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They call the city of Rio de Janeiro "Cidade Maravilhosa" (The marvellous city), I have to say that visiting Rio was an eye opening and awe inspiring experience. This review is a selection of the best parts, with a few pointers on what not to do there.
SAFETY TIPS ------------------
First of all, it is recommended that tourists stay in a Hotel that is on the coastal road of Copacabana beach - Avenida Atlantico, or one of the coastal roads that run adjacent to Ipanema beach. Or choose one that only a short distance from the coast. This is because if you want to go out at night, you will not have to walk down any side roads, where you are only asking for trouble. Therefore it is much safer to take a taxi. Take 'Sul' taxis. They are yellow, with a blue strip down the sides. We were tricked a few times by other taxi companies posing as 'Sul' taxis as they look just the same, but without the company name, and they charge you twice as much. (But the prices aren’t exactly extortionate anyway)
If possible try and find a hotel that has a restaurant or one that is close to restaurants, which is not difficult along Copacabana beach, you will feel much more comfortable that way.
Bag snatching and pick-pocketing is rife in Rio so it is best to be very aware of your surroundings. The whole time I was there, especially when walking around, I kept all money concealed in a money pouch under my clothes. Simply putting your wallet or purse in your pocket is not enough, you are only inviting trouble. It is also strongly recommended not to carry more cash than you need. It is advisable that you leave your credit/debit cards in your hotel, in your room’s safe. Credit card theft is common here and much more difficult and stressful to sort out if you are miles away from home.
Wearing flashy jewellery, watches or even designer clothes is also a big no-no. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that only 3 blocks/streets away from Copacabana beach/Avenida Atlantico is the start of the Favelas (shanty towns), so that may give you an idea of what to expect.
HOTEL OCEANO COPACABANA --------------------------------------------
We stayed in the Hotel Oceano Copacabana, a 4 star hotel, which is situated just a few metres off Avenida Atlantico. I would recommend this hotel to anyone. The rates were very reasonable and the staff could not have been more friendly or helpful. The hotel provides breakfast and has room service all day. It has its own pool on the roof top, which includes bar service. It also has a sauna. The hotel seemed to attract mainly tourists from many different countries.
The hotel rooms have an en-suite bathroom, you can choose from twin or double. The front the building looks out to the Atlantic Ocean, where rooms here have a balcony, or the other side where views of the city can be seen. A good clean hotel.
I spent two weeks in Rio and did not need all of the money I took. You cannot get Brazilian currency in the UK. I took US Dollars and exchanged them at the hotel lobby. Brazilian dollars are called Reals (R$). Approximately 6R$ are equivalent to £1. The price of most things was very very cheap.
EXCURSIONS & DAY TRIPS --------------------------------------
Depending on how long you stay in Rio, there are many tourist points for you to see. Whether you are there for 4 or 14 days, you’ll be able to fit the most important ones in easily.
I would recommend going on guided tours only, as tourists on their own are an easy target for petty crime. Many hotels in Rio, as did ours, offer tours to all the highlights of the city, with reputable companies. Most of which have hard-to-say-no to prices. In fact there are too many to choose from.
**Tropical Island tours
Angra dos Reis/Itacaruça/Ilha Grande, R$90-100. Available from the reception of your hotel. If not try contacting BTR on Ave. Nossa Senhora de Copacabana 324, Store B (Copacabana), phone 235-1320.
One of the tours that we went on was to a group of tropical islands. Only a two hour drive to paradise! Take a schooner to the islands and go for a swim in the crystal clear waters. Just perfect!
There are a number of tours of this sort available, I went on two, Angra dos Reis and Itacaruça. The best by far was Angra dos Reis, totally magnificent, a true paradise.
Angra dos Reis and Itacaruca are popular with tourists and are not like the over crowded Copacabana or Ipanema beaches.
First of all you are picked up from your hotel early in the morning. You then take a drive south to what is called the Costa Verde, this takes approximately 2 hours. Here you'll see beautiful scenery of many other small ports and fishing villages. The atmosphere is much more relaxed, plus there are a number of hotel resorts in the area - if you can't bear to leave!
Once you arrive at Angra Bay, you will board a schooner boat and sail to a group of one of the many 365 islands, one for every day of the year. There's room for a spot of sunbathing on the boat, plus they usually have a traditional Brazilian band playing too, which creates a wonderful atmosphere.
First stop is an island, which our tour guide called ‘Pleasure Beach’, I think I would have called it ‘Paradise Island’! The water is clear, the sand is white, it’s something you only see dream of, but you can make it a dream come true if you take this trip.
After the first island, you’ll then move on to a bigger island where there’s a buffet style lunch waiting for you. You’ll probably spend a couple of hours there, go for a swim, or chat to one of the many other tourists on the trip with a cold beer from the bar.
If Rio’s main beaches seem too busy, then this is the place for you!
PLACES OF INTEREST --------------------------------
**Cristo Redentor/Corcovado Mountain
The Corcovado Mountain along with the Cristo Redentor (Christ Statue) is a must see. Once you’ve reached the statue, after a fair trek up the never-ending steps (it’s a tram ride most of the way!), you’ll be glad you persisted because the view really is amazing. If you’re lucky to get a clear day you can see every other tourist point you may want to visit. These being the Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf), the beaches of Leme, Copacabana, Aproador, Ipanema and Leblon. To the north you will see the Maracana football stadium, and the MAC (Museum of Contemporary Art) building – it resembles a UFO over in Niteroi. You will also see the Rio – Niteroi Bridge, a spectacular sight in itself.
**MAC - Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói.
Niterói. Just 2R$ entry. (30p)
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's not, nor is it a sailors hat, or a spaceship either - so what is it? It's the MAC of Niterói of course.
The MAC museum resembles a UFO. The building is a work of art in itself. It was designed by Oscar Niemeyer who also designed many of Brazil's capital buildings, Brazilia.
I recommend that you visit the museum, even if Art is not your usual cup of tea. It is a break from the busy streets of Rio. You get to see the other side of Sugar Loaf Mountain this way, a rare sight, and maybe even the Christ Statue. If you take a taxi (ideally booked from your hotel), you will pass over the Rio-Niterói Bridge, which stretches over Guanabara Bay. Otherwise organised tours are more likely to take you there by ferry.
I'd advise you get your taxi driver to wait for you while you mooch around, as there are no taxis waiting outside, unlike other tourist spots.
Help is apparently the biggest (well known) club in South America. It's worth a look inside just to see the wonderful 70's decor. There isn't just one mirror ball, but the whole balcony is one huge strip of mirror ball – very bizarre. It's also worth it to hear the music played by the DJ's, certainly a blast from the past. If you're female and you feel you must go there, be sure to take a man with you. It is predominantly a place for gentleman to ‘meet’ ladies. Also girls, don't dress too over the top or revealing, or you may be mistaken as one of the many ‘ladies’ there! But don’t let that put you off, I had a great time in there. But mainly thanks to some US Navy boys we met at the hotel, we wouldn‘t have gone there otherwise. It was a hassle free experience in all.
Italian Restaurant. Avenida Atlantico
This is situated on the large sidewalk of Avenida Atlantico, parallel to Copacabana Beach. It's in a comfortable quiet spot (just round the corner to Hotel Oceano). It is close to the seafood restaurant Reef. The food is well prepared, although I'm ashamed to admit I only tried their pizzas and one banana split, even so they were delicious!
The service was very good and the waiters were very friendly, we felt as though we’d made a few friends every time we’d visit. (And we went there a lot!) On a Friday/Saturday night they have live traditional Brazilian music, Samba mainly. You’ll have a good time no matter what hour you visit.
Central/South American food, Rua Siquerra Campos (just off Avenida Atlantico)
Pay by the kilo is the name of the game here. It's a buffet style restaurant that has just about any kind of food you can think of; sushi, pastries, salads, stews, meats, cakes, the lot! Though be careful because sometimes certain foods aren't as obvious as they seem! (Believe me) Either stick to the plainer looking dishes or be prepared to get your phrase book out (or a nasty surprise!).
Rio Sul Shopping Centre, Av. Lauro Muller, 116 - Botafogo, 3rd Floor.
Guapo Loco is a Mexican café restaurant. The food is absolutely delicious, and very quickly prepared. No sooner had I ordered that my food had arrived! They even had English menus. Very well priced.
It’s worth pointing out that Brazil does not cater for vegetarians, as some other countries may. However there are many restaurants that sell plain pizzas, or buffet style restaurants with a wide choice of salads, pastries or breads.
**Rio Sul Shopping Centre
Av. Lauro Muller, 116 - Botafogo Rio de Janeiro Cut price - high price
There are 4 floors here, and the price range seems to rise along with the escalators!
My favourite store would have to be Renner, on the 1st and 2nd floor. It's a department store with a lot of choice; clothes, home stuff, jewellery etc. The prices are very good, and the quality is even better.
Another nice store Mundo Verde on the 1st floor, an alternative health spiritual type of store. It has all the usual items; candles, incense, gems, but also had a few select pieces by, what I think was, a local artist. They even gift wrap for you too.
After all that walking you'll be glad to find the 3rd floor with the restaurants and bars, any excuse to visit Guapo Loco again for some great grub!
We visited Rio in October. I would say that the temperature then would be hot enough for anyone, at approximately 29°C for the entire duration. October is in fact at the end of the ‘rainy season’ but we only had one day when there was a slight drizzle (the day we shopping!). After October the climate gets hotter, which I am glad to say we did not experience.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO ----------------------------------
The English Government offers a very well put together website featuring all kinds of information of many countries and what you should know or do before visiting them. Anything from violence, illnesses, political complications etc. Before I went to Rio I accessed this site, I would recommend everyone to do this.
It is important to visit your local Health Centre to check whether you will need any necessary vaccines. It is important to do this at least 3 months in advance as many vaccines require more than one visit.
We flew by Air France, which involved a one hour flight to Paris first, then an 10 hour flight to Rio airport. Lengthy yes, but worth it in the end.
I cannot mention ticket prices as I did not purchase them. I believe it is more affordable to fly straight to the city of Sau Paulo (south of Rio de Janeiro), then travel to Rio from there, usually another flight. The flight lengths do not differ, but the cost may.
WHO SHOULD GO? -------------------------
I would recommend a trip to Rio de Janeiro to adults mainly. Children would enjoy the city, beaches and excursions, but it is not the kind of holiday to expect amusement parks or the like. There may be some, but cannot speak of any.
You do not have to be well travelled to go there, but it pays to pack your common sense along with your suntan lotion.
AND FINALLY... ----------------------
Apart from having to keep your wits about you, it has to be the best holiday I have had so far. My two weeks in Rio de Janeiro was an experience that I will never forget. The sights are amazing, the weather is fabulous, the food is gorgeous, and their people, the Cariocas, are friendly. The tropical islands will be forever imprinted in my mind!