Rio de Janeiro: Earning Its Name as “The Magnificent City”

by Brian Carroll on November 30, 2012

Post image for Rio de Janeiro:  Earning Its Name as “The Magnificent City” When most people think of Brazil, whether they've visited the country or not, the first city that usually comes to mind is Rio de Janeiro. Known as "The Magnificent City," Rio de Janeiro presents a personality overflowing with energy, beauty and passion that is unique in its own right. With this good, comes some bad though, as the city still grapples with high levels of crime and robberies to the point that one must always be cognizant of their surroundings, limit the cash that they carry and not take anything to the beach that one wouldn't be comfortable losing. The amount of crime appears to be more prevalent in part due to the unique makeup of the city, where affluent neighborhoods sit adjacent to extremely poor slums (better known as "favelas").  Without scaring one too much, while the potential for crime is real, by sticking to more of the "touristy" areas (Ipanema & Leblon for example) and not being an idiot (hanging out on the beach late at night), one can limit their risk. For me (except for a small situation when my Brazilian friends and I were briefly pulled over in their car by police at the foot of the favelas on our way home from a bar - maybe not as small now that I think about), all was good:)  Anyways, to my highlights: The Must-do Sightseeing Spots: Rio is truly one of the most beautiful cities I've come across and to best appreciate it, there are two sites to definitely check out: Cristo Redentor (the big Jesus statue) and Sugar Loaf (two big hills basically). Cristo Redentor:

Long Arms: Good for volleyball and reaching high objects. Bad for fitting in a picture with Jesus

The most famous statue in Brazil and recently crowned as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the Cristo Redentor/Statue of Christ rises 2,300 feet above Rio on top of Corcovado Mountain. The statue, measuring in at 136 feet in height, looks down on all of Rio providing spectacular views of the city. It's well worth a visit, but make sure to do it on a clear day as there are times when the weather can be generally nice, but clouds can still be covering the statue.  Oh, and make sure to get your pic (like all other tourists) with your arms stretched out to your sides.  This was a little more difficult for me to do, being in a crowded place and having longer arms, needed a bit more room...

The top of Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf: Probably the second most visited attraction in Rio de Janeiro (if you don't include the beaches), providing 360 degree views of the city, are two mountains that make up Sugarloaf. To access the mountains one must take two connecting cable cars. As a random sidenote, I learned that one of the old James Bond movies (Moonraker) actually featured a pretty famous scene here (it's a bit edited). I vaguely remember seeing this at some point when it was on a rerun on something like TNT, which is cool because 007 movies are awesome in my opinion. As a tip, it's best to get here to catch the end of the day and then stay for the sunset for some great photos. Hang gliding Over Rio:

Hands?!? We don't need no stinkin' hands!

Around six months ago, I remember coming across an article talking about cool/bucket list things to do when traveling. One of the activities mentioned was hang gliding over Rio. Now I'd never done this (despite it existing in San Diego and LA), but the idea of doing it over such a beautiful place like Rio definitely appealed to me, so I made an appointment to try, or at least die trying. I ended up doing my flight with the same instructor that coordinated this activity in Rio for the "Amazing Race" and "The Today Show's" segment where Matt Lauer travels around the world.  Generally, I go by the stance that "When you can potentially die from something, do it with someone you have confidence in." All that said, I think I basically had 1 minute of instruction that can be stated in two sentences: "When I say run, run. And don't stop, or look down (as its a giant cliff  that drops off)." It was a very cool experience and as close as I think I'll ever get to flying – plus the view was awesome. Flying in the air was pretty surreal, and to be honest I wasn't ever really scared or worried – maybe because I felt that once I was flying over Rio, being scared or worried couldn't change the outcome in it no matter what happened. All in all, I am definitely happy I did it and would recommend giving it a go. You can check out the video below: The Beaches: This was definitely a part of visiting Rio that I was looking forward to (in case you couldn't discern that by the title of my blog). Eleven or so months ago when I began planning my travels and included Rio on my list of potential destinations, I had every intention of coming to the beaches of Rio and getting in some beach volleyball (to be honest, I probably would have spent every waking minute playing out there on the weekends).  Outside of Southern CA, Rio is very competitive with their beach volleyball (and soccer volleyball for that matter, which is amazing). But still working to recover from a recent back injury,  it wasn't something I could give a realistic go at, without making things worse. So alas, I was forced to watch from the sidelines and/or hang out with Brazilian girls on the beach...I know you can empathize with my unfortunate circumstances. When the weather turned sunny, the beaches were packed – partly due to the fact that I happened to be there on a big holiday "weekend" that went from Thursday to Tuesday - why don't we have holiday weekends like that??  As health conscious as I think Southern Californians are, I found the Brazilians in Rio to be equivalent in terms of their focus to be active and eat well (I'm a big fan of the Acai there and had every day). And not surprising, the bathing suit "fashion" out there was definitely skimpier than what one sees in the US, for women and men alike. Overall, I spent the majority of my beach time in Ipanema, followed by Leblon and Copacabana. Generally Ipanema is the safest/best beach area, and I had no problems, though I met one or two travelers who did have stuff stolen further down in Copacabana. One other cool thing about the area is that on every Sunday, the city closes one direction of street traffic that runs along the beach and opens it up to walkers/runners, bicyclists, skateboarders, etc... Overall, the beach experience out there was great and I could definitely envision myself spending more time out there. Street Parties: In a few neighborhoods on the weekend, one can find what are called "street parties." The most famous ones are in the neighborhood of Lapa, where the nightlife is bustling on Fridays and Saturdays. From around 11pm to 5am, people gather in a few closed off streets and a plaza (overlooking an aqueduct), purchasing cheap beers from street vendors and watching live samba in the streets. It is definitely worth checking out, but it is known as a bit more of a "shady" area, so its recommended to take what you need for the night and nothing more, as robberies are not uncommon (especially if wandering down an emptier street).  As a result of this, I have no pics to share here.   Related, on another night, I took a cab with a group of Americans & UKers to a smaller street party that was more or less the same thing as what I found in Lapa – drinking in the street. Either way, this is something to do if you come to Rio. After spending a week in Rio, I was beginning to settle in more than I expected.  For me, my visit there was an opportunity to get a sense of what the city is like before the upcoming craziness begins with Rio hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.  I'm sure that during or after those events, I'll want to make a return visit, but was very happy to get a taste of the city now. Oh, one other thing I found interesting was that as an English and Semi-Spanish speaking traveler, these languages are not too helpful in Brazil (despite English being the predominant language and all adjacent countries to Brazil speaking Spanish).  While I found some people who could speak either of these languages well, it was less common overall and restaurants didn't cater to either of them, so ordering food or navigating the city was quite often an adventure (or scary depending on how you look at it). With the holidays approaching I left Rio on Thanksgiving morning, enjoyed an excellent 12-hour layover in Miami and caught up with my brother and sister in San Francisco to enjoy the holiday weekend before returning to Southern California.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Schlosberg on Facebook November 30, 2012 at 6:57 am

One of the BEST videos I’ve ever seen! Wow!!
PS – Maybe make that your profile video on the vb site I am working on? http://www.endlessbeachvolleyball.com/beach/

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Brian December 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Nice! Your site is looking good!

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