Can’t Miss Guide to Rio de Janerio
Going to Rio de Janeiro for the first time? You are going to have an amazing time! Rio is a beautiful city. The mountains. The city. The beaches. Everywhere you turn is stunning- keep reading for the can’t miss guide to Rio’s iconic sights. Two tips- Rio is crowded and the sun is intense. Get up early! You’ll not only beat the crowds but the heat as well. Keep reading for the best things to do in Rio de Janerio.
Christ the Redeemer
When people talk about Rio, Christ the Redeemer is usually the first thing that comes to mind. It is iconically Rio, and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. There are two ways to get there. You can take the train which is cheaper (and slower), or you can drive to the base and buy a ticket for the van service. The van service begins at 8am. I recommend getting there at 730am to buy tickets to make the first van. You need to be there early to beat the crowds and get pictures without people in them. Every few minutes more people will arrive and it will be very crowded in no time. Our guide Daniel, picked us up early and helped us get amazing photos!
Sugar Loaf Mountain is a peak in Rio that juts out into the ocean and overlooks the city and its beaches. You can get to the peak by taking two cable cars. There are so many beautiful viewpoints, even cafes and shops. It opens at 9am, and try to get there early for the best shots. If you stand in the right spot, you can watch planes approach and land. In the summer it will be quite hot early in the day- be sure and wear sunscreen! Head to the top first to get your viewpoint shots. There is even a station you can buy drone shots. Bringing your own drones are not allowed. Have a drink at the café and remember to stop and just enjoy the view.
These colorful steps located in the Santa Teresa neighborhood are world famous to Rio de Janerio. They were created by the artist Jorge Seralon, who lived in the neighborhood. Seeing the steps were old and dilapidated, he decided to renovate them with colorful tiles. Eventually the entire set of stairs were covered, at first with tiles found and repurposed by Seralon, but later with tiles sent to him all over the world. A visit to Rio isn’t complete without visiting this piece of functional art. I would recommend getting here about 8am, when the light is perfect for pictures and there aren’t crowds. After taking your pictures here, take a stroll down the street to check out all the murals, and further down to the aqueduct. When you are done, head to Sugar Loaf Mountain for opening.
Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches
The words Copacabana and Ipanema are synonymous with Rio and white sugar sand. Songs have been composed about these beautiful stretches. The Girl from Ipanema was written in the Veloso café, about a girl that used to walk by every day. I would recommend staying at a hotel located on one of these beaches (I stayed at the JW Marriott on Copacabana). Not only is the beach itself gorgeous, but the people watching is fantastic. Women and men alike will be in the tiniest of bathing suits, street vendors will be hawking various food and merchandise. You can buy fresh coconuts, street corn, or a bathing suit all on sand without leaving your towel. Starting about 6pm in the evening every night but Sunday is a night market selling all kinds of beach attire, dresses, souvenirs, and jewelry. Grab some food at one of the beach side cafes then take a stroll through the stalls looking for memories to take home. Be sure and leave your valuables at home, and keep a close eye on your cell phone. This area is known for pick pocketing.
Rio is one of the best places in the world to go hang gliding. It’s quite popular, and on a good day there will be a long wait to take off. Head up through Tijuca National Park with your guide to the launching point on Pedra Bonita. If you have time on the trip, head back and hike to the peak for a great view. I had never been hang gliding, but it was an incredible and exhilarating experience. I was strapped tandem to an instructor who was wonderful. You can purchase the go pro footage for 25$ (totally worth it), and even bring your own and attach it to the back of the glider. If soaring through the skies isn’t for you, grab a seat on the beach below and watch the hang gliders land in front of you right on the beach. Some days you can even see base jumpers off the peak!
Tijuca National Park
Tijuca Park is a thirteen square mile park in the heart of Rio. There are rainforests, waterfalls, toucans, sloths, and monkeys. There are paved walking trails, viewpoint hikes, and swimming holes. Normally you can drive through parts of it, but with covid, that has been restricted. It’s an ideal spot for families and children to spend the day. Don’t miss the waterfall, Dona Marta and Chinese Viewpoints.
Pedra de Telegrafo
This hike has quickly become insta-famous for the optical illusion at the summit. It’s about an hour outside of town to the starting point, which is in a neighborhood but well marked. The roads are VERY narrow and steep. Parking can be really hard to find, especially if you are like me and not great at it to begin with. The road leading up to the trail head is quite steep and about a quarter of a mile. The Pedra de Telegrafo hike itself is about a mile and a half over uneven terrain. I would gauge it at medium difficulty, and good for kids. This is a very popular hike that can have long queues at the top to take the famous shot hanging off the rock at the peak. In the photos it looks like you are hanging off the edge of a cliff, when there is actually a rock floor right below. There is a professional photographer there who will take your photos for a small fee, just make sure that you are courteous to those waiting and don’t take too long. I wanted to do this hike at sunrise, so Felipe from Rio Eco Tours picked us up at 4am. We got there when dawn was just coming across the sky. Even so early in the morning it’s a good idea to bring water and definitely bug spray. It turned out to be a great time, it was light enough to see the ground so I didn’t trip (super clumsy over here), cool, and no one was there. We made it to the top and had the peaks to ourselves. We were lucky enough to be able to take our time, watch the sunrise, and take all the photos that we wanted.
There are many more things to do in Rio, but these are the not to be missed sights if you have limited time. Rio has a mixed reputation, and parts can be dangerous like any big city. Use your common sense, leave valuables at home or the hotel and don’t wear expensive jewelry or flash cash. Rio is gorgeous, I loved my trip, and hope this has inspired some of you to take your own! If you want names of guides or further recommendations don’t hesitate to contact me and be sure to tag me in your photos!
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