The start of our journey and our first South American experience. We felt so excited to be embarking on this experience and Rio de Janeiro is such a great place to start.
We were also nervous, and wanted the best start to our journey. As with many destinations, all over the world, there are associated risks. Being in an unfamiliar continent with zero language skills and having been told to be careful of certain things, we were more on edge than needed. Though we were on the lookout, we saw no problems at all, and at no point did we feel unsafe.
Rio de Janeiro
As our first stop, we allowed plenty of time here to take everything in and to relax a little. The previous weeks had included the stresses of packing our lives into a storage container and taking the leap into a year of new experiences. As we would soon find out, there is rarely long enough anywhere. At most destinations we would come to visit, there will be something else we could have done given the opportunity. However, there are many amazing places on this earth, and we want to see as many as possible, so we need to keep moving!
For the first few days, we were staying in Botafogo. Though not necessarily a tourist area (such as Copacabana, Ipanema, or Santa Teresa) it gave us a welcome introduction to local life in the city. It had good bus/metro links for the city and was affordable. The latter was essential as, at this stage of the journey, we were very much in budget mode. We didn’t want to spend all our savings in a few weeks and this would get us in the right mindset for the months to come. As time went on we’d become a little more relaxed, and way more savvy, with our money.
On our first day, we went for a walk around the city to get our bearings a little. We got our first glimpses of both Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. It was the first day in weeks that we could relax and not do so much, and we took advantage of this!
Christ the Redeemer
The following day we decided that, with limited time, we should probably start to see some of Rio. First on the list was Corcovado, to see Christ the Redeemer. We had hoped to hike the mountain but had heard of knifepoint muggings on the route up so went to for the safer option and got the tram. It was certainly a good first sightseeing experience of our trip. The statue is very impressive and you cannot help but enjoy it, despite the number of people all trying to do the same! What topped it off were some of the astounding views of the city you can get at the summit.
On our way back we headed to Santa Teresa to see the Escadaria Selaron. It’s a VERY colourful staircase decorated with hand-painted tiles by the artist Jorge Selaron. It includes some quite original and risque tiles collected from all over the world.
Disappointed not to have had our Corcovado hike, we planned to visit Sugarloaf Mountain the next day. It’s possible to get the cable car from the bottom to the very top, but there is also a walking route to the lower of the two peaks which was great for us as we could get some hiking in and also save a little on cable car costs!
The views from the top were stunning. Sweeping panoramas of the entire city, including Corcovado and Copacabana beach, are breathtaking. Pictures could never hope to do it justice.
After a nice stroll back down the mountain, we tried to find a spot to watch the sunset. On turning a corner to a road we thought might be a good spot, we found a sea wall filled to bursting with locals sharing beers and enjoying the sun. We must be in the right place! We found a spot, found a beer, and waited for the sun to make it’s descent, affording us yet another amazing view of the city.
After a couple of full-on days, we slowed down a bit. We chilled at the hostel, did a little work, and went for a little walk around Rio’s Jardim Botânico. Spring hadn’t quite sprung, so not everything was in bloom, but it was a beautiful place to spend the afternoon.
We then moved to a new hotel in Copacabana. After exploring the area we spent a little time on the beach before getting ready to head up to the Maracanâ for our first taste of Brazilian football!
A short trip on the metro, a little walk and we were there. Then was the queue for tickets… We highly recommend buying in advance because the queue takes up to an hour depending on when you arrive. This is despite our match not even being at 50% capacity. We recommend buying tickets from the home team’s base in the city rather than at the stadium.
Despite not being full there was still an electric atmosphere inside the stadium. It wasn’t the most exciting game ever. The most dramatic parts were contentious VAR decisions, including a goal being overruled. Our adopted Fluminense came away with a 1-1 draw in this bottom of the table clash.
On our final full day in Rio we, once again, relaxed a bit (travelling is hard work!). As the weather wasn’t so great we visited Fort Copacabana. It’s a military outpost on a small peninsula between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. The fort included an enormous gun and strategic rooms where the trajectory of the guns would be calculated (with enormous complexity). It was interesting to see the machines used during all parts of the process, including housing and transporting the enormous shells to and from the gun itself. As a bonus, due to bad weather and not being able to access all areas, we got in for free!
And so ended the first step of many on our year-long adventure exploring our world!
Next stop Ilha Grande a little down the coast!
What to see in Rio de Janeiro
Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer)
If visiting Rio you are, undoubtedly, planning to ascend Corcovado.
You can walk up from the south side of the mountain or get the tram from the north. We would have preferred to walk, but UK Government guidance advised against because of reports of muggings on route. If visiting again we would walk but might look to do this as part of a group or maybe even an organised your, just as long as there were a few people.
Don’t forget your patience. There are a lot of people at the top, and they all want exactly the same picture you do, you just have to get it when you can!
Another ‘must-see’ in Rio with amazing panoramic views of the city.
You can take two cable cars from the bottom, or walk up halfway before taking just one tram. You can see the city from the first peak, but the view from the top is definitely worth the tram all the way to the top.
A short bus ride or walk from most areas will bring you to this oasis in the city. Visit here for a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and see some beautiful and varied gardens.
Copacabana and Ipanema beaches
Synonymous with Rio, the beaches are frequented by locals and tourists alike with many activities available aside from the typical sunbathing. Take a stroll down Copacabana to see beach football, volleyball, fitness classes, and more. We even saw a local practising his capoeira in the sand.
Keep an eye on your belongings and be prepared for the endless stream of vendors trying to sell you anything that can be sold, useful or otherwise.
Home to the 4 teams based in Rio, if you visit during the football season (April – December) there will probably be game on that you’ll be able to see.
It’s an impressive stadium with a fantastic atmosphere.
Home of the Escadaria Selarón and a rich cultural heritage with many cool bars and restaurants
Just around the corner from Sugarloaf mountain, visit this little spot of coastline at least once during your stay to enjoy the sunset and a beer with locals
- You can walk halfway up (and down) Sugarloaf Mountain to save the cost of a cable car journey
- Foreign students can get discounted prices on cable cars for Sugarloaf Mountain
- Buy your Maracanâ tickets in advance to avoid long queues on the day. We read they can be purchased from the club’s bases within the city.
- Cheap, good (not all), food can be found at many street vendors
- Uber is very cheap and widely available
- The metro system is very cheap and reliable
- Buses are cheap, but traffic can be very bad