FIVE-DAYS IN RIO DE JANEIRO: THINGS TO DO AND WATCH OUT FOR
My first trip to Rio de Janeiro was quite a long journey, but I opted to fly through Sao Paolo with American Airlines to try their brand spanking new B777-300 aircraft. I’m not sure if it was the aircraft itself, but it was one of the better flights I’ve flown with a North American carrier. The food, in-flight entertainment, service, staff, were all top notch.
This was my first ever trip to Rio de Janeiro, but also the South American continent. There was a huge build up to my departure for Rio that I could hardly contain my nerves. I usually have some sort of adrenaline before my travels. But on this trip, it was higher than usual. My excitement surely played a part in it, but I also felt a sense of nervousness just before leaving – which usually never happens.
Ever since I told friends and family about my plans for heading to Rio, I was constantly reminded about the dangerous reputation this city has cultivated over the years (with cult movies like City of God fueling the fire). In a way, the endless stories on how dangerous Rio de Janeiro is for tourists mentally prepared me for this trip more than it discouraged me from going.
After my first day, however, those concerns were thrown out the window. The people that I came across were all so polite and hospitable that I felt immediately at ease – so much so that I felt comfortable taking my evening walks right along Copacobana beach all by myself. At that point, the concerns and worries about this trip before leaving the U.S. all seemed unfounded.
BEST SIGHTS TO SEE IN RIO DE JANEIRO
During my five short-days in Rio de Janeiro, I visited the following:
Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar)
One of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic sights, you can take a cable car up the mountain for some of the best views you’ll ever see of Rio de Janeiro (or any view, for that matter).
Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor)
The Eiffel Tower is to Paris as Christ the Redeemer is to Rio de Janeiro. The bigger than life Jesus Christ statue sits on top of Corcovado mountain. If you are traveling here during peak travel season (December until May), be prepared for a massive crowd and lines that can go on for hours. Get there early!
I’m not sure if there is another beach in the world as iconic as Ipanema beach.
Dubbed as the Beverly Hills of Rio de Janeiro, Leblon has some of the country’s trendiest boutique shops. I bought two of my favorite shirts I’ve ever purchased here. Must visit!
Botafogo one of the least explored beachfront neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. Here you’ll find cobblestone streets lined up with restaurants, book shops, and bars alike.
To be honest, I don’t find this beach particularly interesting. But given the iconic name of this beach, it’s hard not to visit at least once in Rio de Janeiro.
I have very limited knowledge of Brazilian gastronomy apart from the Brazilian steakhouses in the US, for obvious reasons.
But I discovered and absolutely loved this cuisine called Feijoada, a hearty stew of beans with beef and pork. It’s the Brazilian national dish of what basically a paella is to Spain or a deep dish is to Chicago. It’s not calorie or diet friendly, but when on vacation… WHO CARES?!
Eating out in restaurants in Brazil is relatively expensive – with prices comparable to eating out at restaurants in the US. I was hoping for non-westernized price menu – but not here!
1) Rio’s famous dance is Samba – and it won’t be long until you hear it right away with the number of bars playing this music all over the city.
2) My favorite music to chillax to is Bossa Nova, which originated from Rio de Janeiro. This the same type of music you hear being played at Starbucks all day everyday.
3) Rio’s nickname is “Cidade Maravilhosa”
Nossa, nossa, assim você me mata, ai se eu te pego….
BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN RIO DE JANEIRO
For the first time in all my travels, I had to deal with something being stolen from me. Here’s what happened:
It was my last day in Rio de Janeiro and I had planned to spend that morning at Ipanema beach before checking out of my AirBnb. As you would expect, I packed everything in my bag, all ready to go so I wouldn’t be in a rush after I get back from the beach.
I had two bags with me during this trip: my normal, ginormous backpack and one mini backpack as a carry-on. Before leaving the apartment, I stashed all my electronics in this mini backpack. The items that were on this bag were two iphones, bose portable speaker, two rayban sunglasses, watches, wallet + cash + credit cards, among others.
I carried this backpack around with me at all times, so I didn’t even question whether or not I should bring this backpack with me to the beach given the amount of valuables that was inside that bag.
It was around 8 a.m. when I left for the beach. And as you would expect, Ipanema beach was fairly empty during this time. I found a spot and made myself comfortable on my beach chair with a coconut drink in hand, while listening to bossa nova music in front of the beach. It was definitely a perfect way to start your day.
Unfortunately, that perfect start went downhill shortly after. An American guy who I met a couple of days prior sat just right next to me on the beach. We had a few exchanges and told me his story on how he moved from New York to Rio de Janeiro and has been a local the past few years. This was very evident with the way he spoke Portuguese with the Brazilian kids that appeared to be follow him wherever he went.
After our brief conversation, I felt the need to take a swim. I wasn’t even planning on taking a dip in the water since I had my bag with me. But since the American guy was right next to me, I figured I could trust him with my bag given that I had already met him and had prior interaction.
Within 5 minutes of being in the water, I heard the American guy shouting to try and get my attention. I turned around and immediately noticed that my bag was nowhere to be found.
The American guy claimed that there was a thief who snatched my bag and pointed to the direction where he allegedly ran. In that instant, I was immediately in panic mode and went running around the beach looking for this person, while not exactly sure who I was running after. I approached the police to let them know somebody took my bag, and they just gave me a look like this was not the first time they heard this happen that day, or maybe even that hour.
I went back to where I was sitting and asked the people around the area if they had seen anyone who took my bag. However, I virtually asked everyone in the vicinity but nobody could confirm that they saw another person run off with my bag. It’s very tempting to assume and say the American guy sneakily passed my belonging to his Brazilian posse, but I guess I’ll never really know.
Nevermind the amount of valuables that were in that bag. I was mostly bothered by the amount of pictures I lost from this incidient. That was my last day in Rio de Janeiro and all the pics I had taken during the trip were all gone. To top it off, the AirBnb I stayed at did not have a working WIFI so the pictures did not automatically saved to my iCloud.
I suppose I can look into the positives despite what happened. Luckily, I did not put my two passports in that bag, which would’ve made things a lot more challenging had they been lost. Another upside was having a friend who lives in Rio de Janeiro to help me get home and calm me down after that incident (Thank you, Stephanie!)
MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE
The view of Rio de Janeiro from Christ the Redeemer is one of the best sceneries I’ve ever witnessed.
It took a while to get to the top of Corcovado. Visitors can reach the statue in three different ways: tram, car, or plain walking (that would be quite a hike – especially if the temps are scorching hot).
I planned accordingly to make sure I arrived early enough to catch the tram up to the Christ the Redeemer. However, I still had to wait about 2 hours or so to get on a tram with the number of visitors (foreigners and residents alike) that were already waiting. It was only a twenty minute ride – but felt much longer considering the wait.
But all the wait and navigating around the tourists were all worth it the moment you get to the top. The dramatic landscape of Rio was really inspiring from atop and I could have spent the whole day there.
Put your valuables out of sight.
I didn’t fully comprehend how dangerous Rio de Janeiro was until my experience. But on my next visit, I will definitely try to travel as minimal as I can to avoid any potential loses!
Great destination, otherwise!