Return to Brazil

Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Copacabana, © Celso Pupo - Fotolia.com

The Portuguese entered Guanabara Bay on January 1, 1502 and this is thought to be the origin of the name Rio de Janeiro (January River).  Today it is usually simply referred to as Rio.  It is located on the Atlantic Ocean in the southeastern part of Brazil.  Rio has an urban population of about 12 million people, but is second in size to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.  The most common religion is Catholic.  Portuguese is the official language, but Spanish is well understood.  English speaking tourists will find that English is not commonly spoken outside their hotel.  The people who live in Rio call themselves "cariocas".


Rio has a tropical marine climate with heavy periods of rain during their summer months of December to March.  North American tourists often visit during this period in spite of the rain, as they simultaneously coordinate visits to Argentina and Chile when those areas have thawed out from winter.  December has the heaviest rainfall.  The driest months are July and August with about 2 inches (50 mm) per month.  Temperatures vary only a few degrees between summer and winter.  Average highs around January (summer) are 29 C (85 F) while lows average 22 C (72 F).  During the winter months around July, expect average highs around 25 C (77 F) and lows of 20 F (68 F).  July and August are likely the best months to visit Rio. 



The Metro Rio metro system isn't like Europe, but at least there is one.  Unfortunately it doesn't extend to the airport, so you can expect to pay for a half hour cab ride to / from the Copacabana hotels if traffic is light.  The metro runs on two lines.  The north / south line runs from Pavuna in the north, along the edge of the harbor through downtown & Copacabana until it reaches Ipanema in the south.  The other overlaps somewhat and then heads west out of downtown.  Fares are inexpensive.  There is also a well developed system of buses and express buses.  It is time consuming to reach attractions such as Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer by local transit, so tours or taxis are a better alternative in most cases.  Although there are many hills and mountains within the city limits, a series of tunnels result in mostly level driving conditions.  On weekday mornings, Atlantica Avenue on Copacabana switches from a two way avenue to one way, so that it's easier to get to work downtown.  It's disorienting to see the vehicles driving against the directional arrows printed on the pavement.  On Sunday half the street is opened to pedestrians and vehicles can only travel one way, away from downtown.  With a 24 hour bike lane at the beach too, it takes concentration to cross the street to the beach at Copacabana.

Sugarloaf from Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf Mountain

Things to see & do in Rio de Janeiro:

  • Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar) - It's an excellent place to view the city, sea and mountain ranges.  Sugar Loaf is located 4.6 miles from the city center and the north end of Copacabana Beach.  Take the two stage gondola ride up the 390-foot granite mountain for views of Guanabara Bay, Botafogo Beach to the north and Copacabana to the south, with the city spread in between.  Across the way, Christ the Redeemer faces directly toward Sugarloaf.  Tours usually include downtown attractions as part an the excursion.

  • Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) - Visit the statue of Christ via the Corcovado Train (Trem do Corcovado), the oldest tourist ride in the country.  The mountain is called Corcovado, which translates to the hunchback.  At the top, the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer looks down over the city and so do you.  The statue has become synonymous with Rio.  You can reach the cog train station by taking the 580 Express Bus from the Largo do Machado metro station.  Tour buses also drive up to Christ the Redeemer, but the train is by far the most popular option.

Rio de Janeiro and Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer, © sfmthd - Fotolia.com

  • Copacabana - the main beach in Rio.  It was large enough to host more than a million fans for a Rolling Stones concert in 2006.  This is the most popular beach for tourists.

  • Ipanema - It's the next beach after Copacabana to the southwest.  Take the Metro Rio running just back from the Copacabana beach and ride a few stops to the station at Praca General Osorio in Ipanema.  Then visit the Church of Our Lady of Peace facing the square at Praca Nossa Senhora da Paz; Lake (Lagoa) Rodrigo de Freitas; and the new Peace Terrace.  Post #9 on the beach is the most popular, but head toward Post 12 in Leblon to join the locals.

  • At Cinelandia Metro station on Cinelandia Square, you will find the Municipal Theater (Teatro Municipal), the National Library (Fundacao Biblioteca Nacional) and the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museu Nacional de Belas Artes).  A short two block walk from the plaza leads to the Santa Teresa Tram (Bonde Santa Teresa).  It was not operating during Take That Vacation's 2014 visit.  The tram line connects the city center with the residential inner-city neighbourhood of Santa Teresa in the hills immediately southwest of downtown.  The Santa Teresa Tram is all that remains of what used to be the principal form of transportation in the city.  From the starting point opposite the 20,000 seat Metropolitan Cathedral, cross the towering Carioca Aqueduct (aka Arcos da Lapa) to Santa Teresa.  Then you have the option to take the ride all the way up the hill or stop to see the art collections at the Museu da Chacara do Ceu beside the Parque das Ruinas and its views back over the city.  On the way back down, get off at the Carmelitas Convent and then walk down the Selaron Steps.

Selaron Steps, Rio de Janeiro

Selaron Steps

  • Along the waterfront at the square of Praca XV de Novembro are a number of attractions. Facing the square is the Imperial Palace (Paco Imperial, formerly the Royal Palace).  Behind the palace are the  National Historical Museum (Museu Historico Nacional), National Assembly (Palacio Tiradentes) and the Navy Cultural Hall (Museu Naval e Oceanografico).  At the water are a number of ferry terminals, including the Navy's schooner access to their museum of cultural history at Ilha Fiscal.  To the north a few blocks is Candelaria Church (Nossa Senhora de Candelaria), built in the 1700s.  Another few blocks north is Sao Bento Monastery (Mosteiro de Sao Bento).

  • Sambadrome (Sambadrome Marques de Sapucai - seating for 90,000 for viewing the processions of Carnaval.

  • Museum of Modern Art (Museu de Arte Moderna)

  • Our Lady of Glory Church (Outeiro da Gloria) - near the Gloria metro station.  Nearby is Flamengo Park, which covers 300 acres along with an extensive beach.

  • Maracana Football Stadium (Estadio do Maracana) - football (called soccer in North America) is a national obsession in Brazil.  Visit the museum at the site.

  • Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico) - take the Express bus 513 from the Botafogo metro station.

  • Take a guided tour through a favela (shanty town), such as Santa Marta favela where rock star Michael Jackson filmed or visit Babilonia, which is located just inland from the eastern end of Copacabana beach.  Favelas are high density, low end units built on cliff sides that are subject to landslides and have extremely low real estate value.  There are a surprising number of favelas throughout the city.  Ride the cable car from Estadio da Baiana (Baiana Station) over the favela at Complexo do Alemao.

  • Watch a samba while having dinner.  Try Rio Scenarium.

  • Carnaval - A 4 day celebration 40 days before Easter. The highlight is the samba school parade along the street each day and the Sambadrome with seating for 90,000.

Hang Gliding, Rio de Janeiro

Sao Conrado Beach

Things to see & do near Rio de Janeiro:

  • Tijuca National Park - 20 minutes from downtown and you're in the original rainforests of Brazil.  Hike to Pedra Bonita to for close up views of the granite mountain known as Pedra de Gavea.  Alternately try a jeep tour that includes the Vista Chinesa (Chinese view) and the Monkey's Waterfall.  Take a hang glider trip back down to the city with Just Fly, Rio Hang Gliding or Rio Adventures.  They start at the Pedra Bonita ramp located in Tijuca National Park and land at Sao Conrado Beach, just west of Ipanema.  Take That Vacation went with JustFly on our 2014 visit and we thought the experience and the pilot were perfectly amazing.

Savor the Tastes of Rio:

  • Head to the beach in the late morning.  Drink coconut water (agua de coco) and iced tea (matte leao) with lemonade.

  • After the beach, head to a juice bar, such as Bibi Sucos.  Have a pastel de carne (beef pasty) and tangerine juice (acai) or a variety of other juices.

  • After the juice bar, head to a boteco for chopp (cold beer), caipirinhas (the national cocktail made from sugar cane & lime), bolinho de bacalhau (cod fritters), sanduiche de pernil (pork sandwich) and caldinho de feijao (bean soup also sold by street vendors).

  • Be ready for dinner at around 9 pm in Brazil.  The small bars strung along Copacabana offer the opportunity to enjoy a meal at the beach where all the tourist action is.  The restaurants in Ipanema along Rua Prudente de Morais are much less touristy.  Take That Vacation found the food at ZaZa Bistro in Ipanema to be the best meal on our 2014 South American tour.

Rio de Janeiro Tours:

Hotels in Rio de Janeiro:

Take That Vacation Recommendations for Rio:

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