RIO DE JANEIRO TRAVEL GUIDE HOME PAGE CONTENT
Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide - Rio sways to an undeniable sexy beat beneath the searing sun and swaying palms. In a city where it seems to be too tropical and delicious to do something as mundane as work, the residents cast off their staid formal attire in the evenings to maintain Rio’s partying reputation.
Maybe the achingly beautiful environment has rubbed off on the locals (known as cariocas) for how can you possibly feel despondent when you are surrounded by swathes of pristine sand, sparkling azure waters, studded green hills and a world-famous carnival?
Rio developed as a shipping centre for gold and supplies during the gold rush and snatched Salvador’s capital crown in 1762. The city then expanded rapidly with European-style architecture, palaces and parks springing up to house the wealthy. Already the rich/poor divide that you see today was established and the annual Carnival became the only time of year it was acceptable for all classes to party together on the streets. Then Sao Paulo begun to suck at the city’s power and wealth and Rio’s decline was in full flow until relatively recently when seedy districts were cleaned up and the city reclaimed its tourist sovereignty.
The metropolis is divided into three major sections; the city centre, the Zona Sul (southern zone) and the Zona Norte which each incorporate various districts. The Centro contains the majority of the historical colonial buildings and churches, including the bustling Praca 15 de Novembro, stunning Teatro Municipal and intriguing Nova Catedral. This area also includes the rapidly developing financial and business industries that are powering Rio into the new century.
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Zona Norte has little to recommend itself, except for the interesting meseum - Museu Nacional, although you can see the favela settlements defying nature and clinging precariously to the shifting mountainous slopes. To the south of Centro lies Lapa with its cheeky charm, faded architecture and tiny bars where the locals sip Caprihanas and swing to the samba rhythms long into the night. Heading south-west, discover the wonderful barrio of Santa Teresa with its clattering trams and cobbled labyrinthine streets lined with shady shrubs nestling in the shadow of the mighty Corcovado. From the top of this vista, the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer holds his hand out in wonder at his creation below.
The Zona Sul has, almost unfairly, nabbed all the best beaches in the city. From the world-famous Copacabana to Botafago, Ipanema and Leblon, this is where Brazil’s most model-like citizens walk, play, swim and sizzle. The nearest beach to the centre is Flamengo which is ringed by the Catete and Gloria districts. The beach doesn’t have quite the same seductive powers as the others but the area has plenty of cheap hotels, so you may find yourself bathing in the waters if you’re on a budget.
Further along the shore, Leme is linked to Copacabana via a tunnel. Avenida Atlantica runs the length of the footprint-speckled sand and you can spend hours admiring the art deco façade of the Copacabana Beach Hotel, soaking up sunbeams and ordering fresh coconut juice from the beach stands. If you cast your eyes northwards, you can watch tiny cable cars being hauled up Sugar Loaf Mountain by seemingly invisible threads.
Further along still lies Ipanema and Leblon, where the youthful and wealthy frolic in the waves before they retreat to their million-dollar apartments that edge the lagoon (known as Lagoa) behind Ipanema.
If you want to escape the heat of the city and explore the surrounding areas then buses can transport you into the interior, to the city of Petropolis. The journey alone is worth the day trip as the scenery is wonderful and once there you can look around the Imperial Palace and Cathedral. Alternatively, take a bus and a boat to gorgeous Ilha Grande - a designated state park where you can hike through the tropical forests or simply lie on the beaches that are consistently voted the best in the world.
You will find numerous Rio de Janeiro Hotels to suit all budgets in Rio, but they all tend to be housed in high-rise blocks built in the 1960s and 70s. Don’t let the aesthetics put you off though as the room standards and amenities are high, if a little similar to each other. Be prepared to bruise your wallet if you wish to wake up gazing at the Atlantic Ocean as you pay dearly for a seaview. Perhaps a better option would be to spend the money on one of the more luxurious hotels that nestle down the quieter side streets. Copacabana is where the majority of accommodation is based but Ipanema and Leblon are becoming increasingly fashionable. Glória, Catete, and Flamengo are all towards the downtown area and are located a 10- to 15-minute subway ride from Central and Copacabana. As they are still relatively undiscovered areas, good bargains can be found on all hotels, many of which have the architectural character that is missing in Copacabana.
The only district to avoid hotel-wise is downtown Rio. The hotels around the Praça Mauá may seem too good to be true and that’s because Rio’s red-light zone takes over after dark.