To be honest I had never really thought about going to Brazil when I was younger. Sure like everyone I hoped someday to go to South America, Australia, Asia… to travel the world but Brazil always just seemed so far away and I had no real reason to go. However this all changed during my Erasmus year when I met Gui, my now boyfriend. When he left France in February that year I knew that if we were going to stay together I was going to have to visit. I say ‘have to’ but really I was only to happy to jump at the opportunity to go and spend a month in Brazil.
I made sure to make the most of my time in Brazil and visited four cities, so this is going to be a Brazil series! First up is Rio de Janeiro, the city you will probably first think of when you hear ‘Brazil’. If Rio is on your bucket list, here are my top tips to visiting this South American city. If Rio is not on your bucket list, it should be.
- Use Sky Scanner (or Google Flights) to search for the cheapest flights
Having only travelled around Europe before I was eager to explore further afield. Booking my flights was daunting, it was expensive and I would be flying over alone. Although Gui would be meeting me in Rio it was going to be a long journey to get from the West of Ireland to South America.
Of course there’s no direct flight from Ireland and definitely no budget flights so getting there was a bit complicated. I booked my flights with Air France using sky scanner to compare airlines and I chose Air France based on their relatively short flying time and low number of connections. I flew from Dublin to Paris CDG with Cityjet, I was surprised that even on that short flight I was given a small sandwich and a drink at no extra cost, luxury. In Paris I had a three hour wait, enough time to get off the plane, catch a bus to the terminal, a train to the next terminal, go through security and wait at my gate. It was very straightforward and easy, well signposted and I had time to spare.
2. Choose and aisle seat for comfort
Getting onto the plane to Rio de Janeiro was scary, knowing that I would be flying for eleven hours. I was seated in economy, there was plenty of legroom, I had my own TV with all the latest movies and series, we were served dinner, drinks and finally breakfast. The time went by so much quicker than any two hour flight! I had an aisle seat with nobody sitting beside me and was able to catch a few hours sleep. Arriving in Rio I was nervous, I had checked, checked again and triple checked that to get in I didn’t need a visa, but I didn’t believe it could be that easy, it was! On the plane I was given a sheet to fill out, at passport control I handed the sheet to the man, he stamped it and I was free to travel there for up to 90 days.
So I was in Brazil and I could finally go explore Rio. My last hurdle was walking through the doors to arrivals. A fairly easy step right? However although I had travelled across the ocean to a different continent alone, I had only taken this long journey to visit my boyfriend who I hadn’t seen in five months. Every thought crossed my head, what if he wasn’t there? Maybe he didn’t come to meet me… My fears were unfounded, there he was, he had been waiting there for five hours, ten times more worried than I was, going through multiple cups of coffee and eating the chocolate that was intended for me. I didn’t care, I could relax after 20 hours of travelling alone I had someone to guide me through the rest of my stay.
3. Remember that our Winter is their Summer
Rio de Janeiro is incredible. I chose the right year to go, price wise anyways. The world cup was held there the year before and the Olympics the year after. Brazil is in the southern hemisphere and so July is the middle of winter, having said that they don’t know the meaning of the word winter. During my four days in Rio the temperatures stayed in the mid to high twenties and I got a nice tan. We stayed just off Copacabana beach, I would recommend this area as its touristy and so more safe.
4. Visit the Beaches in Rio
The beaches are amazing, Copacabana and Ipanema are right beside each other and you can easily walk between the two. The view is stunning. From Copacabana you can see the Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statute on top of the Corcovado.
Walking along the path, which has a unique design, towards Ipanema you’re looking out onto a beautiful sandy beach and of course all the beautiful people sunbathing, swimming and of course playing soccer.
When you get to Ipanema the view changes, in the background there are beautiful mountains which are so amazing I did a double take to make sure they were real.
You may remember the song ‘girl from Ipanema’, which of course is referencing this beach, walking up one of the side streets off the beach you can find the bar which the real life girl from Ipanema, Helô Pinheiro, used to walk by and inspired the song.
5. Take a Guided Tour:
To see the Christ the redeemer and the Sugarloaf mountain I would recommend a guided tour. Although I had no problems with safety in Rio this is because I was with a Brazilian who knew the language and the country, we got taxis between places and only walked in the very touristy, busy places. We got a guided tour, a minibus picked us up from the door of our hotel, the guide spoke English, Portuguese and Spanish and kept switching between the three languages to ensure everyone was included. We had paid €70 euro each for the tour which brought us to the the Christ the Redeemer and then to the cable cars to reach the top of the Sugarloaf, this price included all the transport, the guide and the entrance fees to both attractions. I don’t think it would be possible to get this cheaper unless you drove there yourself as a taxi would have worked out very expensive and walking it is absolutely not an option. Our tour was brilliant, the bus stopped first at the stadium where the world cup final was held.
Our next stop was on our way up the Corcovado, we pulled in to see the favelas, I wouldn’t recommend wandering into one alone, however we saw them from above. There are hundreds/ thousands of tiny houses built into the mountainside, you can see various favelas from around the city, from far away they are fascinating, brightly coloured and you wonder how they could be built in such steep places. However they are still areas where very poor people are living and so they deserve respect, entering one and trying to take pictures wouldn’t end well.
We drove further up the mountain and again our bus pulled in, our tour guide took out a bag of bananas, I thought maybe it was a snack break. In a way I was right, the tour guide stuck the bananas on top of a fence and started calling out a name, she said something to the group in Portuguese and everyone looked excited. I had no idea why until I saw something in the trees, it took me a second to realise what it was. A monkey was making its way down the trees, swinging from branch to branch coming closer to where we were standing. We then saw the monkey running along the fence, he grabbed the bananas and ran away with them. I was left in awe, I had seen monkeys in zoos before but never a wild one swinging through trees on a mountain in Brazil.
6. Don’t miss the Christ the Redeemer
I thought nothing could beat seeing the monkey until a while later when after getting off the tour bus, collecting my entrance ticket, catching another bus and climbing an elevator I saw the Christ the Redeemer. It is incredible, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it does not disappoint. The statue is huge, 38m tall, it really is how it looks in postcards!
However the most amazing thing is the view of the city. It is so beautiful from above, the statue looks down on the city, you can see all the beaches, the Sugarloaf and everything in between.
7. Visit the Sugarloaf at Night
We were then brought down from the mountain and through the city to the bottom of the Sugarloaf. From there you can get a cable car, actually two cable cars as there is a short stop on another mountain before you ascend up to the top of the Sugarloaf. We were lucky we had seen the view of the city in daytime while on top of the Corcovado and by the time we got up the Sugarloaf it was night time and so we got a view of the city lit up at night. Again it was incredible. The Christ the redeemer was lit up, we could see planes taking off from the city airport, the bright lights of the city and the huge areas of darkness resulting from the uninhabited mountains. It was an incredible end to the day.
8. Drink like the locals
It’s easy to pass time in Rio, maybe on the beach drinking caipirinhas, the traditional Brazilian cocktail of cachaça, sugar and lime, soaking up the sun and watching the beautiful people go by.
Our hotel even had a rooftop pool and so of course being Irish and needing to cool down from their hot winter sun I was quick to take advantage of it.
Rio was only the first stop during my month long visit to Brazil. If you ever get the opportunity to visit the city go! If you’re worried about the safety of the city just make sure you have your wits about you, stick to the touristy areas, get taxis and stay in a safe location. I did my research before I went and was with a Brazilian and I would recommend both!
Let me know your thoughts. Have you been to Rio, do you want to go?