Rio de Janeiro is known for its golden beaches, dramatic mountains, and football athleticism ingrained as a part of the city’s culture. It’s already one of South America’s most visited cities and the 2016 Summer Olympics further elevated Rio as a top travel destination. In August, I got to spend three days in Rio to see the city myself.
Before going, I did extensive research on which neighborhood to stay in and everywhere said Zona Sul (Southern Zone) near the beaches. This is the safest neighborhood with plenty of bars and restaurants. Having explored other parts of Rio, I felt most comfortable at Zona Sul, especially at night.
On my first day, I settled into my hotel at Copacabana in the afternoon. With the remaining sunlight, my friend and I explored Leblon Beach at the western end of Zona Sul.
We started at Leblon’s Lookout on a hill with an amazing view of the ocean and both Leblon and Ipanema beaches. The view was exactly what I imagined Rio to look like – an endless stretch of beach curving into the distance and constant crashing of turquoise blue waves, with a layer of haze over the beach and lush mountains in the background. It was beautiful to say the least.
From Leblon Lookout, we walked down to the beach and walked along the water. The vibe was really chill with everyone sunbathing or playing soccer. Soccer skills in Rio are on a whole other level. It was unreal how nimble and how much control people had to perform tricks and keep the ball in the air. They played volleyball with their feet only and were better than me playing with my hands!
Later in the evening, we checked out Lapa – it’s supposedly the hip neighborhood with popping nightlife. However, it felt pretty dodgy with few foreigners so we didn’t stay long. We did eat one of the best churrasco I had in Brazil from a random street cart.
Starting the next day, it rained for the remainder of our time in Rio. We began our day with coffee at the mansion in Parque Lage. It was relaxing minus the absurd poses people made in front of the pool. :P
Next stop was the famous Selaron Mosaic Steps in Lapa. It was packed with people trying to get the nearly impossible photo without anyone in the background. After a few failed attempts ourselves, we made our way up the steps, passing by local vendors, live performances, and all sorts of mosaic art.
From there, we continued up the hill to Parque das Ruinas in the adjacent Santa Teresa neighborhood. This is a mansion ruin with really cool, urban architecture and offers a 360-degree view of Rio. The view was impressive, but the rain and overcast weather made it look a little dreary.
We took a nice walk all the way to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian to look at the unique cathedral architecture. It strays away from the traditional architecture and mimics the ancient Mayan pyramids with giant stained-glass windows lining each of the four sides of the concrete structure.
And our last stop for the day was the largest street mural in the world by Eduardo Kobra in downtown Rio. These spanned entire façades of buildings along one of the main historic streets in downtown. It was impressive how detailed and realistic the graffiti looked, especially at this scale.
On our last day, the rain let up for a few hours and we seized the opportunity to go to Sugarloaf Mountain. We took two cable cars to reach the tip of the massive monolithic granite overlooking Rio. It was an amazing panoramic view of Rio with Christ the Redeemer towering from the mountains in the back. And if we looked further in the distance, we saw the curvature of the shoreline with mountains jutting into the ocean and the beautiful Copacabana beach.
Finally, the only thing we haven’t seen was Christ the Redeemer. By the time we reached there it was already pouring. So we rushed to snap a few photos before seeking shelter again. Honestly, Christ looked much more impressive from afar with the entire city below him rather than up close.
And as if our adventures in Rio weren’t enough, we squeezed in some time to hang glide over Rio. It was unbelievably refreshing and calming. From up high, it was so quiet and peaceful without any of the distractions from the ground. Amazing experience.
Overall, despite the rain causing inconvenience and dampening the energy I was expecting from Rio, I enjoyed my time in the city. Rio gave me a vibe that is lively, cheerful and prideful, and I believe they have plenty of reasons to be.