are plenty of contemporary and international restaurants in the Zona Sul, or you can share tapas (petiscos) at traditional botequins. Our favourite Brazilian export is cachaça, the sugar-cane spirit that puts the kick in your caipirinhas.
- The Brazilian real (plural: reais). At today's exchange rate, you get R$3.40 to £1 sterling.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Brazil: 55. Rio de Janeiro: 21.
- Do go/don't go
- December to February is summer (high season), when the city buzzes with excitement during the Carnival build-up, and long days on the beach give way to party nights. Winter is cooler and calmer – but only just.