A passion for samba, football and food meets the beauty of golden beaches, lush mountains and character-filled neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro. Infused with the effervescent Brazilian way of life, this South American gem is set to turn things up a notch as the host of the 2016 Olympic Games.
Life in Rio revolves around the sun-drenched seascapes rolling onto its doorstep. The locals live for that feeling of sand crunching between their toes, skin bathed in warm rays, salt clinging to the air. For travellers, it’s a right of way to join in. Nowhere else do the beachy vibes match it: zesty chic, yet relaxed in a way that only the Brazilians can pull off. Ipanema and Copacabana are Rio's world-famous sandy stretches, iconic for their teeny-weeny bikinis, long-roaming seaside paths and impeccable natural backdrops. But there are many other lesser-known, more subdued patches of sand to splash right in or simply roll out a beach towel to escape the concrete chaos.
Colourful Santa Teresa opens the door to a different side of Rio. Adorned in winding, narrow streets and aging, pastel-coloured colonial mansions, this creative hub forms the artistic heart of this pulsating city. A fascinating and friendly neighbourhood clinging to the jungle-clad hillside, it's a rewarding area to explore on foot. Discover artists’ studios, admire the architecture and seek out the famous artfully tiled Stairs of Selaron. For art, drop into the Museu Chacara do Ceu and for history, hop aboard the historic tram that’s been rambling through these streets since the late 19th century. For the hungry, Santa Teresa is renowned for its restaurant scene and lively bars.
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A multiplicity of flavours and influences congregate in this cosmopolitan city where prime farmland in the fringing green forests cascade down to meet what lurks in the deep blue sea. Throw in a pinch of multiculturalism and a heaped cup of traditional Brazilian cooking and Rio is ready to devour. At the top of the list of must-eats is the popular feijoada – stewed beans in pork gravy sidelined by potatoes, kale, crisp pork crackling, farofa and refreshing orange. The Bahian classic moqueca (seafood stew) and coxinha (fried chicken dumplings) are also favourite local bites. As the capital, Rio proudly claims some of the finest churrascarias in the country – the nation’s traditional all-you-can-eat barbeque grills. Keep eating and you’ll discover amazing street food on every corner, native juice bars and many fashionable upscale where the bites are frequently accompanied by crisp capiranha cocktails.
When it comes to shopping in Rio, it can be expensive even by South American standards. So it pays to do a little research to find an area in your price bracket before you set off to decorate those arms in shopping bags. Thankfully, variety abounds. Rio’s most famous buys are its incomparable beachwear and gemstone jewellery. Brazil is one of the world’s largest suppliers of coloured gemstones – just be sure to stick to shops with certificates. Brazillian coffee, arts and crafts, music and summer clothing in natural fibres make up some other top local buys. Fashionable, boutique-filled Ipanema is sure to please, but nearly every district has its own shopping centre or mall. Atmospheric markets ranging from antiques to fresh produce spring to life around the city throughout the week to inject extra shopping potential.
In Brazil the local language is Portuguese – not Spanish like many other South American countries. It’s a good idea to arrive armed with a Portuguese phrase book to help you get by.
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