Our time in Rio de Janeiro occurred over two separate occasions. We first stayed in the inner city district of Lapa for five days, before visiting Ilha Grande, Paraty and eventually Petropolis, before coming back for another five days, this time, staying in the glamorous beach side district of Ipanema.
During our stay in Lapa, we spent most of our time ticking off touristy things before finding solace in Santa Teresa. We didn’t, however, spend much time in Lapa itself. A place where alcohol is cheap and using actual toilets is optional.
Our first few days in Lapa were a complete wash out, combined with heavy cloud and fog (after three days we seldom thought we’d ever see Christ the Redeemer!) But as soon as the sun peeked through those clouds, we were hitting the ground running, and first up was Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain.)
Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) has to be the second most iconic sight in Rio de Janeiro. We opted for the basic tour for $100R ($35 AUD) involving two cable cars, views as far as the eye can see, even offering a chance encounter with a marmoset monkey!
We did partake in the Free Walking Tour (I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the best one I’ve ever done.) After the tour, we accompanied the guide to experience the kilogram dining phenomenon, widespread throughout Rio de Janeiro. You select dishes from a buffet and pay for your meal based on the weight of your plate. I’d stacked my plate high and still, it only came out to $20R ($8 AUD).
The following day was forecast for a few hours of sunlight, so with haste, we prepared for a date with (one of) the Seven Wonders of the World by pre-purchasing our tram tickets (highly recommend, you’ve been warned.) and caught the local bus to the base of the mountain.
Before visiting Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), I had fully prepared to feel unmoved by the behemoth statue, and to be honest, sharing the moment with hundreds of other people, did feel less impressive. But I have to say, seeing Cristo Redentor from a distance, you do feel the presence of goodliness watching over you… and from all angles. I still remember the feeling of seeing the statue (from an uber) for the first time and butterflies still ensue. It is a remarkable thing to see.
The following day, the rain continued, thankfully they have science museums for that (not that we trust science anymore, amiright?), and it was off to the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) for $40R ($14 AUD). If you’re curious about our future as human beings? Visit the Museu do Amanhã to feel as a human, you are a tiny entity, destroying the world with little hope.
In all seriousness, the museum was thought provoking, their mission is to offer a narrative about how we can live and shape the next fifty years, guided by the ethics of sustainability and coexistence. We inhabit a planet that is being deeply affected by our actions, and it’s up to us to expand our knowledge and transform the way we think and act.
In the evening’s we tried our best to see as much live music as possible. Thankfully, in Lapa, we were situated at arms length to a symphony orchestra theatre, a jazz bar (Triboz) plus our hotel offered live music on the rooftop. We watched a history of Frevo at the theatre, which is really hard to explain, I highly encourage you watch this to understand it further.
In hindsight, our hotel was nicely located near a bunch of other attractions, such as: the Escadaria Selaron (Selaron Steps), the tram through Santa Teresa which we took part out of accident, part necessity and part uber surge. As well as the Carioca Aqueduct (Rio Aqueduct) and the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião (Metropolitan Cathedral of San Sebastian) – which was without a doubt the most obscure church we’ve ever been to. Bonus was, all of these attractions were free.
While we didn’t eat overly well in Lapa (save for a ‘fairly acceptable’ Peruvian dinner, serving a delightful pisco sour) we did find some delicious places in neighbouring Santa Teresa. Be sure to eat breakfast at Cultivar, enjoy a traditional feijoada for lunch at Bar do Mineiro and dinner at Mama Shelter. We also didn’t go ‘out out’ either, we really couldn’t be bothered to wait until midnight for the party to ‘get started’, I don’t feel like I missed anything except a substantial hangover.
After our first five days in Rio de Janeiro, we left feeling seedy. The city hadn’t really charmed us. Grimy streets, people lurking about, actual human faeces on the footpath and hardly a handful of decent food options. Overall, we found Caroica’s (people from Rio de Janeiro) were friendly although a little guarded.
When we eventually came back to Rio de Janeiro, (after ten days of gallivanting), we stayed in the glamorous Ipanema district. This time, we didn’t have a plan and in fact we achieved very little, it was delightful. Our goal was to enjoy healthy and fresh food, to rest by the beach and relax in general.
For the record, Copacabana Beach was a bit sleazy… but… Ipanema and Leblon beaches were just the right balance of beauty and activity. We walked the beach and contributed to the masses on the beach, hiring fold out chairs and umbrellas. And simply, watched the world go by.
Soccer balls flying, volleyballs froing, tennis balls flailing. From your armchair you can buy a new bikini, a caipirinha, grilled shrimp or a new dress. It was a cacophony of enterprises and action. Looking out to the ocean was the only solace you could find – but not for long – the surfer’s demand attention too. I’d hardly describe the beach a relaxing activity, but it sure did give us a pry into the lives of a local Carioca. I will also admit, Brazilians are, in my opinion, very attractive people.
During our stay, I went for a run around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (the lagoon offered stunning views and is also where I spotted the largest rodent in the world, the Capybara!), while Moo went to visit the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro (Botanical Gardens) I hear they were nice.
In Ipanema we, at least, ate well. We highly recommend Teva for dinner and Naturalie for breakfast or lunch (both are vegan) as well as Delírio for lunch and ViaSete for dinner. They all serve delicious wine.
After spending ten days in the city, we felt like we’d seen enough, but not everything. It’s debatable who you ask, out of the two of us, which we liked more: São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. I think on first impressions São Paulo won both our votes, but Rio de Janeiro definitely grew on me.
I’m jumping around a bit, sorry for that! My next blog will be all about Petropolis, before I finally bring you up to speed here in Barbados.
Until then xo