Hitting the Highlights in Rio de Janeiro
The combination of spectacular scenery, vibrant culture, and a remarkably modern and efficient public transportation system makes Rio de Janeiro one of the most exciting, authentic, and tourist-friendly cities in the world.
Rio de Janeiro is a temptress of a town. Forested mountains divide art deco buildings and white apartment blocks into surprisingly serene and navigable neighborhoods, while gleaming beaches punctuated by red umbrellas line the eastern edge. Throughout the city, the famous Christ Redeemer gazes down upon his domain of streets, sand, and soccer fields – his outstretched arms embracing them all. Not to mention the lust for life exuded by Cariocas – what the city’s gregarious and welcoming residents call themselves– from all walks of life.
This combination of spectacular scenery, vibrant culture, and a remarkably modern and efficient public transportation system makes Rio de Janeiro one of the most exciting, authentic, and tourist-friendly cities in the world.
It took only one day for me to fall in love with Rio. I arrived in the city after an over-night bus ride, expecting to be groggy and temperamental when faced with the challenges of traversing a massive metropolis on two hours’ sleep. Instead, I was charmed. Charmed by the helpfulness of bus drivers, pedestrians, and old men drinking from 1L glass bottles of ice-cold beer despite the early morning hour. Charmed by the pastel art deco houses and their elaborate façades and elegant shaded sidewalks. And especially charmed by the sun’s mid-morning sparkle on the waves lapping against the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
Revitalized by Rio and blessed with wonderful weather, I set off to conquer the city’s two most famous landmarks: Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain. Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) stands upon Corcovado Mountain, which abruptly rises 2,330 feet into the air and is visible from across the city. Accessible by historic train or private transportation, the trip to the top took about 20 minutes. A series of cement stairs and circular platforms leads to the base of the 148-foot statue. With arms outstretched and face stony, Christ the Redeemer recently received the honor of being named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. After snapping a photo of myself mimicking his iconic pose (some things simply have to be done) and pondering the cityscape, I made tracks for Sugarloaf.
Straddling the coast and the city, Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) is only about half the height of Corcovado, but offers equally impressive views. It is reached by an aerial tramway consisting of glass capsules attached to several thick cables which make the trip up a combination of thrill and beauty. As my futuristic glided skywards a panoramic view of Rio de Janeiro rapidly rolled out before my eyes and I scrambled to capture the moment on film.
The first stop is Urca Hill, a forested area frequented by curious Capuchin monkeys. A second short ride took me to the top of Sugarloaf, where the views are the best. By the time I was at the summit, a long day of traveling and sightseeing was coming to a close. The sun was beginning to set behind the mountains, creating a silhouette of Christ the Redeemer against a sherbet-swirled sky of oranges, pinks, and yellows. A cool breeze blew off the Atlantic Ocean and a hush fell over the hill as everyone watched the city slow disappear into the shadows. Sometimes there are no words.
But because this is Rio, nighttime was simply a transition rather than an end. The music drifting up from the beaches was impossible to ignore. The caipirinhas flowed and my love affair with Rio continued into the night.
All images for this blog were sourced from MaxPixel on a Creative Commons usage license.