The gorgeous landscapes, lively beaches, amazing climate, the colorful and vibrant Carnaval, and the friendly people. For all these reasons and more, I have fallen in love with Rio de Janeiro.
We planned our South American trip around this city and the biggest celebration in the world – The Carnaval. After over one week spent discovering it, there’s no doubt in my mind as to why it is called the marvelous city.
Rio de Janeiro Carnaval
There are two ways of enjoying the Carnaval: attending the show in the Sanbodromo, and/or being part of the street celebrations called blocos. We were lucky to experience both.
The difference between the two is that, whereas the Sanbodromo show is out of this world in terms of outfits, atmosphere, dance, grandeur, it is also more passive from the spectator point of view. The blocos, on the other hand, are all about being involved. Basically, you are following a group of musicians throughout the streets of Rio along with hundreds of people who are dancing, drinking, eating and having fun, whilst dressed in the craziest of costumes.
The Sanbodromo can be fantastic if you have good seats and can enjoy it with a group of people. We bought our tickets last minute, at the entrance, and we were located at the end of the arena where the carousels finished their performances. Still a nice experience, though.
For the blocos you don’t need to pay anything, you just show up. There are street sellers that follow the crowds selling drinks (mostly beer) and some food, so you don’t really need to do anything besides putting on some feathers and dancing the morning away. Yes, the morning! The blocos start really early, say 6am, and finish late in the afternoon.
Ipanema Beach at sunset
This is not to be missed, people! Bertrand and I went to Ipanema beach several times to watch the sunset. The scene was the same every time, and yet we could not get enough of it: the gorgeous sunset light covering some pretty hot bodies :); the small and frequent groups of beach football players; the amazing atmosphere; the street vendors; the waves crashing and entertaining some of the brave people who ventured into the water; the talented surfers…
Pao de Asucar
You know those beautiful pictures of Rio de Janeiro, that you see on postcards? Well, there are quite a few spots that can give you the awesome view: Pao de Asucar, Christ The Redeemer, Tres Irmaos. We chose Pao de Asucar, (well Bertrand did) and the result was postcard pretty :).
Be careful when you choose your day to visit Pao de Asucar, if it’s cloudy you won’t see much (check Windguru for the cloud coverage forecast, it’s quite accurate). We chose what we thought was a clear sky day only to have a cloud blocking the view just before sunset. We were a big crowd and we all made that disappointing ahh noise when it happened. It was funny though :).
Santa Teresa and Lapa
The difference between some neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro is astonishing. You can go to Ipanema and meet the tanned, muscular, all trendy Cariocas, and then you can go to Santa Teresa and Lapa and meet the most relaxed people, simply dressed, much more interested in enjoying cultural activities than going to the gym.
I liked both. I enjoyed going to Ipanema and admiring the crowds, in the same time I felt very relaxed and at ease in Santa Teresa and Lapa.
A dream in the heart of the city. When you long for some shade during hot afternoons, this is the place to be. It’s huge and just perfect for a long stroll amidst unique plant species.
How and Where to
How to get there: We took Easytransfer from Abrao, Ilha Grande to Santa Teresa in Rio. It took about 20 min on the boat and 2-2:30 min by shuttle and the price was 110 reales pp (prices in February 2016).
Where to stay: We stayed at Casa da Vera in Santa Teresa.If you go during the Carnaval, it’s a great location as the Sanbodromo is just a few minutes away as well as some (of the best) blocos.*This is an affiliate link, which means that I get a small commission if a booking is made.
Where to eat: For breakfast (in Santa Teresa) we went to Cafecito and the place just in front of it which has no name but was very good.
Carnaval entrance: For the main show, we bought the tickets at the entrance and paid 50 reales per person.
Safety: We were quite worried about safety before arriving in Rio de Janeiro, and although we did feel we needed to take extra care, we had no problems. Like in any other destination in SA, you need to use common sense. That means: not flashing expensive things, equipment, jewelry; not walking on empty streets at night; being mindful of the people surrounding you etc.
Disclaimer: We were in Rio de Janeiro in February 2016 so all the info/prices apply to this date.