Rio is divided into three...
Rio is divided into three sections: Zona Norte (North Zone), Zona Sul (South Zone), and the 'downtown' area that separates them, called Centro. Centro is a sprawling collection of several districts that contain the city's oldest neighborhoods, churches, and most enchanting cafés. Except for some museums, churches, and historical sights, most of the tourism activity is in the beach- and hotel-laden Zona Sul.
To sense the carioca spirit, spend a day on Copacabana and walk from the Avenida Atlântica to Ipanema. The western extension of Ipanema, Leblon, is an affluent, intimate community flush with good, small restaurants and bars. The more distant southern beaches, beginning with São Conrado and extending past Barra da Tijuca to Grumari, become richer in natural beauty and increasingly isolated. Rio's subway system, the metrô, is clean, safe, and efficient -- a delight to use -- but it's not comprehensive. Reaching sights distant from metrô stations can be a challenge. Local buses are inexpensive and can take you anywhere you want to go. Route maps aren't available, but the tourist office has lists of routes to the most popular sights.Here's our highly selective list of the very best things to see and do.
CABLE-CAR RIDE TO SUGARLOAF.
The panoramic trip to Pão d'Açucar, or Sugarloaf, the soaring 1,300-ft granite block standing at the mouth of Guanabara Bay, is not to be missed. Italian-made bubble cars holding 75 passengers each move up the mountain in two stages, the first stopping at the Morro da Urca, a smaller mountain in front of Sugarloaf, and the second continuing on to the summit, each stage taking three minutes.
The former official residence of Brazil's presidents now houses the Museu da República (Museum of the Republic). On display are presidential memorabilia, including period furniture and paintings. Rua do Catete 153, PHONE: 021/225-4302. COST: Free on Wed. Tues.-Sun. noon-5, weekends 2-6.
CRISTO REDENTOR (CHRIST THE REDEEMER).
Since it was placed atop the 2,300-ft peak of Corcovado mountain in 1931, this figure -- a statue of Christ with his arms apart as if he were embracing the city -- has been one of the most famous symbols of Rio. It stands 100 ft tall on a 20-ft pedestal, weighs 700 tons, and is visible night and day from most of the city's neighborhoods. 20 min. train ride from Cosme Velho Sta.; or by winding road.
Maddening traffic, unbearable noise, packed apartment blocks, and one of the world's most famous beaches -- this is Copacabana, a Manhattan with bikinis. You can swim here, although pollution levels and a strong undertow can sometimes be discouraging. Two blocks from the beach and running parallel to it is Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, the neighborhood's main commercial street, whose sidewalks are always crowded with the colorful characters that give Copacabana its special flavor.
FEIRA NORDESTINO (NORTHEASTERN FAIR).
Held every Sunday morning at the Campo de São Cristóvão, 6 AM-1 PM, the crowded, noisy fair is a social event for northeastern Brazilians living in Rio, who gather to hear their own distinctive music, eat regional foods, and buy tools and cheap clothing.
What preserves this spectacular beach, the most beautiful and unspoiled in Rio, is precisely the fact that it has not yet been 'discovered.' Located 30 minutes from Ipanema on a road that hugs the coastline, Grumari can be reached only by car. Grumari doesn't have the amenities of the resorts, but it does have a glorious copper-sand beach and quiet cove backed by low hills covered with tropical vegetation.
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As you stroll along this beach, you'll catch a cross section of the city's residents. There's an area dominated by families, a spot near Copacabana that tantalizes surfers, and even a strand favored by the gay community. For a close-up look at the posh apartment buildings, stroll down beachfront Avenida Vieira Souto, or drive around the lagoon on Avenida Epitácio Pessoa. Also check out Praça Nossa Senhora da Paz, which is lined with wonderful restaurants and bars.
JARDIM BOTÂNICO (BOTANICAL GARDEN).
The 340-acre garden, one of Rio's most striking natural attractions, contains more than 5,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees, including 900 varieties of palms. The garden makes for a marvelous afternoon stroll -- especially on a hot day, when the temperature here is usually a good 10 °F cooler than it is on the street. Rua Jardim Botânico 1008, PHONE: 021/294-6012. COST: Free.
A lake, a neighborhood, a park, a leisure area, a postcard... Lagoa is all this and more. It is the heart of Rio's affluent South Side, surrounded by favorite neighborhoods like Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Gavea, and Jardim Botânico
LARGO DO BOTICÁRIO.
A few blocks uphill from the Museu de Arte Naif on Rua Cosme Velho is this picturesque, cobblestone square with seven pastel colonial residences. Music and other cultural events are often held here. Rua Cosme Velho 822.
MUSEU CARMEN MIRANDA.
This tribute to the Brazilian bombshell is in a circular building that resembles a concrete spaceship (its door even opens upward). On display are some of the elaborate costumes and incredibly high platform shoes worn by the actress, who was viewed as a national icon by some and as a traitor to true Brazilian culture by others. Hollywood photos of Miranda, who was only 46 when she died of a heart attack in 1955, show her in her trademark turban and jewelry. You'll also find her records, movie posters, and such memorabilia as the silver, hand-held mirror she was clutching when she died. Av. Rui Barbosa 560, Flamengo, PHONE: 021/551-2597. COST: Free. Tues.-Fri. 11-5, weekends 10-4. Metrô: Flamengo.
MUSEU CASA DO PONTAL
. If you're heading toward Prainha or beyond to Grumari, consider taking a detour to Brazil's largest folk-art museum. One room houses a wonderful mechanical sculpture that represents all of the escolas de samba that march in the Carnaval parades. Another mechanical 'scene' depicts a circus in action. This private collection is owned by a French expatriate, Jacques Van De Beuque, who has been collecting Brazilian treasures -- including religious pieces -- since he arrived in the country in 1946. Estrada do Pontal 3295, Grumari, PHONE: 021/490-3278 or 021/539-4914. COST: Admission fee. Tues.-Sun. 9-5.
MUSEU CHÁCARA DO CÉU.
The outstanding modern-art collection in the quaintly named Museum of the Small Farm of the Sky includes originals by such modern masters as Picasso, Braque, Dalí, Degas, Matisse, Modigliani, and Monet. It also contains works by Brazil's leading modernists, such as Portinari, Volpi, and Di Cavalcanti. Rua Murtinho Nobre 345, PHONE: 021/507-1932. COST: Free. Wed.-Mon. noon-5.
MUSEU DE ARTE NAIF DO BRASIL.
More than 8,000 native works by Brazil's best artists (as well as works by other self-taught painters from around the world) grace the walls of this lovely colonial mansion. The pieces in what is reputedly the world's largest and most complete collection of primitive paintings date from the 15th century through contemporary times. Don't miss the colorful, colossal canvas that depicts the city of Rio; it reportedly took five years to complete. This museum developed from a collection begun decades ago by a jewelry designer who later created a foundation to oversee the art. A small gift shop sells postcards, T-shirts, and other items. Rua Cosme Velho 561, Tijuca, PHONE: 021/205-8612 or 021/205-8547. COST: Admission. Tues.-Fri. 10-6, weekends noon-6.
MUSEU HISTÓRICO NACIONAL (NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM).
An intriguing collection of colonial buildings houses an archive of rare documents and colonial artifacts. The first section, called 'Brazil as a Colony,' is now on permanent display. Praça Marechal Ancora, PHONE: 021/550-9266. COST: Free. Tues.-Fri. 10-5:30, weekends 2-6.
MUSEU NACIONAL DE BELAS ARTES (MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS).
View works by Brazil's leading 19th- and 20th-century artists, including canvases by the country's best-known modernist, Cândido Portinari. Av. Rio Branco 199, PHONE: 021/240-0068. COST: Free. Tues.-Fri. 10-6, weekends 2-6.
NOSSA SENHORA DA GLÓRIA DO OUTEIRO.
This elegant 1739 church, with its octagonal floor plan, large dome, ornamental stonework, and vivid tilework, is a prime example of colonial Brazilian baroque architecture. Praça da Glória 135, PHONE: 021/557-4600. Tues.-Fri. 9-noon and 1-5, weekends 9-noon.
QUINTA DA BOA VISTA.
West of downtown, set amid the entrancing, landscaped grounds of a former royal estate, you'll find pools and marble statues as well as the Museu Nacional and the Jardim Zoológico, Rio's zoo. Housed in what was once the imperial palace (circa 1803), the museum has exhibits on Brazil's past and on its flora, fauna, and minerals -- including the biggest meteorite (5 tons) found in the Southern Hemisphere. Entrance at corner of Av. Paulo e Silva and Av. Bartolomeu de Gusmão, PHONE: 021/568-7400 (museum); 021/569-2024 (zoo). COST: Admission fee. Tues.-Sun. 9-4:30. Metrô: San Cristóvão.
SÍTIO ROBERTO BURLE MARX.
Beyond Grumari the road winds through mangrove swamps and tropical forest. It's an apt setting for the plantation-turned-museum where Brazil's famous landscape designer, Roberto Burle Marx, is memorialized. Marx, the mind behind Rio's mosaic beachfront walkways and the Aterro do Flamengo waterfront park, was said to have 'painted with plants' and was the first designer to use Brazilian flora in his projects. More than 3,500 species -- including some discovered by and named for Marx as well as many on the endangered list -- flourish at this 100-acre estate. Estrada da Barra de Guaratiba 2019, Guaratiba, PHONE: 021/410-1412 or 021/410-1171. COST: Admission fee. Daily 9-4. Tours by appointment.
MOSTEIRO DE SÃO BENTO.
The monastery's ornate interior, with gold-leaf-covered wood carvings, is extraordinarily rich and beautiful, and the view of Guanabara Bay is one of the most peaceful in Rio. On some Sundays, mass here is accompanied by Gregorian chant. Rua Dom Gerardo 32, PHONE: 021/291-7122. COST: Free. Daily 8-11, 2:30-5:30.
With its cobblestone streets, this is Rio's most delightfully eccentric neighborhood. Gabled Victorian mansions are intermingled with alpine chalets and more prosaic dwellings, often hanging at unbelievable angles from the flower-encrusted hillside. Rio's distinctive trolley cars ('bondes') run between Santa Teresa and Centro.
A STROLL ALONG AVENIDA ATLÂNTICA.
Rio's privileged live along Copacabana's beachfront road, famed for its wide mosaic sidewalks, hotels, bars, and cafés. A walk along the 2-mi crescent curve of the beach is a must. You'll see the essence of Rio beach life, a cradle-to-grave lifestyle that begins with toddlers accompanying their parents to the water and ends with graying seniors walking hand in hand along the beach sidewalk.
TEATRO PAÇO IMPERIAL.
One of Rio's few restored colonial buildings, this two-story structure is notable for its thick stone walls and entranceway, and its courtyard paved with huge stone slabs. Theatrical, musical, and dance performances are held here. Praça 15 de Novembro 48, PHONE: 021/533-4407. COST: Free. Tues.-Sun.
It may seem an insignificant item but it was confirmed to me by people in both RIO DE JANEIROas well as SAO PAULO that there is a bit of rivalry between these two large cities. The folks in RIO perceive themselves to be happy go lucky and their neighbours to the South to be too serious but the view in SAO PAULO express their sentiments differently.
As they see it, from their perspective, the folks in the North are laid back and lazy and not seriously industrious and all of this reminded me of the same kind of rivalries that exist in the United States.
We had much the same perceptions about the people in San Francisco and these rivalries are prevalent in many parts of the country.
Aside from that, and I find this common in many countries, has to do with the quality of their fruits and vegetables. Throughout most of the world, and especially in Brazil, the vegetable varieties and their overall quality is vastly superior to what we see in the supermarkets of the United States.
Every little mercado or major supermarket, restauarant or salad bar that we visited gave us the impression that everything in Brazil was larger, tastier and of higher quality. I thought that I knew a lot about a commonly seen fruit in the Tropics, the MANGO but now that we have been to this part of the World, the trees simply dwarf those seen elsewhere, they are like mighty oaks to the trees I grew up with in Hawaii, for sake of comparison.
The same holds for the pork and beef, it is tastier.
The beef in the United States used to taste as it does now in Brazil. Something is happening!
A final observation from these and other travels are the children. They are lean, trim and fit. There is a paucity of OBESITY which I see as a really serious problem in North American children, and that includes CANADA. We are definitely doing something wrong here and had better wake up.
A favorite soft drink in Brazil is GUARANA which is like Pepsi or Coca Cola, in that it's carbonated. Some enterprising young Brasilian should establish a business in the United States and import this drink, it is terrific, that is what I really miss, may daily GUARANA so if someone should eventually import the product they will have me as a steady customer.