This is the place where happy and friendly people live, where you can enjoy mountains and beach all together and where you forget about your tasks at work joining the dancing and singing people on the streets. It’s the city of year round carnival!
Before heading up to Rio de Janeiro, we were very concerned about safety and were even thinking to leave our toddler girl at home to keep her safe. Now, it sounds very silly and we didn’t regret for taking our daughter with us. Keep reading to find out why.
We had only two days in Rio before heading to islands of Brazil and it’s definitely not enough. You might need at least a week to visit every corner of Rio and enjoy the food. We were so much rushing from one spot to another that didn’t have time to stop by a restaurant for Brazilian food :(. Can’t wait to go back to this beautiful city for food traveling.
I was very surprised to see the contrasts of favelas and luxury houses in Rio. You can easily find a million-dollar house facing favelas or luxury condo building separated from favelas with a fence. The real estate is pretty expensive here, though it seemed to us a bit cheaper than Buenos Aires :). We found out that the most expensive apartment is in Flamingo district, not in Copacabana as we were assuming before. While walking on the street you can enjoy beautiful architecture on one side and favelas on the other side. This is how people in Rio live.
Another contrast was the forests and all the plants of Rio. It’s a very green city with the biggest urban forest in the world. However, most of the plants are brought here from different parts of the world and re-cultivated in the beginning of XX century. When the city started growing in late XIX century the plants were destroyed which made the local administration plant all the trees again. One of the popular plants in Rio and in the whole Brazil is breadfruit tree which was brought from India. Now it’s one of the major fruits of Brazil.
Rio was capital of Portuguese empire for 13 years. When troops of Napoleon were very close to Portugal the king moved with his whole family and government to Rio de Janeiro. There is a palace the Paco Imperial (eng: Imperial Palace) and royal church in Rio which was serving the royal family then. But Pedro I, the king’s son didn’t want to go back to Portugal with his father and decided to separate Brazil and create his own empire in South America. Brazil was independent from Portugal in 1822.
Rio has one of the new seven wonders of the world – The statue of the Christ Redemeer. It was built for 9 years taking small pieces of the huge statue up the Corcovado mountain. Some of the important details of the statue like head and hands were made in Europe and brought here by the ship. That’s why it took them so long to complete the construction. It’s made of soapstone which is very common in Brazil. There are even small souvenirs made of soapstone, which has become one of the symbols of Brazil. When we mounted up closer to this statue my daughter was the happiest to see such a huge statue first time in her life. She was always asking why he is so big, how he can stand up like that, why he is not falling down? 🙂 Well, she has learned a lot from this trip. This statue is so iconic that, now my daughter can recognize it everywhere she sees it and says loud ‘we were there!!!’. If you want your kids to know geography better, take them with you to every trip you go and they will learn a lot more stuff than from the books.
Here’s one more surprise. No mosquito in summer :). Sounds weird? The most active season for mosquito is October-November and March-May which are Spring and Fall in southern hemisphere. Though we were all equipped with mosquito repellent sprays, there was no need to use it in December (which is summer). I was even worried about Zeka and other viruses that mosquitoes spread around. May be in deep amazon forests and in some rural areas there are mosquitoes with Zeka virus, but it’s pretty safe in urban area. I remember how mass media was warning about Zeka and when we used to live in Canada it was one of the major concerns. They were always warning not to travel to South America! Guys, don’t trust in mass media. They always exaggerate the issue that works for them not for people. Read more blogs of travelers and talk to local people, they will tell you the truth.
Before heading to Rio I read some facts about this city and one of them was “Rio has the bluest sky in the world”. I was almost imagining the blue sky and sun, but we were not lucky to see blue sky of Rio. It was raining and cloudy all two days that we stayed there. May be next time we would be luckier with the weather. There’s a saying “If you come to a city on a rainy day it means you will come back for a sunny day”. Fingers crossed!
Now about the best city beaches ever! Everybody talks about Copacabana, but I loved Ipanema beach. The sand, the water, the view was amazing!! I was very excited to be on this beach and was singing “Girl from Ipanema” all the time. Though it was raining, we threw ourselves into the waves of crazy beautiful Guanabara Bay. And you know what, there’s less people and less tourists on Ipanema beach than on Copacabana. Both of them are always crowded, thou. Don’t expect a quiet and peaceful relaxation, it’s always crowded and guys walking around and selling what-ever you could think of would never let you have a private beach spot. You should be also careful about your belongings on the beach. If you leave them alone, some “nice” guy could grab them and run away. That’s why we took turns for swimming to keep our bags safe :). Though this beach was almost perfect, I was literally shocked to find out that there’s only one restroom in the whole beach!!! Can you imagine? There was only one cabin in that restroom and I paid around a $1 to use that restroom. There’s no changing room, don’t even think about it. You better put on your swimsuit at home before hitting the beach. The city administration doesn’t care how people should satisfy their natural needs! Oh, this is sad.
Here’s what we least expected from Rio. People are more talkative and ready to help. We were warned about crime, robbery, pick pockets so much that we thought we would be robbed out as soon as we stepped out of the port. The kind and helpful taxi drivers surprised us and it was above our expectations. They were talking to us in Portuguese showing us around the city and telling us stories which we hardly could understand. We don’t speak Portuguese and our Spanish helped us understanding them a bit. You will not get lost if you know some Spanish. Most of the people don’t speak English, which makes life harder for tourists. But people are very patient and always will help you.
One more thing that I loved about Rio is the street arts. It’s legal in Brazil and you can paint on any wall, door, item on the street if the owner permits you. Rio got the largest street mural work in the world. It was made in honor of Rio Olympic Games 2016 covering around 3K square meters. This work represents the indigenous people from all 5 continents participating in the games. It’s a tremendous work made by Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra showing the detailed features of people and the impression on their face so alive that it blew my mind away. This piece of art is called “We are One” (Todos Somos Um).
I kept the robbery and crime issue for the end not to scare you. As we were told by local people, you can hardly see anyone stabbing someone on the street or kidnapping. The touristic spots are very safe. You can see armed police in every corner. The only thing is, you better not wear anything expensive like gold chains, bangles, luxury bags and always keep your phone in a safe place. Use cross-body bags instead of tots. The most popular way of robbing is grabbing bags, phones, jewelry on the motorbike and riding away. So, be aware for your belongings. Anyways, if you even travel to Argentina it’s the same situation. You could be picked pocket or robbed on the street :).
If you have a dream, don’t listen to anyone and go for it. Don’t listen to what people say about places you want to see, as the tastes and preferences are different. I might not like what-ever other do or vice versa. Don’t listen to words, believe in what you see!