Getting to Rio from Montevideo in Uruguay on the cheap is not easy! We had to get the ferry back to Buenos Aires from Colonia in Uruguay (again with Colonia Express), then fly from BA’s Ezezia International Airport (taxi from the Colonia Express port to the airport was $ARS150 and took about 40 minutes) to Sao Paolo (we flew with Qatar Airways but bring a fleece to Sao Paolo airport as they have the air-conditioning set at Antarctic) and then catch another flight (we flew with TAM who were wonderful) to Rio de Janeiro. It took us about 24 hours in total and going to Rio was really a last minute decision but we’re sooo glad we did it – it’s just beautiful.
We booked an AirBnB a couple of blocks from Copacabana beach (taxi from the airport cost R$70 – about $30 but took 2 hours – it’s only 20km from the city!!) and although we didn’t really have time to do much research on the best locations to stay in Rio I think it was a perfect location for a first-timer in Rio. Copacabana is in the Zona Sul or South Zone. We were pretty short on time in Rio, just 3 days so we tried to pack in as much as we could. It’s definitely a place we can’t wait to get back to so that can only be a good sign! So I guess I’ll start with Copacabana, one of the most famous beach resorts in the world. We were a couple of blocks back from the beach and the roads were exceptionally busy so we didn’t get much sleep. We went to visit the Belmond Copacabana Palace (hotel) and that’s DEFINITELY where we’re staying next time! Plush. The beach itself is 4km long so there’s plenty of space for strolling, sunbathing and beach-sports. There are lots of places to eat all along the beach, I guess shacks really but they sell more fast food really, burgers, chips and ice-cream but they also sell fresh coconuts with a straw and there are plenty of places to stop off for a cocktail. In the evening there are plenty of market sellers selling souvenirs, trinkets and the like. If you walk a couple of blocks inland you’ll find plenty of supermarkets; the best one we found was Zona Sul – very like the supermarkets in America, plenty of choice. So, I now have a new addiction, açaí bowls. They’re absolutely delicious and a superfood you know! My 3-a-day habit has not yet ensured my transformation into Gisele but I’ll keep you posted! This might be because we found an AMAZING gelato spot. God, I can’t even explain how good it is – it’s from Oficina del Gelato (Address: 903 Ave. Nossa Sra. de Copacabana) – just try it out.
If you continue walking down Copacabana beach you’ll eventually find yourself at Arpoador, a huge rock that separates Copacabana from Ipanema. Watching the sunset at Arpoador is one of the most touristy yet essential things you should do in Rio. There’s a great buzz here, with guys selling cocktails (caipirinhas of course), hippy singers drawing groupies and people just chilling out and chatting making it a lovely place to watch the sunset. The sunset itself wasn’t great to be perfectly honest. I had heard it’s so amazing there’s often clapping and standing ovations so we were a little disappointed with a grey sky – I compare every sunset we see to Borneo though (see post and pics of Borneo and those sunsets here) and nothing has come close yet. I’ll keep searching!!
Once you’re on Arpoador rock you’re looking up along Ipanema beach all the way up to Leblon, the most affluent area of the Zona Sul. Our AirBnB hosts told us it was the nicest beach in the city so we spent a few hours relaxing here. Beach-life is definitely different to what we’ve been used to in Australia for the past few years. In Australia you’re a little stroll across from all the eateries when you’re on the beach. In Rio, apartment blocks and busy roads (with crazy drivers) line the beachfront and you have to go a couple of blocks inland to find food and shops. We walked a lot on our first day looking for food!! We did find a wonderful açaí place in Ipanema, Polis Sucos, delicious! T.T. Burger lies in between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and is a pretty good spot for food after the sunset. They make their own guava ketchup and delicious summer mint and mango milkshakes.
Obviously another very important piece of Rio’s tourist infrastructure is Cristo Redento or Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Mountain. You can see the statue from pretty much everywhere in the Zona Sul which is pretty cool. Quintessentially Rio. Google Maps was honestly absolutely useless for the rest of South America but it’s fantastic again in Brazil so we used that to help us get around the subway and buses. There’s a flat cost of R$3.40 for each journey you take on the bus and R$3.50 for each journey on the subway. Pretty easy to work out! We took the bus from Copacabana to the neighbourhood of Cosme Velho (how to get here) and then purchased our tickets on site for R$51 (R$62 in high season (round-trip). You can buy tickets here too). The train takes about 20 minutes to get up to Cristo Redentor and the views from the top are amazing. Rio is honestly gigantic!
Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro or the Botanic Gardens are at the bottom of Corcovado Mountain so can easily be done on the same day that you visit Cristo Redentor. The gardens have been in existence since 1808 – what??!!! Since we love an old rose or two we had to go and check it out (entrance is R$7)! There are over 900 different varieties of palm trees in here, a gunpowder factory and a beautiful building housing a fantastic collection of orchids – oh, and toucans and a tiny monkey! Awesome!
We hopped off the subway one evening at Botafogo. There’s a beach here but it’s in no way sanitary so it’s not a beach-day spot. There are plenty of yachts moored here so it makes for a nice place for an evening stroll (aside from the millions of cars whizzing by) and a shopping centre called Botafogo Praia Shopping which has plenty to keep you occupied for a couple of hours.
Rio is full of favelas or city slums which are apparently run by druglords. You can visit these if you wish (through an agency – do not go there on your own) but there was no way we were giving more cash to these guys to watch people living in squalor. There’s a huge favela right behind the Sheraton hotel at the end of Leblon beach. It’s crazy how close those who have and have not live together here.
Next stop: Sao Paolo, Brazil