Finally back in Rio and this time in good company! Sian, Annalie’s mum, has joined us for a 10 day stay over the Xmas holidays.
Staying in a lovely Airbnb flat in Leblon – Rio’s Notting Hill (aren’t we fancy) – we were all very ready to put our tourist hats on and explore the city’s highlights: the botanical gardens, Christ Redeemer, Sugarloaf mountain and a favela tour.
On day 1 we set off on a lovely walk through the botanical gardens – a big open air complex with gorgeous parks, plant arrangements and luscious greenery. After a couple of hours under the 30 degree heat we were ready to cool down (bearing in mind Sian was used to wintery Berlin weather), so off we went for a stroll along the beautiful lagoon which eventually landed us at a lovely bar in the shade where Sian enjoyed her first Caipirinha of the holiday.
Our flat was a stone’s throw away from the beach so every day without fail we found a moment to head to the seaside for a quick dip. The beachfront sunsets in Rio are remarkable and we made sure to make the most of them.
On day 2 we were up early and headed straight to Corcovado to see the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. This work of art is propped up on the tip of a mountain which overlooks the entire city so the journey up there is done not only to enjoy the impressive statue but more importantly to take in the overwhelming and stunning views. Competing only with the views from Sugarloaf mountain which is of similar height but on the sea, this iconic experience is key to fully appreciate the grandeur and sheer beauty of this city. We took the cable car up to Sugarloaf mountain on day 3, this time at sunset after a swim on nearby Praia Vermelha (Red Beach), and the views are equally breathtaking. Here a few snaps from both viewpoints…
Despite the scorching heat which typically hits the country over Summer we managed to enjoy a few hours in Rio’s downtown as well, visiting Selaron’s tiled steps and a famous archway which was once an aqueduct but now is used as a little railway.
Our final day was probably the most interesting from a cultural point of view thanks to our guided favela tour. For £22 a head we were picked up in a bus and driven to the top of Rocinha, the largest in the country with 200,000 inhabitants. For the following 3 hours our guide walked us down the favela telling us the ins and outs of these neighbourhoods that look like a maze of small red brick houses, built one on top of another, with no sense of order or organised planning. Brasilian shanty towns have a history of being riddled with crime, and sadly this isn’t changing very quickly. Most favelas are hand-built communities where the poor set up shacks (primarily after moving from the northern parts of the countries) but the majority are still no-go danger zones run by drug lords. The one we visited – Rocinha – has been on the mend since a police insurrection in 2011 that shifted the balance of power away from drug gangs; it now welcomes tourists’ visits and the influx of money that comes with it. It was very eye-opening and allowed us to see a side of the city which represents a large slice of Rio’s population and culture (given 1.2million out 6million live in one of the 763 favelas of the city) as well as insight into their way of life.
We walked along busy roads, down steep narrow steps, said hello to the locals in their homes through their open windows and listened to our guide fill us a with stories along the way. Our tour ended with an organised Capoeira performace run by 3 talented young dancers who even made us embarrass ourselves with a little improvised dance.
Rio has been great to us and out of all the big cities we’ve seen it’s easily a favourite. Xmas was spent a few hours south in Paraty, but more on that very soon!
Ciao for now! Xx