Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon all the way down to Maromba, Prainha, and Grumari, Rio has a vibrant beach culture that's hard not to love. If you want a little privacy, you can head South during the week for some isolated sunbathing. Or, wait til the weekend and join the masses on Ipanema or Copacabana with your beach chair and umbrella and enjoy the drinks and treats the roving salesmen have on offer, including some delicious açai concoctions as well as churros.
2. Cristo and Sugarloaf
No visit to to Rio would be complete without visiting these two icons, in our opinion. There's not much to say about them that you haven't heard, so let us share some transport tips instead. For Christ, there are a number of options to get up to him, the most well-known being the tram. Tickets sell out notoriously early, but you can pre-purchase tickets at two locations the day before - the Rio Sul shopping center and the Copacabana Palace Hotel - or on the tram website. Definitely buy them early to avoid the hassle of what we went through.
We went to the tram station by bus and went to buy the tickets at 9:15 AM, only to find out the next available tram was 5 hours later. Instead, we jumped in a mini-van that drove us halfway up Corcovado, where we waited in line for a long time to get into another mini-van that took us to the top, finally reaching the entrance at 11:30 AM. In the end, it cost about the same as the tram, so don't waste your time and buy your tickets for the 20 minute tram ride early.
Sugarloaf has cable cars that you can ride between street level and the various platforms. You can also hike up to the lower mountain for free and take the cable car up to the top of Sugarloaf itself and back to the middle level. If you plan it right, you can take the cable car down to street level for free after 7 PM.
3. Free Walking Tour
After the great tour we had in La Paz, we had to do another one in Rio. Checking TripAdvisor and Google, we went with Free Walker Tours. Focused in Centro and Lapa, the tour is a great introduction to the city and history behind it. Luana, our Brazilian tour guide, had travelled plenty herself and the tour included lots of interesting facts that you might not get from a book, such as what cariocas call City Hall. She was also happy to give out tips, such as directing us to Pedra do Sal, the twice-weekly free street samba party, and to her favorite bakeries in town. The tour is long - over 4 hours, but its absolutely worth the time. Plus, it ends with an option to have feijoada and caipirinhas with the group, a great way to get to know the other travelers on the tour and try one of the local dishes.
Sorry. No pictures, we were too busy eating ;)
I have very fond memories as a child of visiting a certain churrascaria in the Dallas area, so visiting one in Rio was high on my list of things to do. Located everywhere in the city, these joints offer up the Brazilian version of grilled meat. Find a nice rodizio version - all you can eat - and prepare to eat yourself into oblivion. After an ample selection at the salad bar, flip your card over to green and let the servers slice off mounds of freshly grilled meat onto your plate.
On this trip, we visited the Leblon installment of Carretão (they also have one in Copacana). We were having issues with understanding Portuguese in Brazil, so for this meal we searched for a highly rated restaurant that could explain the meat choices in English. This place did just that, as all the servers presented the meat in English, and damn was it delicious. There were so many meats on offer, but make sure to get plenty of the picanha - always one of my favorite cuts. And wash it down with some Guaraná Antarctica, a soda produced from the guarana fruit.
We extended our stay in Rio by a day for the chance to experience the renovated stadium before the World Cup rolls into town. We saw a match between Flamingo and Fluminese - The Classic, as the cariocas called it - and the stadium was amazing. Although it was a pretty small crowd and a fairly boring match, it was great to see and experience the stadium. It seemed like there wasn't a bad seat in the place, so anyone planning on attending one of the matches there will be pleased. Plus, there's a metro station connected to it, so its not hard to get to. We're both very jealous of whoever will be there for the finale!
-Pedra do Sal is located in the Saúde district. We took the metro to the Presidente Vargas stop and walked over. Its not the safest neighborhood, so keep your wits about you. Or take a taxi.