Latin America lays claim to what’s known as the “Cidade Maravilhosa,” or the “Marvelous City”—Rio de Janeiro. With verdant jungle, lively streets and scenic stretches of pristine beaches, this bustling Brazilian hub is more than deserving of its nickname. Here are five ways enjoy the best of this UNESCO-listed city on a tour of Brazil.
Visit Christ the Redeemer This massive Art Deco statue stands almost 100 feet tall at the pinnacle of Corcovado Mountain, and has been gazing down at the dramatically diverse landscape of Rio since 1931. Although the icon was designed by engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, its reinforced concrete structure is covered with soapstone tiles thanks to the help of a group of female volunteers. They glued individual tiles to squares of linen during construction—no small task, as over six million stone triangles cover the Christ. This same soapstone mosaic covers a small, imperfectly-shaped heart on the stark interior of the statue’s chest, the outline of which protrudes on the outside as well.
Did you know? Over eight decades after Cristo Redentor was built, the light grey soapstone tiles covering the exterior have run out, which poses a problem during repairs. The statue’s height and location make it the subject of about four direct lightning strikes per year, and until a new quarry of the difficult-to-find limestone is located, the damaged sections are being patched up with darker stones.
Sip a caipirinha in a churrascaria Meat-lovers will feel right at home in Rio, where all-you-can-eat barbecue eateries known as churrascarias abound. If you decide to visit one of these traditional Brazilian restaurants, be sure to go hungry. Waiters slice various cuts of meat off of giant skewers right at your table, and large buffets offer authentic side dishes and hearty salads. The best way to wash down all the savory food? With a caipirinha. This is Brazil’s national drink, which is a unique-tasting beverage that’s muddled together with rum-like cachaça, raw sugar and lime.
Must-try meat: Picanha This prime cut of beef is distinguished as the most popular on tables throughout Brazil, and is the cherry on top of a well-rounded churrascaria experience.
Listen to Samba music The hillside favelas, or slums, of Rio are distinguished as the birthplace of Brazil’s heartbeat: Samba. The earliest roots of this percussion-fueled music genre and dance style date back to South America’s 16th-century slave trade, when West African slaves sought refuge in music and dance as a means of preserving their culture and secretly worshipping their god. Samba’s sound became popular among the lower classes after slavery was abolished in the 19th century, and has since become a true expression of celebration among the masses—most notably at Rio’s raucous Carnival.
What’s in a name? To those who follow the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, the word “samba” is essentially synonymous with “prayer,” and is a means of appealing to one’s personal African deities known as orixas.
Take a cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain The city’s striking landscape is comprised of a multitude of craggy hills, which rise up along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and stand sentinel around urban dwellings. For an awe-inspiring panorama of this impressive scenery, ride a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. This granite-and-quartz landmark climbs directly out the the ocean and soars almost 1,300 feet above sea level, granting bird’s-eye views of the picturesque Botafogo Bay, iconic Copacabana Beach and distant greenery of Tijuca National Park.
Keep an eye out A variety of wildlife calls Sugarloaf home, so look to the trees as you walk along the pathways near the snack bar and souvenir shop at the top of the mountain. You might just see lizards, birds and tiny monkeys known as marmosets.
Get an inside look at Carnival festivities In Rio, the beginning of Lent is marked by an early-18th-century celebration that has been called the world’s largest party: Carnival. From colorful floats at fun-filled parades to breathtaking costumes bedecked in jewels and feathers, this lively five-day festival fills the streets with color. Today, Rio natives known as _cariocas _prepareformonths leading up to the event, and a visit to one of the many schools or workshops around the city is a chance to get a sneak-peek at the action. Watch performers practice their routines at a Samba school and see expert artisans create the intricate floats and decorations.
Bow to the king Each year, the pre-Lenten festivities are kicked off by Rei Momo, the King of Carnival, who is selected from a group of contestants by a jury vote. Once the mayor of Rio symbolically hands the “king” the key to the city, Carnival festivities commence.
What would you love to experience on a tour of Rio? Tell us in the comments below!