White sandy beaches, tropical fruit juices, Rio de Janeiro is the paradise for beach loving tourists. Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil until 1889 and is the most visited city in the Southern Hemisphere today. The city is surrounded by the most beautiful landscape covered with mountains and beautiful beaches. We had a great time travelling in Rio as this city bursts with culture, history and heritage.
Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in Brazil, has hosted 2014 Football World Cup and soon will be hosting the Olympics this year in 2016. This whole city is doing last minute touch up to prepare for the massive influx of tourists that will soon flood in the next few months. We saw many places closed for last minute restorations when we were travelling in Rio city. Personally we are not huge lovers of great crowds, so we planned our visit to Brazil at a time away from the Olympics.
Besides the gorgeous beaches, there are the huge areas of national parks that intertwines with this city. We wanted to do many of the trekking trails that goes up the mountains in these national parks when we were in Rio. Unfortunately it was raining heavily during most of our three days in Rio de Janeiro so we missed out on the opportunity. Touring a huge city like Rio can be quite challenging so the following are some tips we formulated on how to travel Rio in 48 hours.
Note: Although we stayed in Rio de Janeiro for 3 days, we did our itinerary at slower pace than initially planned due to the bad weather. All these itinerary should be achievable in 48 hours. This guide covers all the major site but if you want to see and do all the activities, you may require 4-5 days.
8 AM- Christ The Redeemer (New 7 Wonder of the World)
Christ the Redeemer is the most symbolic attraction of Rio and like Machu Picchu, (further reading) it is one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. This statue is located on the Corcovado mountain peak in the Tijuca Forest which is a national park in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. The statue is located at an altitude of 710 meters and is 38 meters tall weighing over 700 tons. Construction of Christ the Redeemer began in 1922 and it took nine years to build. Now the statue looks over the whole Rio and usually the first attraction to visit when travelling in Rio.
Christ the Redeemer is best visited in the morning as the morning sun shines on the front part of the body. Luckily we had good weather when we arrived that morning, so the lighting was perfect. If you have some time travelling in Rio, you can consider to visit the statue again during sunset as you can get beautiful colors in the sky.
With our experience, there were more people towards the afternoon, so it’s best to go as early as possible. When we arrived at the site, there were plenty of space and we could take photos easily. By the time we were going, people couldn’t even find a good spot to take pictures. Most people could only stretch their arms halfway like a chicken when they try imitate the Christ’s open arm pose.
Location of Christ the Redeemer is a little hard to get too and there are no other attractions in the area. There isn’t really a cheap way to get to the location either. To work out which transportation works out best for you please visit their website. I highly recommend the way we went up to see Christ the Redeemer which is by the official Van service. The Van leaves at a specific location in Copacabana, Largo do Machado or Paineiras and takes you directly to the statue in 20 minutes. It’s a lot quicker and efficient transportation system than the tourist train.
If the weather permits and you are a keen hiker, you can hike to the Christ the Redeemer from Parque Lage. If you choose to hike, you can save on transportation fee but you’ll still have to pay the entrance fee to see the statue up close. It is an extremely scenic and beautiful path but beware of your own safety!
11 AM- 1 AM- Finding Traditional Brazilian food
There were many nice street foods around when we were travelling in Rio. We personally felt that the food in Brazil were tastier than other parts of South America. We highly recommend to try the Brazilian BBQ, Churrascaria, at least once. We ate at a Churrascaria in Foz do Iguacu for only $8USD per person and you get to eat as much as you want. More importantly there a variety of good quality meat and marinated well.
We also loved a dessert that was found everywhere in Brazil that is made out of a fruit called Acai. We could only find this fruit in powder form in Australia and it’s sold expensively for its nutritious quality. Everywhere we go in Brazil we could find places selling huge bowls of Acai sorbets for only around $3USD. They are extremely tasty and leaves you wanting more so find yourself a bowl when you are travelling in Rio!
1.30PM – 6PM Join a Favela walking tour!
Favelas are Rio de Janeiro’s slum areas and they have huge cultural significance in this city. Up to 20% of the residence in Rio de Janeiro lives in a favela. Personally we felt that joining a favela walking tour is a must when travelling in Rio. Normal laws don’t quite apply in these areas as police do not enter these areas without a gun fight. People seek help from the mafia first if anything happens in a favela. Beware that if you do visit a favela you will have to be respectful and not treat the tour like a human safari.
Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil until 1960 when the capital was transferred to Brasilia. As a result, the economics of this city went downhill and when the new migrants of Rio de Janerio couldn’t find work, they found residence in the hills. Most of the people are too poor to leave these favelas and some choose not to leave as you don’t need to pay taxes in a favela.
Although the mafias have special rules around not robing tourists, entering a favela without a local guide can be dangerous. Hence the best way to see a favela is to join a walking tour. The tour we went with is the Favela Walking Tour Official Website. The tour guide is a true resident of the favela and takes you on foot to the heart of the favela. It was amazing to have a cross section experience of this huge favela and hear stories about the place from a local. Seeing a favela is one our highlights when we were travelling in Rio.
We also wrote a specific article about our favela tour. Click here to read if you are interested.
9.30AM- Do a Rio de Janeiro Free City Tour
There is a Free Walking Tour in every major city in South America and it’s a great way to learn about a new city. We did one when we were travelling Rio. For people that hasn’t join a free walking tour before, the tour is free but you should pay tips to the guide depending on how you feel about the tour. The company we did this tour with is called Rio Free Walking Tour. The following is a few sites we went to during our free walking tour.
Theatro Municipa is built in 1909 and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Rio de Janeiro. The mayor at the time liked Paris building style and chose a style based on that. The building is located at the Cinelândia square and it’s the first building many people will see when they exit from the subway station.
The theater can hold up to 2360 people and are covered in golden decorations in the inside. Visit their official website if you are interested in doing a tour or seeing a show.
The Selaron Steps is a famous flight of stairs built by a famous Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón. He started his work with tiles found from different construction sites. Later when this work became more famous, tourists from across the world began to bring him tiles from different countries. The Selaron Steps now have with more than 2000 tiles which came from 60 different countries. It’s one of the cool and interesting places to visit when travelling in Rio city center.
Selarón considered the 125 meter long artwork incomplete and claimed that “This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”. The tiles are not just on the stairs, Selarón also tiled the surrounding walls. The Selaron Steps have appeared in the media many times such as in the TIME magazine and even in Snoop Dogg’s music video clip.
Carioca Aqueduct and Santa Teresa District
Close to the Selaron Steps in Lapa, there is the Carioca Aqueduct which is a huge 270 meter long waterway system that used to transfer water from the river Carioca. It was a marvelous engineering work at that time but the Aqueduct became useless after the city have water pipes. Luckily a tram line was built on top of this Aqueduct and this tram starts from the Santa Teresa station.
When travelling in Rio city, you should also visit Santa Teresa. It is an area built on the hill side and is famous for it’s graffiti. The streets are in this area are quite windy, so be careful not to get lost and watch your belongings!
Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro
Also in Lapa, there is a famous modern Cathedral called Cathedral of St. Sebastian. The shape of the Cathedral is in a shape of a pyramid. The unique part about his cathedral is that the outside appears very simple and ugly but the inside is extremely beautiful. Our guide told us that the design is to show that the inside of a person can be beautiful, no matter what the outside looks like.
The Cathedral is 75 meters tall and has a diameter of 106 meters. It can fit up to 20,000 people if everyone is standing. As this place is a popular location for tourists, there are no weddings held here. However there is a small building built inside this huge cathedral for people to pray. I really like the huge and beautiful color glass that is on four sides of this cathedral. Each of the glass tells a different story in the bible.
1 PM- Museu do Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow)
Museum of Tomorrow is an extremely new building that was only opened to the public in 17th of December 2015. It is built right next to the water front at Pier Maua. The building is extremely big and was an expensive project costing over 230 million BRL. The building is designed by a Spanish architect and it looks huge skeleton from afar. It is a futuristic building that uses 40% less energy than conventional buildings. We visited this place after our free walking tour.
The museum was extremely fascinating with many things to see and interact. The display inside this museum is not like the conventional museum. Instead of objects, the museum displays ideas. The concept of the museum is that tomorrow is not ready. Our thinking needs to be shaped to make this planet sustainable and allow use to live harmoniously with the environment.
Every section and displays all have Spanish, Portuguese and English and we spent almost over two hours to read half of the information in this museum. There were a lot of frightening and new information to absorb. During our visit we could see many schools were taking young kids on excursions here. Hopefully these children will help make this planet sustainable in the future.
The entrance ticket to this place is extremely cheap being only 10 BRL for adults. Luckily we also came on the only free day in the week which was Tuesday. We highly recommend this museum, and this museum is already becoming one of the most important land marks in Rio de Janeiro. It is now an important place visit when travelling in Rio.
4PM- Taking a Cable Car or Hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain is as iconic as Christ the Redeemer for people travelling in Rio. It is extremely beautiful from afar and is the main feature in many postcards. It’s also known to be one of the best places to watch the sunset in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately we had to go on our last day as it was the only sunny day and we had an international flight to catch that night. Otherwise we would have definitely stayed to watch the sunset.
Sugarloaf Mountain has two peaks. The lower peak is called the Urca mountain (396M) and the higher one is called Pão de Açúcar (220M). There are many lookouts on these mountains so you can see the beautiful beaches and city centers from different angles. On top of Urca Mountain, there are shops and restaurants and even a helicopter pad. At this location you can choose to purchase a helicopter ride to see Rio de Janeiro from above.
The conventional way to get to the top of the two Sugarloaf mountain peaks is to board the cable car which costs around $20USD per person. We did our researched before travelling to Rio and realized that the lower peak of Urca Mountain can also be reached via a 3km track. We didn’t bother boarding the cable car to the second peak as Winny’s friend who recently came here said that the view from Pão de Açúcar wasn’t any better.
There are many rain forest in Rio and the path that leads to Urca Mountain is one of these areas. Although we were in winter already, we still felt quite hot and humid when we were climbing this trek. There were many other locals climbing this trail so we felt quite safe and there were quite a few people climbing up just before sunset time.
There were many miniature monkey called marmoset in these mountain. They have huge eyes and are extremely cute. We saw a few families of these monkey running around the foot path. Beware that they may carry diseases and one of them even jumped on top of my head when I tried to get close for a photo.
From the lookouts on top of the Sugarloaf mountain, you can see Christ the Redeemer but the statue appears extremely small here. The mountain where the statue stands on turns red during sunset and it’s one of the best views that shouldn’t be missed when travelling in Rio.
Beaches in Rio de Janeiro
There are many famous and beautiful beaches in Rio de Janeiro. The safest beaches are Ipanema and Leblon where you can even walk on these beaches at night. Another famous beach is the Copacabana beach where the accommodation is cheaper and it’s a paradise for younger people. Copacabana beach is safe and fun during the day but it maybe a dangerous place to walk at night. However there is a night market close to beach side which I recommend people to have a look though.
Important notes when travelling in Rio de Janeiro
- Rio has many good tracks in the national parks but unfortunately due to the rain we couldn’t do many.
- Zika Virus outbreak is a big problem in Rio at the moment so remember to wear long sleeves and insect replant. However we did see many girls still wearing short shorts and singlets..
- Robbery and violence seems to be a problem in many places in Rio so try and keep your distance to strange looking people. We personally had angry young boys following us chanting racist coments.
- Most Brazilians are extremely helpful and most of them will help you if you have any questions or need some sort of help.