Just in time for the 2013 edition of the Billabong Pro Rio, here's a local's view to the city of god, Caipirinhas and some of the hottest parties in the whole wide world... Not to forget the surf of course!
Words by Taylor Barnes
The beach is only the gateway to festive and beautiful Rio. Tropical rainforest abuts posh scenes fit for a novella set and refurbished dance halls from Rio’s colonial quarter lead to the characteristic favelas on hillsides around the city, which take you full circle to the under-construction 2016 Olympic Park and downtown soccer stadium Maracanã. A walk along the black-and-white sidewalk grants turquoise Atlantic views whereas a hike up into a favela offers competitively stunning views of what happens when urbanisation and the tropics meet. And all of this is under the watchful gaze of the Cristo statue, who lights up at night and appropriately occupies the city’s highest point.
A walk along the black-and-white sidewalk grants turquoise Atlantic views whereas a hike up into a favela offers competitively stunning views of what happens when urbanisation and the tropics meet.
Visitors congregate in the “Zona Sul" of the city, where beachside neighborhoods like Ipanema and Copacabana offer views of the open ocean where intimidatingly strong waves and beer vendors are never far away. Skaters and cyclists can enjoy rounds on the ramp of the city’s lagoon. But to stay just in the Zona Sul would be a mistake. The grungy downtown party neighbourhood Lapa always has a live show and street vendors, while the dilapidated Port Zone of the city is getting a facelift and hosts outdoor samba called Pedra do Sal. A new policing program has made outsiders more comfortable than ever to explore the city’s favelas, be it the beach views from steep Vidigal or the cable car that cruises the peaks of Complexo Alemão. Far-flung beaches like the recluse Prainha or Itacoatiara are paradise on the edge of a bustling city.
Beer is often cheaper than water in Rio de Janeiro. Residential streets are stacked with botecos or botequins, simple bars where workers relax around plastic tables. A series of kiosks along the beach also offer a variety of caipirinhas, Brazil’s national drink made of cachaça, a sugar-based alcohol, and lime.
The pedestrian-only Rua do Ouvidor is the spot for a casual drink and bite. For those looking for something more active, the downtown Lapa neighborhood is a fine place to both start and end the night. The Centro Cultural Carioca (Rua do Teatro, 37 ) on the revitalised Praça Tiradentes is a simple-but-classy bar and dance hall for the most classic of Brazilian samba and forró music. For greasy eats and beer, the Pizzaria Guanabara (Av. Mem de Sá, 17) offers the best outdoor views for people watching and is a landmark of the neighborhood. The site Lá na Lapa is user-friendly and up-to-date with shows in the area, and you’ll never not find a good time if you simply stroll the streets around the neighborhood’s trademark white arches. A five-minute taxi from Lapa is the city’s best new bet, the Casarão Amena Resedá (Rua Bento Lisboa, 4). The scattered tables in the spacious dance hall allow guests to chat and enjoy some of the city’s most contemporary menus while there’s also space to dance along with the owners impeccably-chosen performers.
Further into the downtown near the under-reconstruction Maracanã soccer stadium, the Praça da Bandeira is an up-and-coming gastronomical centre of the city where only the dedicated hounds have found the city’s best beer. The Aconchega Carioca (Rua Barão de Iguatemi, 388) has a wide selection of national brands and imports, not to mention a creative menu of appetisers that deviates from the oft-monolithic Brazilian diet of beef and beans.
But if you like the hearty basics, take the local favourite in the favela Chapeu-Mangueira. The Bar do David (Ladeira Ary Barroso, 66, a steep climb from behind the Leme beach and past a new policing unit) serves the beans, beer and toasted manioc flour that most Brazilians call lunch.
Further into the downtown near the under-reconstruction Maracanã soccer stadium, the Praça da Bandeira is an up-and-coming gastronomical centre of the city where only the dedicated hounds have found the city’s best beer.
Rio prices are hardly enticing and the quality of apparel varies from hem-less to average, but for those looking for Brazilian items like soccer jerseys and capoeira martial arts pants, a good downtown market called Saara serves up the hits (and a fair few misses too). The metro stop Central, Uruguaiana and Presidente Vargas will drop you off at various points off it. Similar wares to those of Saara are found at the market below the large favela Rocinha. The “Hippie Fair" on Sundays in Ipanema is as packed as it is overpriced, shop at your own risk though you will indeed find charming handicrafts. The bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa has a series of good craft and clothing stores too.
Hotels in Rio are hardly cheap, but residents have made ample use of Airbnb to offer the city’s best prices. Hostels in Copacabana, Botafogo and Catete are fine options that allow easy access to the beaches (check out Hostel República, El Misti Hostel, and Vila Carioca Hostel. Neighbourhoods like Flamengo and Glória are increasingly popular for being along the metro and offering nice walking paths along the bay. Laranjeiras is the ideal neighborhood for those looking for a residential and cozy feel. Ipanema is the classic for those who want to be at the heart of the beach doing some hot people-watching.
Brazilians are hardly known for their penchant for spice and variety; however, dedicated foodies have staked out their claims around the city. An unmissable tribute to the foods of Brazil’s north and Amazon regions is the terrace restaurant Espírito Santa in Santa Teresa (Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 264). The extensive menu has piranha stews, açaí berry sauces and vegetarian polenta dishes, not to mention the most creative caipirinhas of the city. For a twist on the typical Brazilian pastel (crispy fried pasty with fillings), the Bar do Adão (Rua Dona Mariana, 81; there are several other branches as well) in Botafogo offers dozens of fillings, such as brie with apricot or gorgonzola with hearts of pine. Carnivores willing to shell out for the city’s tip-top churrascaria are obliged to head to Porcão (Rua Barão da Torre, 218 or Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, Aterro do Flamengo). The managers have been known to give half-price access to the salad bar for vegetarians with suave negotiating skills. Santa Filomena (Rua Santa Filomena, 10) is a delightful new place for handcrafted foods with Brazilian bases. But nothing can be more traditionally Brazilian than a fresh juice, be it pineapple with mint or passion fruit with tangerine, at a lanchonete. Tacacá do Norte (Rua Barão do Flamengo, 35), which sells pure açaí from the north of the country along with shrimp and crab dishes, attracts devotees from far across the city and is the only snack bar of its kind in Rio.
Nothing can be more traditionally Brazilian than a fresh juice, be it pineapple with mint or passion fruit with tangerine, at a lanchonete.
Rio offers world-class museums free to the public. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (Rua Primeiro de Março, 66) hosts splendid expositions both Brazilian and international, leaving the CCBB also conveniently spits you out onto the Rua do Ouvidor for a snack and drink afterwards. The Museu da Arte Moderna (Av. Infante Dom Henrique, 85) is another beautiful space along the yacht-strewn bay of Guanabara. The Museo da Maré (Avenida Guilherme Maxwell, 26) is a great find, a lovely small museum which tells the story of the once-marshland massive favela called the Complexo da Maré. The Teatro Municipal (Av. 13 de Maio, 33), recently renovated, hosts top-quality travelling dance troupes and orchestras, as does the Teatro João Caetano (Praça Tiradentes, 9). The most carioca (from Rio) shows to be had are at the city’s far-flung samba schools, such as Imperio Serrano and Mangueira, which host opens dances often on weekends.
For adventure and scenery, a trip either up the cable car of the Sugarloaf mount or the Cristo statue is obligatory for the insane view. Kayaking on the bay of Guanabara gets similar views with a bit more effort and thrill. Surfers say Ipanema and Leblon are the best for their sport in the Zona Sul of the city; however, a trek to the prainha far south of the city will put either to shame. Hanggliding from the Pedra Bonita is a great way to get side-by-side views of the Rocinha favela and the posh São Conrado neighborhood. A hike up its sister mount, the Pedra da Gávea, is a sweat-inducing exercise that will remind you that before Rio was the Olympic city, it was a jungle.
Hostel/backpackers: from £12/15 euros
Basic Hotel: drom £60/75 euros
Airbnb: from £16/20 Euros
Burger and fries: from £1.60/2 Euros
Three course meal: from £14/18 Euros
Beer/Cooler/Wine: from £1/1.20 Euro
Shooters: £1.60/2 Euros
Cocktails: £2.40/3 Euros
Transport and Danger
Rio’s metro is fast and safe but it closes around midnight on most nights. Buses and the Supervia train system serve a larger part of the city and are quite safe if you find the bus that can take you closest to where you’re going. Cabs are not pricey and a fine way to keep safe on the way back home after the metro closes. Some safety tips: - Take only the belongings you need out with you - Never wear too much bling or flash too much cash - Ask locals before going into a favela that doesn’t have a permanent police unit to make sure no police operation will be happening - Be cautious with ATMs, especially ones in areas frequently used by foreigners, since card-cloning scams are common - Be wary of those who offer rides or lodgings to strangers