From sunrise helicopter tours over Christ the Redeemer to sunset cocktails overlooking Copacabana Beach, our Latin America experts Caroline and Ashleigh give us their top tips on what to do and see in Rio de Janeiro in 48 hours.
Get an epic introduction to Rio de Janeiro on your first day by seeing it from above on an unforgettable sunrise helicopter tour – a perfect way to take in Christ the Redeemer, the crescent beaches and the mountain peaks of Sugarloaf and Corcovado.
Back on the ground, go cycling along the coast past the iconic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches to build up an appetite for a traditional lunch. Try a feijoada (a delicious stew) or find a churrascaria (all-you-can-eat barbecue), and don’t miss out on a fresh passionfruit juice from one of Rio’s many juice houses – the perfect way to cool off.
After lunch, hop on a yellow tram and let your local guide take you on a walk around the hilltop Santa Teresa neighbourhood, whose steep streets are lined with colourful historic mansions as well as cocktail bars and restaurants with sweeping views over Guanabara Bay. It’s no surprise that Santa Teresa is an arty enclave, and there are several museums, galleries and artists’ studios here. Don’t miss Ruins Park, which has an art gallery built around the ruins of a mansion. Enjoy beautiful views over the city while listening to a live samba band (beware - Brazil’s music is infectious!).
Down in the bohemian Lapa neighbourhood, walk up the photogenic Selarón Steps for the iconic Rio holiday snap – named after their designer, Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, they are covered in bright mosaic tiles from the streets of Rio and around the world, in a symbol of global unity.
Ashleigh recommends a stay at the famous Belmond Copacabana Palace, which has a prime spot overlooking Copacabana Beach, for a quintessential Rio experience. ‘In the evening, linger over sunset cocktails at its iconic pool bar before immersing yourself in the city’s legendary nightlife scene with a visit to a Samba club’.
For another dose of art, take in some more of Rio’s art galleries or join a street art tour – this city is known for its colourful streets. Sporty types, meanwhile, shouldn’t miss the chance to take in a football match at the Maracana stadium, Brazil’s temple to football and a showcase for the Olympics in 2016, where you can also take a guided tour behind the scenes.
If you fancy getting away from the city, Caroline recommends hiking to the waterfalls in Tijuca National Park. Start with brunch and coffee at BistroPlage in the Botanical Garden – a beautiful, romantic spot - before setting out from Horto, behind the gardens. ‘It’s a strenuous half-an-hour hike through the jungle to the falls, but all the more rewarding once you reach them and can have a refreshing swim’.
If you’re after something more relaxing, find a spot on one of the palm tree-lined beaches, and catch some rays as the locals strut their stuff, strolling along the boardwalk and hitting the waves with their surfboards. Refuel with snacks and chilled beer from the kiosks.
To cap off your two days in Rio in style, have dinner at the city’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant, Oro, which is also considered to be amongst the world’s 50 best restaurants. Nestled in the hip Leblon district, it is presided over by chef Felipe Bronze, who is something of a TV star in Brazil, and its innovative dishes, which are as good to look at as to eat, are inspired by Rio’s traditional botecos (gastrobars) and street food. A signature churrasco dish at Oro is ox ribs braised for 48 hours, accompanied by banana farofa (Brazilian cassava). Also on offer are handpicked wines, craft beers, rare cachaças and signature cocktails.
If you have a little more time, says Caroline, ‘visit one of Rio’s famous samba schools, whose dancers rehearse all year long for their annual performance at the world-famous Carnival. Or head out to Barra, just outside the city, for a less touristy beach experience'.
After exploring Rio, Caroline's top tips include spending a few nights at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, which sits right by Iguazu Falls, or making the overland journey down the coast to laid-back Paraty, a colourful UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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