Rio de Janeiro has so much to offer that knowing where to start can be overwhelming! We didn’t have time to do everything we would have liked to do but we really enjoyed our time there. Even though the weather was not so great on our first 2 days in RJ (rain and clouds) and we missed the days with free entrance at the museum (usually Tuesdays) so decided to skip that part…
The good news is that even if it is a big city, it is easy to go around, by foot, subway, bus or taxi. We mainly walked to most of the places and confirm that RJ is a very walkable city! Thanks to its unique geological structure we also felt it to be relatively breathable and pleasant for a city that size.
Here is what we did during our 5 days there.
Day 1: the center and Santa Teresa
Discovering the center is the best way to immerse yourself in the local daily life (and in a safe manner :-)). For thing to know: local from Rio de Janeiro are called “Cariocas” so don’t be surprise to see this word everywhere! In the center you will find many points of interests, including several museums. If you are in Rio in the beginning of the week note that many museums offer a free entrance on Tuesdays, plan accordingly!
From the city center you can walk easily to the famous Selaron steps (Escadaria Selaron) covered with eclectic and colorful tiles from all over the world. Climbing them up will not only provide you with great pictures opportunity but it will also lead to the way to Santa Teresa cute neighborhood with beautiful street art and interesting viewpoints over the city. You can also get there by tramway for 20$R; we didn’t do it but it seems to be a funny ride.
Down the Escadaria Selaron is the Lapa district. Part of it seems not very safe but if you stay on the main streets, you will find many restaurants and bars.It gets quite animated at night.
Read this article to see the full itinerary: Walking through Rio de Janeiro: the center and Santa Teresa.
Day 2: Ipanema and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
This was not a sunny day either for us, but once the rain over we decided to go for another exploratory walk. From our hotel we walk along Copacabana towards the South to reach another mythical beach: Ipanema! Of course it was not the best day to enjoy it and we would have to come back to see it fully animated. However note that despite the weather, Brazilians still get to the beach to do sport! We were truly impressed by the number of people playing collective sport on the beach or running and exercising, alone or in groups, at any time of the day!
From Ipanema we turned right at the Posto 10 (the safeguard tower) to cross the city in direction of the Lagoon Rodrigo de Freitas: a lake inside the city at the foot of the Corcovado mountain! Unfortunately with this weather we only managed to get a glimpse at the statue of Christ the Redeemer! Anyway we still enjoy the walk around the lake! There are many rowing clubs around and you will probably see people training on the lake. If you need a break, spot one the seller of coco verde to refresh yourself with fresh coconut water!
We will be back (under the sun) there since the departure of the hike up the Corcovado mountain is just North of this lake!
Day 3: relaxing day at the beach in Copacabana
The sun was finally back so we decided that this would be our day off to enjoy lazily the beach! No walking around today! 🙂
After a lazy morning with a big breakfast we walked the 5 minutes that separated us from Copacabana beach. You just need to make one step in the sand to have sellers coming to you to offer you a chaise longue and an umbrella. We were not planning on having such comfort but why not after all! Ask and negotiate the price before of course… And once your settled don’t forget to order a fresh coconut! (It was a bit early for caipirinhas, even though it was already sold everywhere!)
The waves were actually quite strong so you cannot really swim per se but you can have fun jumping in the waves! However it is not recommended to leave your bag unattended so sadly we could not really go at the same time. A girl that was on her own gave her bag to the person next to her to keep an eye on.
A few baths and a nap later we can only recommend you to at least take an umbrella as it can get very warm otherwise!
In the evening you can wander around for a drink at one of the many beach bars! There are often musicians playing but note that (it’s often the case in Brazil) you will be charged an “artistic tax” on the bill! You might want to check how much it is beforehand!
Day 4: Hiking to Morro da Urca (Sugar Loaf)
Objective of the day: hiking up the Morro da Urca. This peak is located just in front of the famous Sugar Loaf. Slightly less high than the latest it has the advantage of being easy to hike and free, while offering some great panoramas over Rio!
The trail starts at the northern end of Praia Vermelha and is very easy to find. It is a very popular trail. Also the beach itself is small but offers a great view over the Sugar Loaf. However we were there on a Sunday and it was really overcrowded! Which unfortunately means that the water and the beach were relatively dirty…
Anyway the trail follow the seaside up to the base of the Sugar Loaf.Somewhere in the middle you will see stairs going up on your left: that’s the way! The climb is relatively steep but is very accessible. We would still recommend appropriate shoes as it can get quite slippery (we saw a few people falling on their way down).
Back on the bottom trail, have a look in the ocean: you may spot some sea turtles! We saw many many of them all along the trail!
Note: it is also possible to hike up the Sugar Loaf but the trail is not as easy and require some more experience as some parts need to be climbed. We didn’t try it so cannot judge of the actual difficulty of the trail.
Day 5 Hiking to Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer)
The example of using your legs to save money! 😉
More seriously, it was a very pleasant trail to hike, all in the forrest jungle with chances to spot monkeys, marmosets, lizards, birds, butterflies (and hopefully no snakes). The beginning of the trail is in the Parque Lage, which worth a visit by itself! After the hike you could head to Ipanema beach for a well-deserved relaxing bath!
More information about that trail in our article: Hike to Christ the Redeemer!
Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro
Like in Sao Paulo, the best is to try stay central, in a relatively safe neighborhood and close to the subway. This is why we recommend rather staying around Botofago or Copacabana.
We stayed in, what we found to be a great deal: Residencial Budget. Located 5 minutes from the Copacabana beach and a subway station, this building belongs to the Royal Rio Palace and therefore gives you access to the facilities of the Palace: rooftop swimming pool and gym and, delicious buffet breakfast. Even better: during off season chances are high that you will be relocated in the Palace itself, which is a 4 star hotel (like we were). We paid 154 $R per night, which was higher that our normal budget but was compensated by the big breakfast buffet that would make us skip lunch!
Around that area we can recommend a few places:
- Beef and Beer: the name is quite self-explanatory! You can either get a great burger or chose a piece of meat that they will cook and slice for you. Try the special fries too, delicious! All of it with icy cold beer.
- Basha: a very good, fairly priced Lebanese restaurant. Try their filet-mignon and their appetizer mix plate!
- Emporio del Gusto: a pizzeria with good, thick pizzas
- Sofa Cafe: good coffee place for a break; they have salads, sandwiches and cakes. It can get a bit noisy.
- Pao e companhia: half self-service bakery, half kilo restaurant. We came there mainly to buy some snacks (quiches, bread, pastries)