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From Copacabana to Caipirinhas: A Guide to Traveling to Rio de Janeiro

Updated on June 3, 2010

Going to Rio de Janeiro a few years ago was an eye-opening trip for me. Standing on top of Corcovado and looking out past lakes and rainforests to some of the poorest slums puts your life into perspective. The rich history and natural beauty that Brazil has to offer is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are a few must-see things to do and see on your trip to Rio de Janeiro.

From Language to Money: Brazil Basics

There are a few Brazilian basics to know before you head to Rio.Getting there is fairly easy as most major airports have direct or one-stop flights straight into Rio. As with any large city, being safe should be a top priority – I never felt unsafe during the week I was there, but I stayed aware of my surroundings and always traveled in groups. The currency used in Rio is the Real, and the Brazilians speak Portuguese. Brazil is in the Southern Hemisphere so if you are traveling from America, the seasons will be opposite, but the climate is very tropical so even during Brazilian winter, the temperatures will be in the 70s.


The famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are the toptourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro. From the beautiful Brazilians in tinybikinis to the vendors hawking their wares, walking the beach during the day isthe quintessential Brazilian experience. This is also where people can tell youare American – if you are modest at all in your dress, if your butt cheeksaren’t hanging out of the bottom of your bathing suit, you’re obviously anAmerican!


Corcovado, which means “humpback” in Portuguese, is a must-see destination for anyone traveling to Rio de Janeiro. Atop this 2,329-foot mountain is a 125-foot statue of Jesus called Cristo Redentor (aka Christ the Redeemer.) Aside from seeing Cristo Redentor, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Corcovado offers the BEST view in the whole city. From its peak, you can see the wide variety of terrains the city has to offer – the Tijuana rainforest, Sugarloaf Mountain, the major beaches, a lake as well as many of the Brazilian slums, called favelas.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Another wonderful view of the City and a chance for a priceless photo op, visitors get to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain via a cable car on a 1400-meter route. The cars run every 20 minutes or so and the ride takes a couple hours roundtrip to allow for sightseeing. Rock climbing is also allowed on part of Sugarloaf Mountain, but it is not an easy climb so on those with experience should try this route.

Tijuaca National Park

The Tijuaca National Park is the largest urban park in the entire world with beautiful waterfalls and hundreds of different species of animals and plants – over 400! The rainforest actually acts as air conditioning for the City, lowering the temperature of Rio (although you probably couldn’t tell in the summer.) Because the park can be dangerous after dark and if you are traveling alone, a guided tour is the best way to explore Tijuaca. Jeep tours, in my opinion, are the best way to see this vast terrain.

Food and Drink

You can check out reviews and opinions on actualrestaurants, but no matter where you go, there are two essentials you have toexperience while in Rio. A churrascaria and the caipirinha.  A churrascaria is a Braziliansteakhouse, based on the traditions of gauchos roasting their meats on an openfire. Waiters come to your table with skewers of meat – from beef to lamb tochicken – and they don’t stop bringing it to you until you tell them “no more!”The caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil, made with cachaça, aBrazilian rum, sugar and limes. Make no mistake, this simple drink is strong sodon’t overdo it!

Day Trips

Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful place to visit, but if you have some extra time, there are destinations that are just a day trip away that are a great addition to spending time in the City. The town of Buzios is one of those trips – it used to be a fishing village, and is now a cosmopolitan area rich with history and beautiful beaches. Angra dos Reis is another town that is worth a visit, especially taking the cruise around the crystal blue waters and pristine sandy beaches of some of the 300 islands surrounding the town.

Off the Beaten Path

There are many small towns around Rio de Janeiro and one that I visited and fell in love with was Maricá. A suburb of Rio and one of the cities in its lake region, Marica is a great alternative if you didn’t want to stay in the urban center of the city. A lot of Americans have property here because of the laidback attitude, friendly locals and beautiful, quiet beaches.

You can grab a cheap, local beer ($1!) at a beach restaurant and catch a local pickup soccer game. While we were there, a local religious festival brought hundreds of people into the downtown area for drinks and live music. Definitely not something you will find in every guide book!


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    • PeterKlibs profile image

      PeterKlibs 8 years ago from United States

      This is awesome, I plan on visiting Rio De Janeiro within the next few years.