“I woke up and, in Rio’s fall, the sea, the sky, the sun and mountain were fighting over which one was the most beautiful”. Millor Fernandes, Writer.
Although I went to Rio in the summer, not the fall, it was just as exquisite. The sea, the mountains, the forests and the buzzing city, collaborate harmoniously to make Rio one of the best destinations to visit in the world.
Rio de Janeiro, commonly referred to simply as Rio, is the capital and most populous city of Brazil. Founded in 1565 by the Portuguese, Rio de Janeiro was originally the seat of the colonial government of Brazil. It then became the capital of the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, and remained such until the capital of the empire was transferred to Lisbon.
Rio is the second-most populous city in Brazil and third-most populous in South America after São Paulo and Lima. It is also one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere, known for its natural settings, carnival celebrations, and famous landmarks.
We were really excited to see Rio’s world-famous attractions. However, with Brazil being a Portuguese-speaking country, it was important to us to get a good English speaking local guide who would explain to us what we were seeing and transport us from one attraction to the other easily. So, we booked the Rio Sunset Experience tour with C2Rio Tours and Travel.
Our friendly guide Aline picked us from our Copacabana hotel in a comfortable air-conditioned coach and we set off to explore Rio De Janeiro's most famous attractions.
I have been on a quest to see the new 7 Wonders of the World and until recently, had seen 4 of them as well as The Great Pyramid of Giza, which was granted honorary status. Thus, the 38-metre high statue of Christ The Redeemer was on my bucket list too. To get there, we first drove through the historic, and artistic neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. The last remaining tram in Rio runs from here to the city centre, and we rode it the following day.
As we drove up the mountain, Aline, our guide, pointed out an area where four favelas merge. An estimated 25 per cent of Rio’s population live in favelas and they are a tourist attraction in their own right.
We then drove through Tijuca National Park, one of the largest urban rainforests in the world. Once we got to the ticket centre, we boarded one of the parks buses, which are the only vehicles allowed to go to the top. The statue stands on top of Corcovado mountain and was completed in 1931. Corcovado means “hump” and the mountain is 700 metres high. As a result, the statue with its outstretched arms welcoming people to Rio, towers high above the city.
When we got to the top, I was so mesmerised by the breath-taking panoramic views that it was only a while later that I looked up and remembered that we had actually come there to see the statue. It was amazing to be able to finally see this iconic wonder of the world.
You may not know the name but you have probably seen pictures of this quirky staircase, or videos filmed there. The work of Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón, it has been featured in U2 and Snoop Doggy Dogg music videos as well as Fanta Commercials and National Geographic Magazine. Selaron began decorating the tiles in the early 1990’s and continued working on them until his death in 2013. The colourful steps are lined with bathtubs and covered with tiles from all over the world. I could have spent hours looking at each and every tile there.
The architecture of this conical cathedral was inspired by a Mayan pyramid on the island of Yucatan in Mexico. It stands 75 metres tall in the centre of town and is an impressive sight to behold, from the inside and the outside. Four stained glass windows run from floor to ceiling and meet at the top.
Our last stop on the tour was Sugar Loaf Mountain. We took two cable cars to get to the top. The first cable car took us up Urca Mountain. From there, we took the second cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain, just in time for sunset. It was a lovely evening and Rio was resplendent in its glory. We could see the beaches, Corcovado Mountain, downtown Rio and the entrance to Guanabara Bay, which is also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. There is a restaurant at the top and some historic memorabilia. The mountain was featured in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker.
The following day, we visited Rio’s botanical gardens, based on Aline’s recommendation. The expansive gardens contain more than 8,200 plant species and had different themed sections including an indoor orchid garden, a Japanese garden and a cactus garden. I especially loved the avenue of the palm trees, which we had seen from the top of Corcovado Mountain.
Rio is famous for its beaches and the dazzling coastline stretches for 86 kilometres. We spent hours walking along the world-famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches as we sipped on seemingly bottomless fresh coconuts. The beaches lived up to their reputation and were even more beautiful than I’d imagined. People played beach sports and water sports or just relaxed on the beach. The talented beach artists with their sand creations reminded me of our local Durban artists. There were all sorts of stalls along the wide sidewalks.
Rio De Janeiro is a magnificent city and Aline was a great guide. She spoke fluently in English and Spanish as she told us and other guests about what we were seeing as well as other interesting information about Rio. She also took photos for us. We saw videos on the TV screen in the vehicle, about some of the places we went to, such as the Snoop Doggy Dog video featuring the Selaron Steps, and one about how Sugar Loaf Mountain got its name.
As we travelled through Rio, we were struck by how similar in geography it was to Cape Town. Aline told us that they had learnt in tourism school that before the continents separated, Cape Town and Rio were next to each other. Fascinating!
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