With a beautiful setting on the coastline of Brazil and almost perfect weather Rio has been somewhere that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I got my chance to go a few weeks ago and it was definitely worth the wait. With a jam packed schedule and only 48 hours to see everything it was going to be a challenge but a challenge that I really enjoyed!
For the first day I’d organised a tour with a company called Xplora Tours. Breno, the owner and also our driver/guide met us at the hotel from where we set off to our first destination. Within a short time we’d entered the Tijuca National Park, one of the biggest urban parks in the world. Heading up its narrow winding roads we arrived at the area from where the hang gliders take off, the views were stunning.
The mountains that surround the area are part of the C Section of the Tijuca National Forest and are called Pedra da Gavea, Pedra Bonita, Cochrane and the two brother peaks. Fortunately for us due to the weather conditions the hang gliding had been temporarily suspended so we were able to go out onto the take off area to get some amazing views of the coast.
Having spent some time taking photo’s we were told the hang gliding was going to resume, watching them take that leap of faith and jump off into the air was quite something, it must be a weird feeling as you leave the ground with basically nothing but a kite holding you up. I wish I’d been brave enough to try it.
The next stop on the tour was one of the highlights for me and something I really wanted to see. Corcovado and the Statue of Christ the Redeemer is probably one of Rio’s most iconic and famous landmarks, standing at 30 meters tall not including the 8 meter pedestal the statue is impressively huge.
Climbing the steps up to the viewing areas is an experience in itself giving some beautiful views over the city and Rio’s famous beaches. Yes it’s crowded but to be honest I thought it was worth it, it really is quite spectacular and you can understand why it’s listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The statue itself is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone and was created in the Art Deco style by French sculptor Paul Landowski, it took nine years to complete and was opened in October 1931.
After spending an hour or so admiring the views and the statue itself we headed back down to our waiting guide and the car. Before leaving the national park we drove up to what our guide called a “secret” viewing point, it’s apparently where all the postcard shots of Rio are taken from.
I’m not so sure it’s such a big secret but I will tell you that the views overlooking the city are incredible, the beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain, even great views of Corcovado, just beautiful.
Driving out of the national park Breno told us he was going to show us the old colonial part of Rio. It’s a lovely part of the city with many of the buildings reflecting its Portuguese colonial past.
It was nice to see a more local side of the city, somewhere the tourists don’t often go with its old tram lines, street stalls and lots of graffiti. As we drove around Breno pointed out various buildings and houses that he thought might be of interest and told us interesting facts about the area and the people who live in it.
This little tour of old Rio took us to our next stop, the Selaron Steps (Escadaria Selaron). The work of Chilean born artist Jorge Selaron the steps are now a major Rio tourist attraction. There are 215 steps covered in 2000 tiles collected from over 60 different countries with some 300 being hand painted by Selaron himself.
The steps are great to see but it doesn’t take long to walk up and down through the crowds and take a few photo’s. Luckily for us Breno had organised a quick pit stop for lunch at a local cafe nearby where we had some delicious snacks and a lovely ice cold local beer. No hanging around though as it wasn’t long before we were off again and on to our next stop.
It was around three o’clock in the afternoon as we drove along the coast road through some of the world’s most famous beach resorts. Leblon first, then Ipanema and then the most famous one of all Copacabana. The beautiful people were out in force parading up and down the seafront in the skimpiest swimwear you’ve ever seen, this was exactly how I imagined Rio to be.
The long stretch of beach that is Copacabana was packed with people enjoying the warm weather, the water glistened in the sunshine and with the backdrop of the mountains and the beautiful scenery it felt just perfect I only wish I’d had more time to enjoy it.
Back in the car and we were off to our final destination for the day, a local favela. As we drove up the winding road Breno told us tales of how the favela’s are controlled, usually by the local drug gangs, how they tap into the power networks to steal electricity and how they use every piece of available space for either accommodation or to create a business.
We stopped at a couple of roadside stalls where they sell their own artwork, some of which was actually really good and very cheap to buy, it’s obviously touristy but I thought it was good that these people had been taken away from gangs to do something more worthwhile and hopefully build themselves a better life.
There was another great view from the favela and Breno joked that although the people here were probably the poorest in the city, they also had some of the best views.
Leaving the favela we set off on the drive back to the hotel where we made it back just in time for a beach side caipirinha, the perfect way to end a wonderful day out.
After a relaxing breakfast at the hotel it was decided that the last day had to be something special. With everything booked we jumped in a taxi and headed off to a nearby airfield, we were off on a helicopter ride along the Rio coastline. I was nervous but at the same time excited as I’d never been in a helicopter before. At the airfield we were given a short safety briefing before we headed out to board.
Once we were all strapped in and given clearance from the tower the helicopter lifted and our half an hour flight was underway. It was a strange sensation at first but one that I quickly got comfortable with as we soared above Rio.
We flew right down the coastline over all the famous beaches including Ipanema and Copacabana, the views were spectacular!
Sugar Loaf Mountain came into view and we could see the cable car heading up to the summit and the viewing platforms at its peak.
We then flew over to the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado which kept disappearing between the clouds that were around, it was an incredible sight.
All too soon we were heading back down the coast, the half an hour had literally flown by and we had seen Rio from a completely different point of view. As we touched down back at the airfield I only wished we’d been up there longer, I’d really enjoyed it! If you’re ever in Rio don’t miss the opportunity to do this it truly was amazing.
Back at the hotel and after a quick freshen up we jumped into another taxi this time heading off to Sugar Loaf Mountain to do the cable car ride to the top. It was a good 40 minutes journey from the hotel but I enjoyed the drive along the coast. We arrived at the ticket office to find that it was surprisingly quiet and it wasn’t long before we were boarding the cable car to the first station.
At the first peak, Urca Mountain, there are some great views of the city and the Redeemer and there’s even a helicopter landing pad.
At this level they’ve also got a couple of the old cable cars on display that used to operate up and down the mountain including one of the open air style ones. The ride up is scary enough being enclosed in glass so I’m not sure I’d have liked it being all open.
After having a wander around we boarded the next cable car for the ride up to the summit, this was the best part, the views, once again, were just amazing. It’s a beautiful part of the world here in Rio.
At the peak there’s a little bit of refurbishment going on but that didn’t detract from the spectacular views. There’s plenty of facilities up here including a couple places to eat and drink and a gift shop, but be warned the gifts up here are sold at a premium and I found them cheaper at the airport.
There are several different areas to walk around and a trail to follow through the lush vegetation, you might even spot some marmoset monkeys up there.
Having spent several hours admiring the jaw dropping views we decided to make our way back down and take a taxi back to the hotel. Believe it or not that was another full day spent sightseeing.
We arrived back at the hotel with just enough time to watch the sun going down over the beach, what a way to end two amazing days in Rio de Janeiro. Goodbye for now but I promise I will be back sometime soon!