Rio de Janeiro is a study in contrasts, a city of the sacred and the profane. Christ the Redeemer – one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – presides above. But Carnival, its dancers and the sensual beaches filled with Girls from Ipanema in mini-bikinis reign below.
Years ago, I was fortunate to know a Brazilian journalist who showed me all the sights and sounds of Brazil, especially Rio. Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (“Marvelous City” in one of the native languages, Portuguese), Rio boasts one of the most beautiful settings in the world. It’s ideally located on the Atlantic Ocean, with paradisiacal beaches, azure skies, lush, verdant mountains and a tropical climate that make it perfect year-round. No wonder it’s a dream destination for any traveler and Brazil’s No. 1 tourist spot.
A day in the life
Rio de Janeiro has long been regarded as the Carnival Capital of the World, which is no doubt why it served as the setting for “Black Orpheus,” the haunting French-Portuguese retelling of the Greek myth. The celebration, which draws 500,000 revelers annually, begins Feb. 28 this year and finishes up on Fat Tuesday (March 4), with Ash Wednesday (March 5) signaling the beginning of Lent, during which you’re supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures.
After Carnival, you may just have to. It’s five wild days of people singing, dancing, partying and in general having tons of fun. The start of each year’s Rio Carnival begins with the crowning of the Fat King (King Momo), who is presented with a giant silver-and-gold key by the city’s mayor. At the end of the festivities is the Rio Carnival Parade, also known as the Samba Parade, in which you can see groups of people dancing the samba in the streets and showing off their extraordinary costumes.
On the beach
One of the things to do in Rio by the sea-o is hit the beaches. They are among the best in the world, with a couple like Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach appearing on everyone’s list of best Brazilian beaches.
Copacabana Beach has more than 2½ miles of pristine, white sand to relax on. However, it can get very, very crowded. Still, it’s worth it. I experienced all sorts of activities on Copacabana, including futevolei (foot volleyball), water sports and all-night partying.
A little farther along the coast from Copacabana, Ipanema Beach has a reputation for being a little more sedate. Although this is known as the “family beach” among Brazilian beaches, it is nonetheless the beach to go to if you want to see the girls parading the latest designs in tropical swimwear. Ipanema Beach is the home of the “tanga” – the mini-bikini. (Who knows? Maybe you’ll see “The Girl From Ipanema” in one.) Ipanema’s outstanding, soft, white sand and cool blue water make this beach very popular for those who wish to do a little swimming with their sunbathing and parading.
You can enjoy a private half-day tour traveling up Corcovado. The mountain, whose name means “hunchback” in Portuguese, sits in the middle of the city and is crowned by Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), a 130-foot Art Deco statue. To get there, you board a mountain train for a scenic trip through the Tijuca Forest, the largest urban forest in the world. At the bottom of Corcovado, you join another train that climbs up the beautiful mountain where the statue overlooks the city. Upon reaching the top, 2,300 feet above sea level, you’ll see spectacular 360-degree city views.
The highlights of Rio are many – the Maracaña Stadium, the Sambodromo, the parade area, and the Metropolitan Cathedral. But you’ll also want to take a two-stage cable car that brings you across to the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain, where you’ll enjoy postcard views of Guanabara Bay, Copacabana Beach and Christ the Redeemer.
Bending it, Rio style
Rio gets in on the action for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which takes place all over Brazil June 12 through July 13.
Roadtrips is an excellent company that we work with to put together match packages. The Rio packages offer custom options with accommodations in the famous Copacabana Beach area, including the Copacabana Palace Hotel, and the five-star JW Marriott Hotel.
You may want to plan another roadtrip, so to speak, for August 2016. That’s when Rio hosts the Summer Olympics.
For more, visit Cappy’s Travel at 195 N. Bedford Road, Mount Kisco. Call (914) 241-0383 or email Cappy@travel-by-net.com.