We spent a week in Brazil, split between two locations; four days in Rio de Janeiro before flying to Iguacu Falls. Four days in Rio gave us enough time to see the two big attractions of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, plus a day hanging out at the beach(es) and a day checking out the city sights.
We flew from London via Spain (because it was cheaper than flying direct). The main international airport is Galeão International Airport, which is around 12 miles north of the city, or 15 miles north of the main tourist strip of Copacana.
It is possible to reach Copacabana by public transport, but it’s a two hour journey (compared to one hour in a taxi). We had intended to catch a shuttle bus, but it was late and we were tired, so we took a taxi instead. The journey cost R130. If purchased at the same time, a return costs R210 (around £32).
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 which meant we weren’t always sure where to get off.
Where we Stayed
We stayed at the Rio Design Hotel, which was very pleasant with a large room, comfortable bed and good air conditioning. Equally cooling were the complementary welcome cocktails!
Apart from its location; just 100 metres from Copacabana Beach, it has the added bonus of a rooftop pool. Perfect for cooling down after a hot day’s sightseeing and with a great view across the bay too.
|Flight to Rio|
Accommodation – Rio Design Hotel x 4
|Day 1||Copacabana Beach|
Drinks at Garota de Ipanema
Dinner at Bar Bico
|Day 2||Christ the Redeemer|
Rio Botanical Garden
|Day 3||Bonde Streetcar|
Arcos de Lapa Viaduct
National History Museum
Museum of Art
|Day 4||Sugarloaf Mountain|
|4||Garota de Ipanema Bar|
|5||Christ the Redeemer|
|6||Rio Botanical Garden|
|8||Arcos de Lapa Viaduct|
|11||National History Museum|
|12||Museum of Art|
Rio de Janeiro Day 1
Our fist day in Rio was a relaxed affair as we got over our jetlag; hitting two of the city’s most famous beaches; Copacabana and Ipanema.
We set forth along Copacabana Beach at 8.30 am and the prom was already heaving with walkers, runners and cyclists out for their morning constitutional. It was like an exotic Bournemouth; we have the Overcliff, they have Sugarloaf Mountain.
We walked the full 4 km length of the beach, and back again. By the end it was 36 degrees and we were rather warm and sweaty.
We decided to cool off with a swim. The problem being that having walked the length of the bay, we have spotted the sewage pipes spewing crap into the ocean. So I had a dilemma; did I want to swim on one of the world’s most iconic beaches knowing that I would literally be paddling in my own poo? Not that it really makes a difference whose poo I would be paddling in.
We found a few square inches to lay out our towel, and the old man set forth into the water. It was a rather sinister shade of brown and had all sorts of rubbish floating in it – more brown flag than blue flag. I decided to make do with a paddle. Meanwhile, the old man emerged with a look of horror on his face, muttering about taking showers and precautionary Imodium.
After a pit stop at one of the many beach bars, we rounded 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.
Copacaba Fort is open daily except Mondays. Entry costs R6.
In the evening, once the temperature had dropped to an almost manageable 32 degrees, we set off for to Ipanema. It was super mega busy. It looked like photos I’ve seen of Benidorm in the 70s when the British discovered the package holiday.
Garota de Ipanema Bar
We walked along the prom for a while, then couldn’t resist heading for the the tourist trap of Garota de Ipanema; the bar where the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was written. We had a beer (or two), then went in search of dinner somewhere considerably cheaper and less touristy.
Dinner at Bar Bico
Bar Bico is a small café/bar. If you like your travels to be an epic culinary adventure, then it’s probably not the place. However, if a cheap, laid back eatery with ice cold beer does it for you, then Bar Bico ticks the boxes. We ordered a pizza and some chips to share. The amount of food that is produced was akin to an episode of Man v Food. The portions were enormous and the layer of cheese was as thick as the pizza base.
Rio de Janeiro Day 2
Christ The Redeemer
On our second day in Rio, we headed for the main attraction; Christ the Redeemer. One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, perched high above the city. In the school summer holidays. I suspected we wouldn’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 left ample time for the bus journey to the station. We found the bus stop, the bus was on time and we got off at the correct place; the result being we arrived 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.
Christ the Redeemer is open daily and the return fare is R93.50.
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden
My guide book said that you could take a trail through the park back down into Rio, but it was closed. So we descend by train and took a bus to the Botanical Garden.
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.
The Botanical Garden is open daily. The cost of entry depends on where you’re from, ranging from R17 for locals to R67 for full-blown foreigners.
Rio de Janeiro Day 3
Today; a day sightseeing in Rio. So, on a sunny summer Saturday, we set of by Metro from Copacabana Beach to the city centre. Not surprisingly, we were travelling in the opposite direction to almost everyone else.
First stop was the Bonde, the old streetcar which clambers across the Arcos de Lapa Viaduct and up the hillside along cobbled lanes decorated with murals.
We were taking the Bonde just for the sake of it, so bought a return ticket, worrying that we would look a bit strange when we stayed on at the final destination. In fact, when we reached the last station, there was little sign of movement. Nobody got on or off; passengers simply flicked their seat backs over so they were facing forward for the return journey and we set off back down the hillside. A return ticket cost R20.
Arcos de Lapa Viaduct
We walked back to the base of the 18th Century Roman style viaduct, which consists of 42 arches, to photograph a tram passing over it. And for the obligatory selfie with the ‘Love Rio’ sign.
Next stop was 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 moved on to the Escadaria Selarón; a flight of 215 steps, each decorated with brightly coloured tiles. I’d seen pictures and it looks quite spectacular; of course in reality it was swarming with so many tourists you could hardly see the steps.
Luckily, most of these tourists seemed averse to actually climbing too many steps. Thus, as we ascended, numbers dwindle and at the top, there was just me, the old man and a water vendor who was charging 50% more than those at the bottom. We didn’t care; we’d 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 visiedt 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.
The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday and entry is free.
Museum of Art
We walk along the waterfront to the Museum of Art, which was somewhat of an anti climax. The main exhibition was based on Samba; its place in the history, culture and politics of Brazil. But the captions were only in Portuguese, so we had no idea what it says. The remaining floors contained exhibits which cause the old man to go into ‘Call that art?’ mode, so we give up.
The Museum is open Thursday to Sunday and a ticket costs R20.
We rounded our city sightseeing extravaganza off with 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.
Rio de Janeiro Day 4
On our final day in Rio we headed for the city’s other top attraction; Sugarloaf Mountain.
We 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 was some confusion as the bus Google said we should take doesn’t appear to exist. We waited 20 minutes before giving up and getting on a random bus and hoping it would get us near our destination. This non-scientific approach left us with a mile to walk, which we considered a marginal success.
Tickets for the cable car aren’t cheap; (I reckon it costs around £10 a minute) we handed over our and boarded 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 took 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 circumnavigated the monolith to enjoy the views, take photos and generally reach a point where we feel like we’ve had £50 worth of entertainment. At the rear is an area of rainforest populated by very tame marmosets.
Then descended and, just as we’re discussing how to reach the hotel, the non-existent bus appeared round the corner. We were nowhere near a bus stop, so we just smiled and waved at the bus driver, who took pity and picked us up.
Sugarloaf Mountain is open daily with the cable car tickets costing R150.
- Trip Taken: January 2019
- Updated: March 2023
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