A taste of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro. Not a bad starting point for a six-week tour of South and Central America. Our time in Rio was a heady whirlwind of sightseeing the major attractions, downing caipirinhas in Lapa bars, sunbathing on Copacabana beach, running in the summer rain through Ipanema, watching the sun set from our rooftop apartment, and continuously pinching ourselves that we were at the very beginning of what was sure to be an epic trip.

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I arrived in Rio in the morning with one priority: Dump my bags, race down to the beach, and wriggle my toes in the warm sand. London was in the depths of winter and I was craving heat and sunshine. Copacabana was one block from our Airbnb apartment, and I was surprised by how much it reminded me of Sydney’s beaches with its yellow sand and surf.Rio de Janeiro-1

With time not our our side for meandering around the city at leisure, we booked in for a city tour with Be A Local to hit all the big ‘must-do’ sights. First stop on our tour was Christo Redeemer. Arriving at 1pm, there was a 15-minute queue to get on one of the private minivans that take visitors inside the protected forest to the statue. I was told on weekends the wait can be more than two hours.Rio de Janeiro-3Rio de Janeiro-2

Up at the top, it was packed with tourists, all elbowing and shoving their way to prime selfie position. In the blazing sun, with all those people, it was not a leisurely experience. If I had more time, I would go without a tour, and arrive when the gates open in the morning.

Insider tip: One of my favourite hotel brands, Belmond, are offering sunrise picnics at Christ the Redeemer, where guests of Copacabana Palace can enjoy the statue in solitude along with a spectacular sunrise. Worth shelling out for a room at the landmark hotel for that reason alone, in my book. I wish so much my itinerary had coincided with one of their weekly picnics.Rio de Janeiro-5

The edgy neighbourhood of Santa Teresa is, again, one I yearn to return to explore in more depth. The hilltop region is home to hipsters and hippies, spilling out of bars and cafes and lounging in the sun on sidewalks in big groups.

The iconic tram tracks run through the district, with the line expected to re-launch this year, having been suspended following a tragic accident in 2011 that killed five.Rio de Janeiro-6Rio de Janeiro-7

In neighbouring Lapa, we visited Escadaria Selaron, the famous tiled steps created by late Chilean artists Jorge Selaron, which have become a beloved landmark of the bohemian suburb.

We ended the day at Sugarloaf. A cable car ride up the mountain deposited us on the top just in time for the magic hour, with all of Rio bathed in a golden halo. A magical end to a day scratching but the surface of the much-loved Brazilian city.Rio de Janeiro-9Rio de Janeiro-10