This trip was not planned. It was one of those impromptu trips made with an attempt to get away and escape all the “noise and nonsense” I was going through at the time. I needed to get away so I called my cousin in Rio and asked him if I could finally pay him a visit…. With his trip blessing, I went online and bought my ticket. I wasn’t looking forward to anything in particular, I just wanted to get away…. Brazil was not in my top 5 countries to visit anytime soon, but it was the easiest place I could go to at the time mainly because I had a wonderful cousin there who would make sure that I had a great time and also because as a Namibian citizen living in the USA, I didn’t need a visa to travel to Brazil. I could just pick up and go….
I departed on Monday August 15th at 350pm (Washington, DC time) via Miami and arrived at 9:05am (Rio time).On Average, the trip was about 12hrs25mins. A bit long but I’m used to long flights. My cousin Dragon and his friend Nuuyoma picked me up from the airport. Everything looked quite small in Rio compared to what I was used to in America. The cars were smaller, the road narrower but the city looked beautiful and breathtaking… My heart smiled knowing that I was in for a treat…!
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most populated cities in the world and the second largest city in Brazil. It’s considered a metro city built around the largest tropical forest in the world, the Tijuca Forest. The forests surrounding Rio gives it a tropical climate resulting in a warm and humid climate most of the year. For those planning to travel to Rio, the weather makes a difference to your vacation experience. I went in August, which is considered winter in Rio, although you can still walk around the city in your bikini and flip-flops. Compared to the winters of America, the weather was the perfect. It was nice and warm very warm and didn’t feel like winter at all. But it did rain quite a bit, limiting my daily trips to the beach. It also tends to get cloudy in the winter; especially on the mountain top. The winter cloudiness affected my view of the “Jesus Statue” the day I went to see it (I could barely see anything… More on that below)…. So future Rio travelers, it’s worth noting that summer season starts from the month of December and lasts until February, where the temperatures are a little high with low humidity and rainfall is expected. For those who don’t like too much heat, the best time to visit Rio is during the winter season, around the time I went, from July to September. As I mentioned before, Winter in Rio is perfect, compared to the winter in the Washington, DC (USA) where I live, because in the day, it is quite warm with plenty of sunlight perfect for the beach and sightseeing in Rio.
Before I go any further, it is worth noting Rio de Janeiro’s interesting history…. It was actually Brazil’s first capital city when Brazil gained its independence from Portugal 1889. Yes, Brazil is a Portuguese speaking country and you should probably learn a few Portuguese words to help you get around because most/99% of las cariocas (local Rio people) don’t speak English. For all the two weeks I was there, I only encountered about three las cariocas who could speak some words of English but they were not fluent. The language barrier would have been a problem if I didn’t have my non-Brazilian cousin and friends who spoke both English and Portuguese fluently. Sorry I digressed… Where was I…? Yes, the capital city of Brazil later moved from Rio to Brasilia in 1960 to reduce the economic and financial pressure that was placed on Rio as the capital city. Sao Paolo is now the capital city of Brazil.
As Brazil’s top-notch tourist destination, Rio certainly lived up to its nickname Cidade Maravilhosa, which means Marvelous City. The city, which is mostly well known for its beaches, samba music, carnivals and football (soccer), is mainly made up of seas, mountains and forests. This diversity adds to its breathtaking beauty of white sandy beaches, towering mountains and scenic environment. Because Rio is surrounded by beaches, mountains, and has some of the world’s most famous landmarks, including one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Many say that it’s the most beautiful city in Brazil… I can’t make that judgement call (yet) because it’s the only city I have visited in Brazil….
Feeling at home in Copacabana
I had the privilege of staying in one of Rio’s best neighborhoods, Copacabana, at a condo right across from Copacabana beach and a few blocks from the world famous Copacabana Palace Hotel. Copacabana is a hotspot for tourists from around the world and it is located in the South Zone of the city. It’s considered to be one of the culturally richer neighborhoods in Rio because it’s filled with bars, restaurants and upscale hotels.
Fun at Copacabana Beach
I’m a beach girl so you know I was in heaven with these beaches in my backyard. I spent most of my time at Copacabana beach which was literally across the street from where I was staying. Such peace and serenity! Now I understand why many world travelers are attracted to Rio because of its famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema. Copacabana beach is located on the Atlantic shore. The beautiful view to the left of Copacabana beach is the towering mountain of Sugar Loaf and Fort Duque de Caxias built in 1779. Ipanema beach is a wealthier to Copacabana beach because it’s in a richer neighborhood. The beach is famous for water sports and is considered to be the best urban beach in the world. After seeing and experiencing these beaches, I understand the hype! The beaches never sleep. Visitors soak up the sun, take naps, play beach soccer and volleyball, exercise on the beach-gym equipment and dance like there’s no tomorrow….
Party in Lapa
You can’t be a true party girl and not dance the night away at the street party in Lapa. It’s the only neighborhood in Rio that will give you a real taste of the nightlife in Rio. It’s a party district conveniently and historically located downtown Rio. I have never seen so many people dancing and having so much in the street. Everyone was so happy and friendly. It was definitely a great experience. I recommend that all party-animals make this their first party stop in Rio.
Visiting Rio’s Tourist Attractions
Sugar Loaf Mountain and Cable Car
I enjoyed my trip to Sugar Loaf which is a 395 meter Tall Mountain named after the traditional sugarloaves, and located at the Guanabar Bay in the Atlantic Ocean. From the mountain top, you can see a spectacular view of Rio. I arrived at the mountain top with a 2-3 minute ride on cable car, but some visitors preferred to put their mountain climbing skills to good use by climbing the mountain instead. The Sugar loaf cable car was launched in 1912 and it’s one of the oldest in world and the first one in Brazil. The cable car makes stops at three stations: Praia Vermelha, Morro da Urca and Pão de Açucar, which are connected by four cable cars.
Christ the Redeemer
I hope my avid world travelers out there didn’t freak out when I failed to call the “Jesus Statue” earlier by its’ official name. I know the name; I just wanted to strategically mention it here. The statue Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor, in Portuguese) is a 30 meters/98 feet tall depiction of Jesus Christ and part of the new edition of the Seven Wonders of the World. I got to the statue by riding through the Tijuca forest National Park on a tourist bus which dropped us off at the tram station where we took the twenty-minute free tram ride to the top of the 700 meters/2,300 feet tall Corcovado Mountain where the statue sits. It was a sight to be beheld. However, we could barely see the statue that day because it was a cloudy and foggy winter day. It’s possible to see the statue in the winters, just not on a cloudy and foggy day. So that was a bummer. Nonetheless, the statue gives a powerful impression that Jesus is actually watching over Rio and blessing the city….
Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro
Brazil is a catholic country, as is the case with most countries in South America. Therefore, I couldn’t leave without visiting one of the city’s tourist attractions, the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro. The Cathedral has a beautiful interior and has a standing room capacity of 20,000 people.
The Maracanã Stadium
I love football (soccer) and watching the world cup games! I played soccer in the Soccer for Jesus League in the USA and my church team won the most championships in the league. Soccer is Brazil’s national sport and lies at the heart of their culture. So with my love for soccer and the hype around the 2014 World Cup in Rio, I had to visit the most famous soccer stadium in the world; the Maracanã Stadium. The stadium was officially inaugurated during the 1950 World Cup with a capacity of 100,000 fans. At one point, it was the largest soccer stadium in the world.
Unfortunately, Rio is not all bliss. On my way from seeing the Jesus Statue, we passed by shanty towns/slums called Favelas, where people live in abject poverty. Rio is well known for its favelas where 23-24% of its residents live. Rio has more favelas than any other cities in Brazil. The favelas are also considered as tourist attractions so I hope the proceeds from tourists also benefit those who live in the favelas……
Best ways to Get Around in Rio….
How did I get around Rio, you may be wondering…. Public Transportation! Rio is a fairly easy to navigate because it has an efficient metro system which includes trains and buses. It also has a bike-sharing system, taxis and I’m sure Uber/Lyft probably operates there now. You have to research that…. Although it’s expensive and most don’t recommend it, you can rent a car and drive yourself around…. The best thing about using public transportation is that you can to really experience and see the city and get a chance to mingle with the local people….
The Food in Rio is GREAT
Yes, I managed to find time to eat! In fact, I ate way too much because the food was just OH SO GOOD!!! And it didn’t help that my favorite restaurant in Rio, Copa Grill, was a few doors from where I was staying. I had to run at the beach every morning for at least one hour to avoid putting on weight. I don’t know how they prepare their food, but coming from America, it tasted out of this world! Either their food is just so good, or America’s food is just too bad. I learned that food in Rio is a mix of Indian, African and European ingredients. It’s mostly prepared using techniques that originate from the native people and the adaptations made by the African slaves and the Portuguese using local ingredients. The food tastes so real and rich. I wonder if it’s 100% organic because it tastes like it…..
Exercising while in Rio
No wonder almost everyone looks great in Rio. The environment supports a healthy-fit lifestyle. Rio embraces sports as much as it does samba, the beaches and the sunny weather. Fitness on the Beach keeps everyone in good shape. All throughout the day, you see people jogging and running down the beach, cycling with a stunning view of the Atlantic, playing soccer and volleyball on the beach and elsewhere, working out at outdoor gyms that are stationed all over Rio in almost every neighborhood and along the beaches. It’s not rare to find a group exercise class taking place on Copacabana beach.
Samba School Parties: Getting a taste of Carnival in Rio
When you think of Rio, what comes to your mind first and foremost…? You got it, CARNIVAL (Carnaval in Portuguese)! No doubt, Rio is mostly known for its exhilarating carnival which features samba music and dances, and colorful costumes. The carnival is considered to be the largest in the world with two million people per day on the streets during the carnival. I didn’t get to attend the Carnival because it takes place every year before lent, usually in February or early March, but I went in August. But I did visit the purpose-built parade-venue where the Carnival takes place every year, called the Sambadrome. I also got a chance to attend parties at Rio Samba schools, whose main objective is to rehearse and prepare to compete in the annual Carnival. Samba schools are not samba teaching institutions as the name implies. They are simply associations or clubs representing a particular neighborhood in Rio. At these monthly parties, the schools host parties to showcase their work and new dances, with live samba music/bands. I got the closest experience I could get of Rio Carnival at the Samba schools where I perfected my samba dance moves. I particularly fell in love with the samba dance style by men. I LOVED watching them dance samba. They do it so skillfully, with swag and a certain playfulness that I can’t quite describe…. The women dance it very well too and as a dancer myself, I appreciate dances and dancers from all over the world, but there’s nothing more remarkable than a man who can really DANCE, effortlessly….!
Shopping in Rio
I hate shopping unless it involves actively listening to music and dancing. So shopping in Rio was not on my To Do list. I left my tennis shoes/sneakers in the USA and I needed them to teach a free Zumba class I was offering at the Rio YMCA. We went around to different places but I couldn’t find the tennis shoes I wanted so I settled for those takkies (as they call them in Namibia and South Africa). So yes, there are plenty of regular malls to shop in Rio. I’m sure if you look hard enough, you will eventually have better luck at finding what you’re looking for, at the right price. Rio is an expensive city after all just so you….
My favorite part of shopping in Rio was visiting the markets. The markets are a great way to experience Rio. There are different types of markets spread around in the city. I lived across from the street from The Night Market in Copacabana which sets up between Rua Bolivar and Rua Sá Ferreira, close to Posto 6 and operates Monday to Saturday from 6pm to midnight. This is a souvenir and beach wear market catering to tourists visiting Copacabana. This is where I bought all my Brazilian beach wear that you see in the pictures, and other souvenirs.
I had the pleasure of visiting one of the largest, if not the largest and vibrant markets in the north part of Rio, Feira de São Cristóvão, also known as Feira Nordestina. The market which attracts 300,000 visitors each month is housed in a sports-stadium-like venue which has about 700 stalls, bars, restaurants, dance floors, stages, shops, beauty salons, and so forth with an emphasis on fun and having a great time. I felt the party atmosphere as soon as I entered the market because it was very lively, crowded, and it looked lively and everyone was enjoying the food, music, arts, craft and traditions from the Northeast of Brazil. I enjoyed the food, live concerts and dancing Forró.
I also went to another market called Mercadão de Madureira, one of the largest markets in Brazil which caters to the average working Brazilian. It has more than 580 stores and is filled with locals engaging in their everyday business. You won’t find expensive designer brands at this market. I went there to see if I could find a company that could make my athletic apparel, Valentina Apparel as a reasonable price since they generally have a variety of items at really low prices. I made some contacts as far as my athletic apparel but they didn’t work out in the end so I’m still looking…
Inside the market
Chilling and relaxing with new friends
When I wasn’t going around Rio, I was home or at a neighborhood bar hanging out with friend although I don’t drink. My favorite home pastime activity was playing a mathematical strategy card game called Casino. The game is played with 2-4 players. I have been playing Casino since I was about 8 years old so this is my favorite card game. I can play it all day and do a victory dance every time I or my game partner and I win the game. It’s the best card game in the world.
Other Rio/Brazil Interesting observations…
Cariocas – The local people of Rio are called Cariocas. While interacting with them, despite the language barrier, I found them to be friendly and good-natured people. One just has to be careful because some of them are good at pick-pocketing, although I haven’t had anything stolen from me while there….
Hanging out downtown Rio – Business and Financial District
Porn Advertising Phone booths– I was a bit shocked that it was lawful to advertise porn in public phone booths all around the city. I have never seen this anywhere else but no one else seemed to care….
Black people in Brazil – It’s interesting to note that that Brazil has the 2nd largest population of black people in the world (after Nigeria).
Kids at Adult Parties – I was also surprised to see small kids out on their own partying with adults both at Lapa and also at Samba schools and it seemed perfectly okay with everyone there….
I could go on all day about Rio but I have to stop here…. Although I wasn’t particularly excited about going to Rio and the trip was unplanned, I’m so glad I went as it turned out to be one of my best and special vacations. It was a memorable two week vacation….. I left Rio at 810pm and arrived in Washington, DC at 1025am on August 29th, 2011. I highly recommend Rio as a perfect travel destination. It’s the first place I visited where I actually got emotional when I was leaving. I made such a special connection with the city and its people that I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind….. When I got back to the States, I was rejuvenated and more focused. The situation that I ran away from by going to Rio, seemed to have disappeared when I got back and set my life back in motion and on the right track….. Sometimes when your world gets overwhelming, you just need to get away from all the “noise” to refocus and find yourself again…. Rio de Janeiro, I thank you….!
I hope this blog post inspires your next exciting and adventurous escapade (vacation)….!