by Dennis Bunnik
Like all people I flew into Rio with lots of preconceived notions and a little bit of apprehension – it was a place to party, had some good beaches but it was also a place where you had to be extra careful of your belongings, in fact if you believe some guidebooks you wouldn’t leave your hotel without an escort. Within 2 days my apprehensions were gone and I was ready to move to Rio de Janeiro – yes I want to live in Rio!
Rio de Janeiro – One of the World’s Greatest Cities
I’ve been lucky enough to visit many of the world’s great cities ranging from Tokyo, to London, New York and Istanbul but Rio de Janeiro is different. Where most cities are about business, commerce and getting ahead the locals of Rio realise that life is for living. Everywhere you look the locals are out enjoying a stroll, run or jog along endless walking trails, parks, and promenades. Along the beaches (and not just the main ones) there are cafes to enjoy a drink and exercise equipment to work it off. On the weekends roads along the beach are closed to most traffic and the locals take over. But even during the week the beaches are busy. Down on the beaches themselves for a few dollars you’ll be set up for the day with a beach chair and umbrella.
We arrived on a Sunday and on the way in from the airport our guide Marcia gave us some tips – leave your jewellery and passport in your hotel safe deposit box and then get out and enjoy Copacabana! Marcia, like all Cariocas (Rio locals), loved life and was our girl from Ipanema although she did proudly say she was born in Copacabana.
Once we’d checked into our hotel right on the beach in Copacabana, Marcia walked us around the local area pointing out all we needed to know. We then hit the beach, joining the locals for a stroll along the promenade and stopping for a refreshing coconut milk. We had to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that we were on Copacabana Beach in Rio!
Seeing the Sights
Our touring the next day included Rio’s most famous sights – Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain, with glorious views from both. We also stopped at the Samba Drama – the venue for the annual Carnival. Here for a few Reals we dressed up in some Carnival costumes for a fun photo. Throughout our time in the city, including the night market at Copacabana and the various sights never once were we pressured to buy anything or do anything – even the touts in Rio are relaxed!
A City that Never Sleeps!
On our first night we had dinner in the most amazing BBQ restaurant at Copacabana Beach where an endless procession of meat was brought to the table. On our second night we headed out to party! Marcia suggested the Lapa district – and Lavradio Street in particular. Here cafes, bars and restaurants spill out onto the street. The drinks were well priced and the atmosphere was brilliant. We were recommended to visit Rio Scenarium a four level music club and restaurant where locals outnumber the tourists and the party vibe was alive and kicking. Unfortunately we enjoyed the street so much (trying out 3 different places including a great pizza joint full of locals) that we never did make it inside. At 3am we caught a taxi back to the hotel – Lapa was still full of life.
Touring the Favelas
One of the best experiences we had in Rio (other than our night out in Lapa) was an optional tour we took of one of the Favelas. These poor areas are found occupying hills all over Rio and are home to over 1.5 million people. Our energetic guide Fabio picked us up from the hotel in an open jeep (another great way to experience Rio) and before long we were working our way up one of the city’s many hills. Fabio explained the history of the Favelas and the role they play in Rio – most residents work in the city and only a small percentage is controlled by drug gangs. Tours start on top of the hill and then you walk your way down through the Favela. Again the locals were wonderful, we laughed with the kids, bought a drink at a local café and talked football with some local teenagers. It was an eye opener to see this side of Rio – especially when we saw a mother and daughter of about 10 years of age heading off for ballet lessons. Fabio explained that these places are like a time warp and nothing really changes and that most girls have their first child at 14 or 15. Education programs are in place and all the children living in the Favelas go to government schools but still there is lots of work to be done.
Making the Most of Life in Rio de Janeiro
We finished our Rio stay with one last walk along Copacabana Beach with the early morning joggers before flying on to Iguazu Falls. Again we were outnumbered by locals getting in their outdoor fix before the start of their working day – it seems to me that the people of Rio have got the right idea about life. Words and photos only tell half the story – while in Rio I discovered the movie feature on my camera and managed to take a few video clips.
We stay right on Copacabana Beach on the majority of our small group tours to South America.