Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
When they announced Rio as the home of the next Summer Olympic Games back in 2012, we knew we had to go! We arrived about a week prior to the Olympics, and took advantage of the relative calm before the storm by seeing Cristo Redentor, Sugarloaf Mountain, Santa Teresa via the tram, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Tijuca National Park, Jardim Botanico, downtown Rio and the waterfront district, and the beautiful, secluded island of Ilha Grande.
You can see all of Rio from Cristo Redentor, and we were fortunate enough to witness it both day and night. Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is an art deco statue created by Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski completed in 1931. The statue is 98 ft (30m) tall, and it's arm stretch 92 ft (28m) across. The easiest way to get there is by taking the tram from the neighborhood of Cosme Velho, located at:
R. Cosme Velho, 513 - Cosme Velho, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22241-125, Brazil
Buffet lunch at the beautiful Confeitaria Colombo in downtown was a nostalgic experience. And taking the historic Santa Teresa bonde or tram from downtown to Santa Teresa was definitely worth the forty or so minute wait. Santa Teresa is a hilltop district with a charming, village-like vibe. Steep, winding streets are lined with restaurants and shops. You can catch the tram to Santa Teresa from here in downtown Rio:
R. Lélio Gama, 2 - Centro, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20031-080, Brazil
We also went hang gliding with Konrad Heilmann's Rio Hang Gliding School from Pedra Bonita, a mountain located in São Conrado neighborhood. You don`t need any experience since the tandem pilot controls the flight. We were both really nervous though. I mean, how often do people ask you to run and jump off of a perfectly good cliff? But the experience is probably the closest we'll ever come to soaring like a bird! We'd do it again in a heartbeat!
The views from Sugarloaf Mountain (or Pão de Açúcar) were stunning! Even the tram ride up to the top was scenic. Rising 396 m (1,299 ft) above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. We also discovered the delights of acai at a cafe at the trams halfway point on Morro da Urca. Yum!
Escadaria Selaron, also known as the Steps of Selaron, is a set of 215 colorfully tiled steps in Rio de Janeiro. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron who claimed it as "my tribute to the Brazilian people." They were constructed between 1990 and 2013. The steps are located here:
R. Manuel Carneiro - Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20241-120, Brazil
If you enjoy city wall art, or you know who Eduardo Kobra is, then you absolutely must check out the 190 meter long, 15.5 meter tall Olympic mural in the waterfront district. Kobra created it to commemorate the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. It features the faces of indigenous people from the five main continents, representing the five Olympic rings. It's located here:
Av. Rodrigues Alves, 221-211 - Saúde, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, Brazil
We really enjoyed a day trip to Ilha Grande, where we went hiking through the rainforest, relaxed on huge sandy beaches covered with palm trees, and enjoyed the local shops and restaurants as well. It's only a 20 minute boat ride from Conceição de Jacareí on the mainland. We utilized Rio Hiking to get us there. If we ever return to Rio, we'll probably spend a night or two on the island.
Once the Olympics began we attended the Opening Ceremonies, gymnastics, rowing, swimming, beach volleyball and water polo. We stayed at Casa Caminho do Corcovado, on the top of a hill, against the rainforest, and at the feet of the Cristo Redentor mountain. It was centrally located, close to nearby bus routes, the hosts were warm and accommodating, and the views, with the jungle to your back, were phenomenal! Ask them for some delicious dining recommendations too in their Cosme Velho neighborhood.
If you've ever thought of visiting Rio, whether for its beaches, nightlife, or Carnival, just get down there and do it! Oh, and don't forget to try some fresh agua de coco gelada (chilled coconut water). It's delicious!