We visited Rio de Janeiro right after the carnival, which was both good and bad about our trip. Why good? Less tourists. Why bad? Come on, we missed a carnival. From what we’ve heard, it’s worth a visit and we will keep it on our things-to-do-in-Brazil list. We flew to Rio from Auckland via Buenos Aires, and had a longest day of our lives: due to the time difference, the day lasted for 36 hours! We woke up in Auckland, spent a day there, went to the airport in the evening, had a long-haul flight, stopover in Buenos Aires, flight from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, and still arrived in the evening of the same day. Initially we planned to only spend three nights in Rio, but we ended up staying for a week. For me, our journey in Rio was similar to the way I would describe this city: it’s messy, vibrant, it has a soul, but it also has its ups and downs; sometimes you get screwed and cheated, sometimes you get in trouble, but you spend fantastic time with beautiful people and if you get to know it, it will stay in your heart for a long time.
Things we loved:
1. Santa Teresa
We stayed in Santa Teresa for three nights, and first we didn’t like it much. We went some random way, which didn’t turn out to be nice, so we just continued to explore other parts of the city instead. But the next day we decided to go another way, and we found the neighbourhood to be so lovely! Built on the hill, Santa Teresa is home to numerous cafes and restaurants, small shops and one of the popular tourist attraction – Escadaria Selaron. Here are some tips on what to do in Santa Teresa.
2. Curto Cafe
This became to be one of our favourite places in Rio de Janeiro. No, it’s not located on the rooftop in Lapa. No, from there you cannot enjoy sandy beaches in Copacabana. But it is an absolutely wonderful concept of the place that brings people together like a family. Curto Cafe was established by Sergio Venuto around 5 years ago. It’s located in a shopping center that reminds me of Lucky Plaza in Singapore, just without domestic helper agencies and travel bureaus. They get their coffee in Brazil, but besides coffee they offer wonderful local brews and snacks. It differs every day, and all the workers can invite someone they know to showcase their local products one evening. It can be soaps or truffles or cheese or pretty much anything. It’s not a traditional seating and reminds more of a house party that you got invited to and where you now meet all the new people. No one is watching what you eat and how much you drink; you can pay either by cash or by card the amount you think is fair to pay. Talking to Pedro, we were surprised how this concept could ever work, but he said: “sometimes people pay less, sometimes people pay more; sometimes they take money from the jar, but in the end of the day we all are humans and Curto is always in profit”.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend too much time there, and I cannot recommend to go there during the day, because I know it can get quite crowded. We saw the sunset in Copacabana, swimming in the warm waters of Atlantic and spending time on the beach that was almost empty. Now, be careful and don’t take any valuables with you, because there can be some people around looking for a trouble. However, it’s a wonderful experience and one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen.
Things we did not enjoy so much:
1. Christ the Redeemer
Maybe it’s because of all the beautiful scenes I saw in Brazilian soap operas as a child, but I wasn’t that impressed with the statue once we got up there. It wasn’t as big as I imagined it to be, even though the view from there is remarkable. We might have been influenced by a slightly cloudy weather, so try to get there on a sunny day and either early morning or after 2-3pm to avoid the crowds. You can either hike the mountain up to Paineiras, or take a van or Uber. I would recommend taking a tram unless you are hiking. With all the transfers after van or Uber, the price will end up not being so hugely different (a little cheaper than the tram, but not significantly), but the experience might be worth it. Since we went there right after the carnival, we didn’t see big crowds of tourists and there was no waiting times. But again, consider earlier and later departure times for peak season visits.
Not that we encountered a lot of it, but locals were warning us all the time, which made me feel a little uncomfortable. Of course we read up on it before we went to Brazil, but if you keep being constantly reminded of it, you become more cautious (which is good), and also a little worried (not that good). Brazilian lady came to me on the street and told that I should put my camera in the bag, otherwise it will get stolen; a local guy said to always leave valuables at home and only bring like 50 BRL with you when you go out. Another local told us that we should never use our phones on the street, and if we feel that there is not many people around, we should go somewhere inside and order Uber. Now, this is true, the level of crime is quite high in Rio de Janeiro and in Brazil in general, mostly talking about pickpocketing and mugging. When we were in Copacabana early in the morning, we also witnessed someone else being mugged. So stay alert, but don’t forget to enjoy your time in Rio and meet wonderful local people, cause most of them are warm and friendly, and they won’t want to steal anything from you (no promise though!).
Brazilian cuisine isn’t bad, it’s actually quite good; however, I just didn’t get that “wow” factor like for example in Japan or in Vietnam. Let’s say, it wasn’t buzzing with all the amazing food on every corner. There wasn’t that much good fruit available everywhere in Rio de Janeiro either, and there was too much snacks made out of cheap white bread. However, make sure to visit some of the all-you-can-eat barbecue places and get some seafood. And Rio – we are looking forward to come again and be proven wrong!
Rio has so much to offer – you just have to be there to enjoy it. In our book it’s a must stop in South America!