You might think that getting lost in Rio is not the best advice. But then you would miss all the fun stuff!
We are not the type of travelers to abide by or create top 10 lists. We wander towns and cities and hope to get lost in them. We enjoy exploring neighborhoods, one block at a time. We typically head out the door with a map tucked in our pocket and start walking. We follow our instincts and head down interesting streets or duck into quaint local restaurants or pubs.
Despite being armed with travel guide books and of course the world wide web, we find it is more exciting and interesting to make it up as you go. Rio is the perfect city for this.
Our first day in Rio, we wandered Copacabana and Ipanema. We snaked through narrow streets, strolled the beach boardwalks, people-watched and then binged on the best Indian/Thai food we’ve had in 10 months. Rain kept us indoors more than we would have liked. But coming back to Rio after an island break refueled us to explore even more.
The second time around we stayed in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, which was much more our speed. The first time, in Botafogo, we felt a bit blocked in. It lacked the neighborhood feel we look for. In Santa Theresa there is no shortage of interesting streets, shops, restaurants, architecture, street art or panoramic vistas. Perhaps a bit more touristy, but also more interesting, Santa Teresa has a clear personality – lively and colorful.
We did take in some of the more “can’t miss” tourist attractions such as Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf. We recommend the train up to Christ the Redeemer – we initially had ambitions to hike to the Christ – but the train gives you the best of both worlds: exposure to the jungle and a comfortable, easy ride. Tip – if the Christ is engulfed in a cloud when you get to the top, just wait a minute, it will likely blow over and you’ll have a clear view.
At Sugar Loaf, the price is a bit steep, but we couldn’t say no. The tram ride is short, but the potential view and the feat of constructing such a tram connecting two giant rocks in the middle of the city in and of itself is reason enough to fork over the cash! The day we chose for our tram ride was cloudy, unfortunately. We had a view on our first stop, but on the second stop, we were engulfed in clouds with no hopes of breaking through. But we still felt it was worth it. The ride itself is invigorating. It really is a “must do” while in Rio.
A couple things we recommend in and around the Santa Teresa and Lapa neighborhoods are the free trolly between Santa Teresa and Lapa, the famous Lapa stairs (Escadaria Selaron), which we only stumbled on because we were “lost,” and the cathedral (Metropolitan Cathedral). I’m sure these are all on some “top 10” list of must-see attractions, but we enjoyed discovering them somewhat accidentally.
However you like to travel, put Rio on your list. Yes, do a little research so you don’t miss the highlights. But remember to explore. Don’t be afraid to get lost, explore a street not mentioned in the guidebook. Ignore Trip Advisor for once and take a risk on a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Yes, there are some dodgy spots in Rio, but there are dodgy spots in NYC as well. Don’t let fear determine how big your world is. Get out there and discover it.