We spent a week in Brazil, split between Rio de Janeiro and Iguacu Falls. The key attractions in Rio are fairly spread out. We chose to base ourselves in Copacabana, close to the beach, and travel to other destinations by public transport. Rio’s Metro system is cheap, clean and efficient. We struggled a bit with the buses, mainly because we don’t speak Portuguese.
|Flight to Rio|
Rio Design Hotel
Drinks at Garota de Ipanema
|Day 2||Christ the Redeemer|
|Day 3||Bonde Streetcar|
Arcos de Lapa Viaduct
National History Museum
|Day 4||Sugarloaf Mountain|
|3||Christ the Redeemer|
|6||Arcos de Lapa Viaduct|
|8||National History Museum|
Flight to Rio de Janeiro
We’re off on our travels again – this time to South America, starting in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a long journey; having already got up at stupid o’clock and spent 2 hours on a coach to London, we have 13 hours of flying, 4 hours at various airports, finishing with a 1 hour taxi ride.
We fly via Madrid with less than an hour between flights. After landing, I see the old man get my bag out of the overhead locker, then we get separated by a crazy lady who decides to go the wrong way down the aisle of the plane pulling a suitcase the size of a small hatchback. When I finally catch up with him in the terminal building, he doesn’t have my bag – he left it on the plane. So it’s a mad dash to retrieve it before it gets destroyed/returned to London.
Panic over, we continue to board our onward flight. Seven hours later, I have read The Tatooist of Auschwitz from cover to cover, I look for an English film to watch. There’s not much choice, but I try ‘Mamma Mia! Here we go again’. 5 minutes in, I decide it’s preferable to spend the final 4 hours of the flight sitting in the dark listening to babies cry.
Rio Design Hotel
Finally, we arrive in Brazil, negotiate the enormous airport and take a taxi to our hotel; Rio Design Hotel, which is very pleasant with a large room and comfortable bed – just what you need after a full day of travelling. Equally welcome are the complementary welcome cocktails. And it’s only 100 metres from the iconic Copacabana Beach.
It’s already dark so there’s not much chance for a first glimpse of Rio. We head out briefly in search of much needed refreshments (there’s very little service on an Iberia flight and we are quite dehydrated). We don’t go far, it’s been a long day and we’re tired, but we have our first Brazilian beer at a little pizza bar opposite the hotel, then go to bed.
Rio de Janeiro Day 1
We get up and go for breakfast at the hotel buffet. We deal with yesterday’s dietary deficiencies by consuming a mountain of fruit – mainly mango – the sweetest, juiciest mango I have ever tasted. I also have some sausage and eggs, although there’s a slight delay in proceedings while a women attempts to light her cigarette on the heat source under the breakfast buffet.
Then we set forth along Copacabana Beach. It’s 8.30 am and the prom is already heaving with walkers, runners and cyclists out for their morning constitutional. It’s like an exotic Bournemouth; we have the Overcliff, they have Sugarloaf Mountain.
We walk the full 4 km length of the beach, and back again. By the end it is 36 degrees and we’re rather warm and sweaty.
After a pit stop at a beach bar, we round off our morning with a visit to Copacabana Fort, perched on a peninsula with a stunning view across Copacabana Beach to Sugarloaf Mountain.
The fort also houses an Army Museum. It’s probably quite interesting (I’m not sure, it’s all in Portuguese) but it definitely has great air conditioning.
Suitably cooled, we head back to the hotel, stopping at a supermarket to purchase copious amounts of liquids, then head back to the hotel for a cool down and a siesta.
In the evening, once the temperature has dropped to an almost manageable 32 degrees, we set off for to Ipanema. It’s super mega busy. It looks like photos I’ve seen of Benidorm in the 70s when the British discovered the package holiday.
We walk along the prom for a while, then can’t resist heading for the the tourist trap of Garota de Ipanema; the bar where the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was written. We have a beer (or two), then go and get dinner somewhere considerably cheaper and less touristy.
We return to the pizza bar opposite our hotel and order a pizza and some chips to share. The amount of food that is produced is akin to an episode of Man v Food. The portions are enormous and the layer of cheese is as thick as the pizza base.
Once we have been defeated by dinner, it’s back to the hotel for cheese sweats and an early night. After today’s gentle introduction to Rio, tomorrow we go hardcore tourist and head for Christ the Redeemer.
Rio de Janeiro Day 2
Christ The Redeemer
Today we’re going to see Christ the Redeemer. One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. In the school summer holidays. I suspect we won’t be alone…
The ascent is made by funicular railway. You need to purchase tickets in advance for a specified time. Turn up late and you lose your slot. So we leave ample time for the bus journey to the station. We find the bus stop, the bus is on time and we get off at the correct place; the result being we arrive an hour before our train. It’s very busy, but very efficiently organised – which is kind of good, because I like order and kind of bad, because there’s no chance of getting an earlier train.
Eventually it’s our turn to board and we set off, or rather up. The train ride takes 20 minutes and ascends 700 metres. At the top, there’s a further climb of 200 steps (or an elevator/escalator combo if you prefer). And there he is. Christ the Redeemer. 38 metres tall, looking down on Rio from the top of his mountain.
There’s not much to do; just admire/photograph the statue and admire/photograph the stunning view across Rio and beyond, together with hundreds of other tourists. So it’s a kind of spectacular anti climax.
My guide book says that you can take a trail through the park back down into Rio, but it’s closed. So we descend by train and take a bus to the Botanical Gardens.
The Gardens are beautiful. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in a city amidst the palm trees and lily ponds. There is a spectacular array of plants, waterfalls, lakes and fountains, all watched over by Christ the Redeemer. My favourite bit, however is the cactus garden.
A gardener sees us admiring the amazing cacti and invites us to try some. He cuts the top off an ancient Brazilian cactus and he and the old man proceed to eat it.
Beautiful though the gardens are, the temperature has reached 36 degrees. We manage two hours, but that is my limit so we set off to catch a bus back to the hotel. The bus route is circular; you can catch it either clockwise or anti-clockwise. We have a difference of opinion over which direction is correct. I’m right (obviously), but while we’re arguing, the bus sails past without us.
The journey back to Copacabana takes ages. It turns out there has been an accident; some scaffolding has collapsed onto the pavement. I feel slightly guilty about how I used to complain bitterly about Risk Assessment in my former life.
We reach our hotel, stopping briefly to purchase the obligatory supplies of drinks and crisps. I like to pretend that crisps are important in replacing the salt I have sweated out. The truth is, I really like crisps. After lunch, it’s time for a cool down in the hotel’s rooftop pool.
Next, a glamorous interlude while I wash underwear in the bathroom sink and hang it on the air conditioning unit to dry. As if life wasn’t glamorous enough, we go to the supermarket to buy dinner. I choose a selection pack of 5 different cheese spreads. Back in our room, I check the flavours with Google Translate; one contains nuts. Who knew you could play Russian Roulette with cheese?
Rio de Janeiro Day 3
Today we are going sightseeing in Rio. So, on a sunny summer Saturday, we set of by Metro from Copacabana Beach to the city centre. Not surprisingly, we are travelling in the opposite direction to almost everyone else. We buy Metro tickets, which are quite decorative and thus a good item for my scrapbook. However, at the turnstile, we insert the ticket and it isn’t returned. I look so disappointed that on the following journey, the old man buys 3 tickets so I have one to keep.
First stop is the Bonde, the old streetcar which clambers across the Arcos de Lapa Viaduct and up the hillside along cobbled lanes decorated with murals.
We’re taking the Bonde just for the sake of it, so buy a return ticket, worrying that we’ll look a bit strange when we stay on at the final destination. In fact, when we reach the last station, there is little sign of movement. Nobody gets on or off; passengers simply flick their seat backs over so they are facing forward for the return journey and we set off back down the hillside.
Arcos de Lapa Viaduct
We walk back to the base of the 18th Century Roman style viaduc, which consists of 42 arches, to photograph a tram passing over it. And for the obligatory selfie with the ‘Love Rio’ sign.
Next stop is the Metropolitan Cathedral; from the outside it’s an ugly concrete cone. Inside, however it’s rather beautiful with four entrances, each facing a floor to ceiling stained glass tableau.
We move on to the Escadaria Selarón; a flight of 215 steps, each decorated with brightly coloured tiles. I’ve seen pictures and it looks quite spectacular; of course in reality it’s swarming with so many tourists you can hardly see the steps.
Luckily, most of these tourists seem averse to actually climbing too many steps. Thus, as we ascend, numbers dwindle and at the top, there’s just me, the old man and a water vendor who’s charging 50% more than those at the bottom. We don’t care; we’ve just climbed 210 steps in 36 degree heat. I would have given him my first born for a bottle of water.
National History Museum
Next, we visit the National History Museum, which charts the history of the Brazilian people from the first known settlers 25,000 years ago, through colonisation, slavery and independence to the present day.
Museum of Art
We walk along the waterfront to the Museum of Art, which is somewhat of an anti climax. The main exhibition is based on Samba; its place in the history, culture and politics of Brazil. But the captions are only in Portuguese, so we have no idea what it says. The remaining floors contain exhibits which cause the old man to go into ‘Call that art?’ mode, so we give up.
Just time for a wander along the Boulevard Olímpico. This once derelict area near the port, was transformed for the 2016 Olympics. It is lined with street art. The most spectacular is the Etnias Mural – inspired by the five Olympic Rings, the artist, Eduardo Kobra, created five faces to represent the continents. It is enormous and mesmerising.
It’s been a scorcher of a day and we’ve been sightseeing for eight hours. I’ve had enough of heat and walking and not understanding anything that’s going on around me.
We return to the hotel and round the evening off with another glamorous session of a supermarket supper followed by washing underwear in the sink. It’s not as successful as yesterday; someone next door is smoking out of the window so my clothes smell of cigarettes and are covered in ash. I consider complaining, but am not sure if smoking in a non-smoking room out-trumps hanging your knickers out of the hotel window, so I decide to put it down to experience and have another beer…
Rio de Janeiro Day 4
It has come to my attention that I don’t apply sunblock right up to my clothes. I have woken this morning with 3 pink rings around my neck and shoulders outlining yesterday’s vest. So this morning I am wearing a T shirt. I feel hideously overdressed in a city where the preferred attire is a bikini which barely covers your nipples.
It’s our last day in Rio, so we’re going up Sugarloaf Mountain. We’ve left it till last because frankly I hate cable cars. It’s not natural to hang in mid air in a glass box on a bit of wire. And Sugarloaf Mountain requires some serious mid air hanging. First, you take a cable car up the neighbouring Morro da Urca. Then you take a second cable car to Sugarloaf. Basically, you travel a kilometre in a glass box on a wire which hangs between two mountains. They’re not really mountains, to use the correct geographical term (Catherine), they’re granite monoliths. It has to be said that the cable cars traversing these monoliths is a spectacular sight which can be seen across Rio. But it’s still against the laws of nature.
We set off for the bus stop, but there is some confusion as the bus Google says we should take doesn’t appear to exist. We wait 20 minutes before giving up and getting on a random bus and hoping it gets us near our destination. This non-scientific approach leaves us with a mile to walk, which we consider a marginal success.
Tickets for the cable car aren’t cheap; we hand over our £60 (that’s around £10 a minute) and board the first cable car to Murro da Orca. The summit is quite small; just big enough for two cable car stations and a gift shop.
We take the second cable car to Sugarloaf, which is slightly larger (a gift shop and a restaurant and, rather bizarrely, as we’re up a mountain, a beach bar).
We circumnavigate the monolith to enjoy the views, take photos and generally reach a point where we feel like we’ve had £60 worth of entertainment. At the rear is an area of rainforest populated by very tame marmosets.
We descend and, just as we’re discussing how to reach the hotel, the non-existent bus appears round the corner. We’re not at a bus stop, so we just smile and wave at the bus driver, who takes pity and picks us up.
That leaves just one item on our Rio ‘to do’ list – swimming on Copacabana Beach. The problem is that having walked the length of the bay on arrival, we have spotted the sewage pipes spewing crap into the ocean. So I have a dilemma; do I want to swim on one of the world’s most iconic beaches knowing that I will literally be paddling in my own poo? Not that it really makes a difference whose poo I’m paddling in.
We walk to the beach, find a few square inches to lay out our towel, and the old man sets forth into the water. I’m not sure why. It’s a rather sinister shade of brown and has all sorts of rubbish floating in it – more brown flag than blue flag. He emerges with a look of horror on his face, takes a shower, returns to the hotel and takes two more showers, all the time muttering about taking precautionary Imodium.
Once I have finally finished laughing, it’s time fish my knickers off the window ledge and pack. In the morning we leave Rio and head for the waterfalls of Iguacu.
Trip Taken: January 2019
Updated: September 2022