|Rio De Janeiro is well known for its stretches of beach. Here, tourists and locals dot the famed Ipanema Beach.|
For a few hours, allow yourself to be a total tourist. The gigantic statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain is one of those rare “must-see” sights that doesn’t disappoint. Feel the air cool as you ride the Corcovado Cog Railway to the peak, or if you’re feeling energetic you can walk to the top through the lush forest of Tijuca National Park. Marvel at Rio’s incredible natural diversity from 360-degree views, as your eyes wander from lake to mountain to jungle to beach. Just make sure you pick a relatively clear day; views from the 2,329-foot peak are frequently obscured by mist and clouds even when the beaches below are sunny.
After jostling for photo angles with the throngs of vacationers at Corcovado, you may be craving a drink… and perhaps a more authentic Rio experience. Head to Champanharia Ovelha Negra (Rua Bambina 120, Botafogo) in the well-heeled and traditional neighborhood of Botafogo, away from the tourist track of Ipanema and Copacabana. At Ovelha Negra’s champagne happy hour, tight T-shirt-wearing waiters carry buckets of bubbly and ice to a fashionable and very local crowd. Wednesday night is apparently the best, but the place is happening on any weeknight. A long wooden table runs through the center of the room, a rustic space that promotes socializing—if you speak Portuguese that is. You’ll be the only gringo there. Make sure to arrive by 7 p.m. at the latest, or you’ll have to wait outside for a table.
Brazilians don’t eat as late as their Argentine rivals, but they’re not early birds like Americans. By 8:30 you’ll probably be ready for some nourishment, and the restaurants won’t be empty. Hop into a cab from Botafogo and head to nearby Ipanema for some churrascaria, the ubiquitous—but extremely tasty—Brazilian barbecue. Porcao (Rua Barao da Torre 219, Ipanema) isn’t the most fancy churrascaria in Rio (though it’s not inelegant), but it is the best. Tuxedo-clad servers lug around gigantic skewers of charred meat to salivating costumers, but vegetarians won’t feel left out as the deluxe buffet offers countless salads and side dishes. There’s even sushi and sashimi, and the less faint of heart can munch on chicken hearts. But the best piece of meat (ask anyone) is picanha, a fatty cut from the top sirloin that’s thinly sliced onto your plate.
|Christ The Redeemer stands 130 feet tall atop Corcovado mountain and overlooks the city below.|
Walk or waddle from Porcao down Rua Vinicius de Moraes to a little bossa nova club called Vinicius (Rua Vinicius de Moraes 39, Ipanema). Street and venue are both named after legendary poet and lyricist Marcus Vinicius da Cruz de Mello Moraes, who penned the hit The Girl from Ipanema. The tiny Vinicius feels sort of like a cross between a piano bar and someone’s cool second-story apartment, with ferns in every corner and big windows to look down upon the street. The tables are closely crammed together and the stage isn’t much more than a soapbox, but the club features all of the best bossa nova talent in Rio. Check the schedules that they post out front; the best act is eminent diva Maria Creuza, who collaborated with the club’s namesake back in the day.
Start off your day with a juice blend and a ham-and-cheese croissant before heading to the beach. Polis Sucos (Rua Maria Quitéria 70, Ipanema) in Ipanema is the most popular place for health-conscious Cariocas to get their daily natural fix of vitamins and minerals. You can spoon through a deliciously frozen cup of acai berry pulp (said to improve energy and cleanse) or gulp down a blend of your own creation. Polis Sucos has dozens of exotic fruits—including many from the Amazon you probably won’t recognize unless you’re a botanist—that you can combine at will.
If you visit Rio de Janeiro and don’t go to the beach, you’ll be doing yourself a grave injustice. Cariocas from all walks of life and the city descend upon Copacabana and Ipanema beaches to exercise and socialize and to relax, unwind and swim. If you want to observe and mingle with Rio’s citizens, the beach is the place to do it. If you want to try your hand at surfing, set up shop at the eastern edge of the beach known as Arpoador, where you can get lessons and rent a board from one of the surf schools there. Other than that, every posto (lifeguard tower) has a different designation. At Posto 8, the gay and lesbian crowd congregates under enormous rainbow flags. Posto 9 is for the gente bonita (beautiful people) and the intellectuals, and Postos 10 and 11 are more family-oriented. Put on a skimpy swimsuit—regardless of your gender, pick a posto, and get involved.
Pry yourself from the beach, floral wonders await inland! The Jardim Botanico (Rua Jardim Botanico 920, Jardim Botanico) started in 1808 as a royal nursery for Prince Dom Joao VI and today is home to thousands of plants and trees from all over Brazil and the world. Stroll aimlessly among the charmingly aged gates and monuments; one moment you’re in an overgrown bamboo grove, the next along an Atlantic Forest trail where you might spy a monkey or toucan. You’ll feel very far away from the crowded streets of the city, unless a high school field trip coincides with your visit. The most photographed spot in the park is a boulevard lined with towering imperial palms that lead into a classical fountain. And for good
reason: the mix of European-style design and very New World greenery is delightful.
Where To Stay
Check into the Philippe Starck-designed Fasano Hotel on Ipanema Beach. The hotel’s decked out with tear-shaped mirrors and dark wood everywhere and its rooftop infinity pool is one of Rio’s splendid vantage points. Beds are even installed at a slight incline to better enjoy the view.