Rio de Janeiro; the name is synonymous with beautiful beaches and beautiful women in the tiniest of bikinis. However, with Rio hosting the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympic Games, there is a lot of scrutinizing and magnification of some of the city’s problems. Rio is still a beautiful and safe place to visit if you follow the guidelines set for by the U.S. State Department, and use good judgment.
Brazil has a small northern section of the country falling above the equator, with the rest located just south of it. The country has a constantly warm climate, which is why its beach culture is so strong. Even in the dead of winter, the temperature is in the upper 90s to 100s.
The official language in Brazil is Portuguese yet some of the words are the same as those used in Spanish. Those who remember their high school Spanish will not have any problem communicating, and most of the major tourist destinations have people who speak English.
Rio has four neighborhoods, or zones as they are called, including North (Zona Norte), Center (Centro), West (Zona Oeste), and South (Zona Sul). In Zona Norte, there is very little to see other than the Maracanã Stadium, the Quinta da Boa Vista gardens, and the Galeão Airport. Beyond this, the majority of this neighborhood is industrial, and the location of many of the country’s favelas, or shantytowns. I suggest avoiding this area, as it is not a place to wander around or get lost in; the safe areas listed above are heavily patrolled.
According to Frommer’s Brazil, there is not much in the way of activities for tourists in Zona Oeste as this is where many of the locals live, and it is mostly residential, except for a few restaurants.
Centro Rio’s central neighborhood is where the locals work, and it contains mostly business high-rises. However, it is also the oldest area of the city, and as such, offers visitors the opportunity to visit historic and famous sites such as churches, museums, and monuments. Visit this area during the week because it is a deserted, high-risk danger area for visitors on the weekends.
Zona Sul is really the place to be because most of the action in Rio happens here. Located in this zone is Mount Corcovado with the world famous Christ the Redeemer statue at the top, which they recently renovated. Another hit in Zona Sul is Sugarloaf, a granite cliff that rises sharply against the splendor of the surrounding ocean. There are cable cars available to take you to the top, or you can hike up if you are brave enough. The area is fairly secure since there is a large military presence in the area.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Rio is the beaches. Is it any wonder why the beaches in Rio are always at the top of the “best beaches” lists put out by travel experts? Two of the most famous of Rio’s many beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, are located in Zona Sul. Copacabana is the main tourist beach and usually draws huge crowds.
During the summer, visitors can see free concerts, however, since solicitation of prostitution occurs frequently on this beach, even in the daytime, visitors should also beware. Ipanema beach is a more upscale beach, and the place to run into famous people. This beach attracts much of the homosexual population in the city, and they openly show off their sexuality. Therefore, if you travel with small children, I suggest using extra caution on this beach to make sure your children do not see more than you want them to.
Cariocas (Rio natives) are image crazy, and an abundance of shopping centers near the beaches provides visitors with everything from Carnival costumes to jewelry. The nightlife is also active here, and when the sun goes down, the revelers come out, and it is common for the party to spill over into the streets, especially during Carnival.
Speaking of Carnival, no visit to Rio is complete without taking in a performance of one of the local samba schools. Samba is a way of life to Brazillians (could that be why they are all so beautiful?) Carnival happens in the spring, right before Lent, but the Samba schools practice endlessly, and work tirelessly on their floats and costumes. Rehearsals begin in late September or early October, and offer you the chance to see the beautiful dancing in action, and learn the moves yourself. Grab your bikini, sun block, party spirit, and head down to Rio for some fun in the sun; you will not regret it.
Frommer’s Brazil, http://www.frommers.com/destinations/brazil/.
U.S. Department of State, http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1072.html.