Last week we explored the tourist side of Rio de Janeiro. This week I want to highlight some of the neighborhoods in the city. Rio is one of the largest cities in Brazil, second only to Sao Paolo. Most of the hilltop neighborhoods in Rio are favelas, unsanctioned shantytowns that boast the poorer populations. Ironically, these portions of the city also boast the best views and sadly the most crime. The government has undertaken a campaign to clean up these areas ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, but they are still not areas you want to wander into without a guide.
We really only got to properly explore a few of the neighborhoods during our week in Rio. There are so many to choose from depending on what you’re interested in – from the shopping and beaches of Leblon and Copacabana to the more artsy Santa Teresa – there is literally something for everyone!
Centro is the historic core of Rio, as well as its financial center. The neighborhood is a mixture of commercial and historic buildings, which makes for a really interesting stroll. The historical buildings are simply gorgeous – it almost felt like we were in Europe! The churches were especially stunning and unexpected for the commercial district.
Lapa is located in the more central part of modern Rio and is famous for its historical monuments and nightlife. We walked around the neighborhood briefly on our way back from Centro, but decided to catch a bus back to Botafoga after witnessing a couple having their camera stolen by some street kids.
We returned to Lapa later in the week for a little samba dancing with a group from our hostel. We ended up branching off with some of the girls in our room who had a local contact, so we definitely got the local experience. The club was hot, sweaty, and all sorts of fun (big smile). As a word of warning to the ladies, well, it is samba. Dancing with a guy, even samba, is perfectly acceptable. Accepting a drink or making out, however, is apparently the equivalent of agreeing to go home with the guy. And the boys seem to take that very seriously. Just fyi. My group had a great time though and danced our little derrieres off! Unfortunately on our way back to the hostel, while trying to find a cab, a street kid literally ran up and snatched my necklace off of me while his friend tried to grab my friend’s purse. Luckily she was able to hold on it and the boy let go. Neither of us saw them coming or going – and we were walking in a group of 6+ people. Just a head’s up – leave the extras in lockup. If you can’t tuck it in somewhere, it’s not worth taking.
We stayed in a hostel in Botafogo, which was a small middle-class type neighborhood. There were a lot of hostels, small art galleries, and tourist shops. It was quiet and we didn’t feel threatened after dark. Turns out that means a lot in Rio.
Beaches – Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana
I think it’s safe to say that most of our time was spent at the beaches – duh! it’s Rio! We walked up and down the beaches perching along the way to people watch. The people watching rumors are totally true – lots of beautiful people and very tiny swimsuits (smile)! It’s very easy to rent umbrellas and there’s inevitably a stall nearby selling coconuts and beer. There are also a lot of vendors who walk up and down the beach offering massages, various goods, etc.
We spent New Year’s Eve on Copacabana beach with several million of our closest friends. The tradition is to wear white and bring booze to share. The streets in and out of the beaches are closed to traffic, so you either have to get a ticket on the metro way ahead of time or walk. Be prepared. There’s always a huge concert on the beach and the year we were there we got to see David Guetta, which was of course cool. My travel buddy is one of those people that makes friends with everyone, so she had a great time. I was a little more busy trying not to freak out about the crowd (it was a tiny bit claustrophobic). Did I mention it was also raining? Oh well, it was a once-in-a-lifetime NYE – from the incredible off shore fireworks display to the all night beach party with some amazing people. I don’t regret any of it – well, except having to be at the airport at 8am the next morning for our flight to Ecuador. Oops!
Overall Rio de Janeiro was a beautiful destination and most definitely an adventure! From the sky-high attractions to the lovely neighborhoods, there is something for everyone and more than enough to keep you entertained. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in visiting Brazil, just remember to pack your street smarts (smile)!