We arrived in Rio with a huge amount of pre conceptions. I was genuinely terrified of getting robbed or in sticky situation from the moment I stepped off the bus (I know… roll your eyes with me) – all because of scaremongering in the media and a bunch of people who genuinely warned us off going there. Despite that we had numerous friends who had visited who absolutely loved it and for us it was somewhere we just COULDN’T miss. Oh how people are so wrong about this place. I am by no means ignoring the violence that we do definitely know goes on here especially in the favela areas – but I genuinely felt it to be a very safe place as a tourist. Rio has now become hands down my favourite city on the planet so far and I urge anyone and everyone to visit this incredible place one day.
We arrived into Rio’s central Rodavario at about 1pm. We’d endured a hellish 20 hour bus journey from Porto Seguro (further up the coast) which consisted of beating cockroaches to death with my haviana flip flop & having a near panic attack when the bus pulled away without Jack on it. The bus was in fact just going to fill up the tank around the corner at the service station but with my lack of Portuguese I didn’t understand the driver and shouted ‘oh my god’ at 3am down the bus as it pulled away. Despite all this horrendous service and an official complaint later we pulled over the huge bridge into RIO! I saw a first glimpse of the skyline – Christ the Redeemer & sugarloaf mountain in amongst the dotted favelas and hazy sun.
We made our way to the exit and found ourselves a taxi – the official taxis line up all around the entrance. They fight for your custom but best to go with the official ones when you first get to a city. We usually use public transport but quite honestly we just wanted to get to our hostel and shower. We were stung for 49 real (about £11.50) for our journey to Santa Teresa. Uber in Brazil is a third of the price of regular taxis – but as Uber is anywhere in the world you can’t guarantee the driver knows where they’re going. Our official taxi took us to the door of our hostel without any issues at all – despite the hostel not even having a sign outside.
We arrived in Santa Teresa & at first I was a little unsure of the area. There didn’t seem to be much to it – it’s quite a residential area with a few restaurants, arty shops and hostels nestled in between. After we’d dropped our bags off at our rather disappointing hostel we headed out for a walk about the area. Due to all the crazy stories we’d heard we honestly didn’t know whether we should carry too much cash, our phones or gopro with us. We headed out without most of our stuff as a precaution and the first thing I noticed was everyone on their expensive phones. Surely this place isn’t so bad right? I knew this was a saf(er) residential area but surely you wouldn’t walk around with all your belongings on show like that if being robbed was such a common occurrence here? We found ourselves a little bar (strangely German selling currywurst) and had our first taste of Bohemia beer – soon to become our favourite. That evening we were on the search for a bar showing sports – the football was on & Jack was keen on seeing his team play. We found a restaurant in Santa Teresa called Bar do Mineiro. The place was excellent – quirky deco, full of beers from all over the world & great snacks. If you ever head there be sure to order the pasty selection & the dumplings (not actual dumplings but croquettes). Massive noms. We have also heard that their Feijoada is incredible if you want a bigger meal.
Day two soon came quickly and we’d done a little research online to discover Free Walkers Tours in Rio (www.freewlkertours.com). The instructions were to meet outside the Carioca metro station at 10:30 in the Centro district. It was surprisingly quiet. We soon found out it was yet again another public holiday in Brazil – for day of the dead. The tour took us all around down town Rio stopping at: Carioca Square, Colombo Bakery, Travessa do Comércio, XV Square, Imperial Palace, Tiradentes Palace, Cinelândia, Municipal Theatre, National Library, City Council and the Fine Arts Museum. It was about 4 hours in total and ended up at the very famous Selaron Steps. (Escadaria Selarón) The steps are an absolute masterpiece & the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claimed it as “my tribute to the Brazilian people. The steps are adorned with thousands of tiles from around the world – you can spend hours here picking out some interesting ones. My favourite I spotted were Princess Diana, Guinness & Padstow, Cornwall. During the tour our guide even told us some cool stories about the Portuguese royalty & other famous characters in the area. The tour operates on a tips basis so we ultimately we paid about £15 at the end after judging what others were paying. (You know that awkward moment when you’re not sure how much to give) It really was 100% worth doing and gave us an idea of the layout of the area – really important so you don’t get lost in the future!
At the end of the tour the tour guide asked us if we were interested in getting involved in a pub crawl that evening… we were very hesitant… we don’t usually get involved in that sort of thing – especially what I called paid for fun but we thought we’d just go for it – maybe we’d meet some other traveller’s to have a laugh with. So we paid the 60 Real each (about £14 each) and geared ourselves up to meet in Lapa (the central party district) for 9:30pm. As typical Brits we necked about 6 drinks before arrival (fear of awkward silences) and headed to meet the group. To cut a long story short it was absolute jokes. The first girl I met was from Croydon (my home town – I nearly fell off my chair) and we also met a group of others from London and all over Europe. The actual pub tour wasn’t great and there wasn’t any free drinks as such like you get in those cheap European destinations – but let’s just say we got suitably drunk, necked shots of Cachaça (the Brazilian spirit) and I we ended up in a club with live country music, twerking and throwing our drinks all over the floor. Once again in true Brit style we lost all our friends and i had to escort Jack home in a taxi back to Santa Teresa at about 3:30am which is actually very early in Rio, the party stays on til early morning. (We’re getting too old for this)
The morning after – we made a joint decision that this day would be an absolute write off. I woke up about noon and Jack at about 3pm. It was a mess. The chasaca got us real good this time. That evening we headed out to Explorer Bar & Restaurant (http://www.explorerbar.com/) in Santa Teresa. The building is a striking turquoise & sits up high overlooking Main Street. Their menu is a mix of everything – I had spring rolls followed by a middle eastern style wrap & it was a welcome change from all the steak and chips over the last few weeks! Jack had a slightly average bruschetta & a burger. Cool cocktails too – see below!
After our very big waste of a day we decided to wake up attack the next day with everything we had. Santa Teresa is famous for its historical tram; a little yellow wooden tram that connects this hillside area with the Centro area. (Bonde de Santa Teresa) TOP TIP: you only pay one way to use this. Head down from Santa Teresa for free but on the way up you have to purchase a ticket at the tram stop! Great for us, the tram is SO scenic, it even rides over the top of the famous Lapa arches (an old viaduct) and could honestly be something out of Disneyland!
We stopped in Centro and walked towards the Museum of Tomorrow. You cannot miss this building. It’s a huge spaceship looking building right next to the water front at Pier Maua. It’s a science museum and it was designed by Spanish neofuturistic architect Santiago Calatrava. Tickets were 20 Real each (£5). It was not a disappointment! It was a fabulous interactive museum full of exhibitions and all the signs were translated in English. A must see in Rio!
That afternoon we looked at the weather on our phones & decided it might just be THE day to head up to the one and only Christ The Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) After umming and ahhing we thought we’d head over the area and see what the situation was. We didn’t do any research before going which was a mistake! We jumped onto the Metro to Largo do Machado and found ourselves greeted by a ton of ticket sellers. Make sure you walk right past these and head round the corner where you will find an official ticket stand. We were informed that you can no longer buy tickets for the tram to access Christ The Redeemer on the day but you have to book online beforehand. So the only option if you want to buy there and then is the minibus. So we purchased tickets for the bus which was to set off within the next 15 minutes (off peak season dreams!). The bus cost us 148 Real/£34 for two tickets which is actually cheaper than the tram. I’ve heard the tram has great views but takes ages to queue also so if you’re short on time just grab the mini bus. The bus sets off and takes you up to the first stop in the Tijuca Forest National Park. At the first stop there is shops and facilities then you board a second transfer bus to the peak of Corcovado mountain. There are hundreds of these buses and the process is very slick and easy. When you get to the top there’s a 10 min walk to the actual statue. God was I blown away. The actual statue is really so breathtaking. Don’t be put off by the tones of people swarming the place there are quite a few levels and spots to take photos and each side has just as scenic view. Brazilians are wide famous for their love of selfies so you might have to wait a few mins to get your pics. There are also mats on the floor unbelievably where you can lie down and get the money shot! You bet we did that! It was an absolute dream come true to be at the top of Christo. Sometimes these top tourist spots can be a let down but this was just as magnificent as you see on the TV! There is even three bars up the top and cheap too so you can enjoy a beer and head down whenever you like – just board one of the hundreds of minibuses that operate until evening. What. A. Day!!!!
The fun wasn’t even over … we headed back to Santa Teresa and had one of the most delicious meals ever at a place called Espírito Santa. We ordered the special / a sharing fish platter for two. The fish was oven baked in palm leaves and it was just so so delicious I can’t even recommend enough. We walked out from the restaurant & found a massive street party… like imagine Notting Hill Carnival on a casual evening. The music was amazing. Welcome to RIO! We couldn’t believe it. It was an absolute riot and right outside our hostel! As much as we wanted to get involved we were just knackered!
We woke the next day exhausted but ready to attack Rio once again. A few days previously our tour guide on our free walkers tour mentioned that due to an anniversary at the The Municipal Theatre there would be a special concert being held that morning with tickets going for just 1 real per person (25pence). We thought it would be stupid to give this a miss! We headed down to the Theatro Municipal which is located in Cinelândia area at 9:30am. We queued for about an hour and low and behold we got our tickets for just 1 Real!!! We couldn’t believe it! Tickets to tour on a usual day are 20 Real per person (£5) what a bargain! The theatre was built in the beginning of the twentieth century, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful and important theatres in the country. As we entered we were stopped by the doorman for wearing flip flops (how embarrassing I could have died) but he let us in anyway… we knew we shouldn’t wear flip flops but it was that or trainers and we thought trainers were equally as offensive (maybe not). TOP TIP: do not wear flip flops to the theatre!
Anyways we headed in & honestly it was like Parisian dream you could have been anywhere in the world it was just SO beautiful, SO gold and SO grand! 100% a must see in Rio – also an Instagram heaven. We had front row seats for the show which was a selection of works by Brazilian composer Heltor Villa Lobos. There were 10 separate opera singers and two pianists. I’m the first to admit I know nothing about opera but it was so beautiful.
Today was to become a VERY jam packed day again. We headed back over to the Lapa area next to the Selaron steps and had a lunch at Restaurante Baby Galeto which was a MOUNTAIN of steak rice and onions for £15 truthfully it was enough to feed a family of 4 (at least you get a lot for your money you know!) The beers here are also only 7.50 Real for a 600ml bottle (about £1.75!).
That evening we knew there was a football match on at the famous Maracanã stadium (the HUGE one built for the World Cup in 2014). We did a little research and thought we would head down and see if we could get tickets. The Metro station is right outside the stadium. When we got there the atmosphere was electric. We were ushered towards the tickets counter and it was easy as pie – we gave over about 120 Reals (about £30) and were handed two tickets! I never thought it would be THAT easy. We were set to see Vasco vs Vittoria – Vasco is a Rio team but by no means the biggest Flamengo is THE one to see, but it was an opportunity to see the stadium & feel the atmosphere. The fans were WILD! From the moment we stepped in to the moment we left it was like another carnival all over again: chant after chant and beer after beer! We LOVED it! Another 100% recommend!!
Who’s ya mate below!
Opera and football in the same day, who’d have thought it? Oh and as we headed back to our hostel we checked out a Samba bar… so opera, football and samba all in the same day…
Next day we moved hostels to the Copacabana area… we thought we’d try something new and it would be excellent to be by the beach! Copacabana is a huge shopping area – it’s always busy and much less touristy. It couldn’t be any more different from the Santa Teresa vibe. We stayed at a great hostel called Chill on the beach. Definitely recommend this location. This location also bought us our favourite breakfast find in Rio – a chain called Big Bi. It’s a food bar which does really cheap grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, juices and Acai bowls! It’s a must stop on your way to the metro and appears to be open all hours! We took a walk along the Copacabana onto Ipanema. The weather is cloudy so the beaches were quiet and I really was surprised how clean the beaches were. The sand was also so fluffy and white a far cry from other city beaches I have seen before!
The following day was time to attack Rio again! We decided on doing a favela tour. There is much debate about Favela tours. Some people say tourism to these areas is unacceptable; to visit the poor and make a spectacle is immoral – I totally understand this but taking this tour with a local from the favela really showed me otherwise. We got in touch with this guy called DJ Zezinho from http://www.favelaadventures.org. We spent an amazing day in the vibrant Rochina favela meeting locals & learning about the favela daily life. The government reports that about 100k people live here – in fact locals predict it’s closer to 300k. Honestly it was one of the most friendly places I have ever visited. Rochina has been named Brazil’s ‘safest’ favela in Rio for many years but in September 2017 shooting broke out here after a battle for control of the favela between rival factions of the same drug gang. There are reports at least 10 people were murdered in the gun battles. Since then media reported that police declared they ‘lost control of the the area’. Despite all this I must add that we felt incredibly SAFE & I was truly taken aback by the feel of being right in the heart of the favela. The locals were proud to belong to this community & eager to share their stories with us. We were also made aware by many locals that they NEED the tourism here. The tour we joined had most of the profits poured back into local charities and projects. To me this is a very sustainable and responsible way for ‘favela tourism’ to exist. Make sure you tour with a local guide to ensure your safety (a few weeks ago a Spanish tourist was killed here when she toured with an external guide who did not know the area & drove into a police checkpoint point without stopping) KNOW where your money is going.
This day also took us to the spectacular Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (The Royal Portuguese Reading Room) a friend from home suggested this to me after seeing it on a website and this is truly a hidden gem (and Instagram HEAVEN) in Rio de Janeiro’s city centre. Despite receiving on average 150 visitors a day, it is all but ignored in the tourist itineraries of places to visit within the city. Yet for beauty and culture, this place of architectural genius and history is one of the best spots in the city centre to go. The library was founded in 1837 by a group of 43 Portuguese immigrants who wanted to promote culture throughout the Portuguese community living in the Brazilian empire. However, the construction didn’t actually begin until several decades later in 1880 by Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva.100% must do in Rio!
Next day we were up early and headed to the botanical gardens. I LOVE a botanical garden – especially glasshouses or greenhouses so I was excited what to expect! The botanical gardens isn’t the easiest place to get to but involves a lovely walk around the lagoon. Take the metro to stop to Jardim de Alah and follow the easy signs (in English yay!) to the gardens. Since the Olympics last year Rio implemented a ton of tourist signs to the city that are written in both English and Portuguese! Anyways walk around the lagoon which is so peaceful with great views of Christ The Redeemer to the gardens. Tickets were 15 Real (about £3.75) don’t expect any Kew Gardens standards but it was a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The cactus gardens were really lush and we even spotted monkeys, turtles and a TOUCAN! I was screaming about the toucan. So cool!
That afternoon I am ashamed to say we had a Starbucks but god was it good! It was about £7 for two drinks – not cheap!
The following day was time for another move! We moved to Ace Suites in Botafogo which is an area a stones throw away from Sugar Loaf mountain. Ace Suites did us a deal for a double room for just £18 a night – great air con, fridge and en suite right next to the metro! What a steal! I would probably describe Botafogo as the more hipster part of town. The streets lined with students and craft beer establishments and we loved it! The restaurants on Nelson Mandela road were fab! They even served Amstel at a cheap price of 5 Real/£1.17 a Chopp (a little less than a pint). We had some great food here. The little bars serve amazing fresh pastels (pasties) and good cheap drinks. It’s heaving every night so you can always guarantee an atmosphere! We met two locals on our first night & had such a laugh.
The next morning I am once agin ashamed to say we had a Burger King for breakfast. We’d had a pretty drunken previous day and it just seemed like an easy option. But believe me as a burger queen I was not impressed and it was about £13 for two meals – very expensive!
That afternoon once we had recovered and the sun shone we knew it was THE day to hit up the famous Sugar Loaf mountain! I think it’s important to pick an extremely sunny day for this – it’s all about the VIEWS! We were able to walk to Sugar Loaf from our hotel (wahoo!) we arrived and quickly bought a ticket (off peak season dreams once again!) It was 160 Real for two people which is about £37. Pricey but expected for such views, just make sure you make the most of it and spend a while at the top. Don’t forget to top up with sun cream too – it was BOILING and I was legit frying. Once again no booking in advance needed here just roll up m but we have heard it gets heaving on a Saturday!
So to sum it up: Views for DAYS! You can see literally EVERYTHING from the top of Sugar Loaf! Two cable cars that hold at least 60 people per go safely and smoothly escort you to the top. It’s definitely the best cable car I’ve ever been on. The first cable car takes you to Urca Hill where there is a first view point (perfect for pics of the actual mountain) and the second escorts you right to the top. Spend as long as you like up the top – there’s two levels with shops & restaurants. (even a very well stocked Haviana shop!) You can even enjoy a beer or three – £2.50 a can (expensive in Brazil) buts it’s worth it! A must see!
That evening Botafogo was heaving, we couldn’t even get a table on the Main Street! We found a local place where we bought a MOUNTAIN of meat and two beers for 106 Real/£24. We had so much meat we tried to find a homeless person to give it to – without luck despite during the day seeing loads on the streets!
We woke up the next morning to RAIN! Yes rain. We couldn’t believe our eyes! It was actually pissing it down, typical London weather. I even put JEANS on! What a shocker. We spent most of the day hiding and planning our next adventures! We even booked our flight to New Zealand for next September which got us so excited we forgot about the rain and started necking Montilla rum in our hotel room!
We finally reached our last day in Rio and my god was it a good one. We woke up to bright bright blue skies and decided it was time for COPACABANA! Sunday is a very well known busy day at the beach on Copacabana. We headed down and found a spot. The skyline was incredible – sugar loaf, a concrete jungle, thousands of coloured umbrellas, stalls and bars. Music was blaring and people sipped their beers and caipirinhas with huge smiles on their faces. We LOVED it! It felt once again so safe – some people even left their bags unattended while they bathed in the sea. As the day drew to a close we headed up to the SKOL bar on the edge of the beach. There was live music on and people were singing and dancing along… sometimes it’s so crazy to believe so much drinking goes on on a Sunday night. How do people work the next day?! The SKOL bar offers huge 1litre of bottles of beer for just 11.90 Real/£2.79! After 5 litres of beer later (yes 5litres) we ended up making friends with a fantastic Brazilian couple who had lived in Australia! They were hilarious and we enjoyed many more beers… to cut a long story short (AGAIN) we all ended up in Bob’s burgers (yes it’s called bob’s burgers … amazing) at 1:30am screaming “who run the world? BOBS”. What a great end to our time in Rio!
I must add that the Rio Metro service absolutely FANTASTIC! You simply arrive at a station head to a machine marked Cartão Pré-pago. You can select English on the machine. You simply select how much you want to top up with and the machine dispenses your card. You then tap in on each journey. It’s 4.30/£1 a journey. The metro is completely air conned (so cold and lovely!) and is very clean, safe and efficient. It also runs pretty late. Don’t make the mistake of taking taxis when you can just get the metro it’s so much quicker!
I must also add that we experienced Rio during the off peak season so I’m sure queues would be very different during peak season. The battle for selfies would be REAL!
So here we are. 11 days in Rio and SO SO many memories. Could another city ever beat this? I’m not too sure…