Blame it on Rio

By on January 27, 2009
There is nowhere on earth quite like Rio de Janeiro. The very mention of the name conjures up images of unparalleled hedonism, tropical splendour, beautiful people and of course carnival. Add to this the darker side of street gangs and a distressing level of urban poverty and this isn’t your normal family holiday destination. But hold on, isn’t this the year you said you’d be adventurous and break the mould? Then Rio beckons.

With its surreal setting between rainforest covered mountains and the sea, the city’s spirit is infectious. Seven million ‘cariocas’, as the residents call themselves, exude a friendliness and a passion for living unlike any other.

The Zona Sul offers most of the city’s attractions, including Sugar Loaf mountain and Rio’s famous beaches, while Zona Norte offers the world famous “Maracanã” Stadium. Centro is home to the majority of the cultural and historic sites while Zona Oeste is the most modern part of the city; ‘Barra da Tijuca’ with outstanding beaches, and plenty of malls and parks.

The Zona Sul makes for a perfect base and houses the best hotels. Stay in the beach neighbourhoods of Copaccabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Ipanema is the classy destination where the beautiful flock to and “Everyone is beautiful in Rio!” Miles of sweeping beaches end abruptly with the “Morra de Rochina” rising over the slums of Rochina Favela.  The pure white sand is the playground for the ‘cariocas’. See groups perform ‘capoeira’, a mix of martial art and dance, to the beat of Atabaque drums and the Berimbau. Beaches – take your pick; the “Copa” is a little seedy, the “Jardim” cooler. Families should head for the “Arpoador” end. Watch the hang gliders land at “Pepino” and go to “Posto 9” for the original ‘Girl from Ipanema’ beach with its bohemian feel. Everywhere the beaches are alive with thongs, speedos and Barbie and Ken bodies. Beach sellers ply their wares, and everyone struts. It’s a non-stop Baywatch episode!

Explore the lush Forest of Tijuca, the world’s biggest urban forest in the world; enjoy a tour of the “Maracanã” stadium, and see Neidermeyer’s iconic National art gallery resembling a giant UFO. Sugar Loaf mountain and the statue of Christ The Redeemer at the top of Corcovado mountain might be tourist clichés, but they define the Rio experience. Pick up your stuffed spiders and piranhas at Sunday’s Ipanema Hippie Market and then move onto the main drag of Rua Visconda Piraji, Rio’s chicest, packed with ‘botiquims’ (street corner bars), and trendy boutiques. At night, on the floodlit beaches, the ball games continue in the luminescent surf and the twinkling lanterns of the Favela shine in the distance. Take a trip out of the city to cruise the Amazon, which lies only a few hours away, and you’ll be able to strike off 2 must do’s from the list of family adventures of a lifetime.

And if that wasn’t enough…
February is the peak of summer with the carnival exploding on Saturday Feb 20, and running until the end of Fat Tuesday, or Mardi-Gras. Officially 4 days of the hardest partying on the planet, lunacy and wildness are the order of both the day and night. Nothing compares to this frenzy; the Sambadrome parades, the floats, the dancing, the partying and the pleasure. The city is packed and it’s hard to get a room for the whole summer is Carnival season where it only takes a matter of hours to be swallowed whole by Rio’s excesses, no matter what time of the year you visit.

A word of caution – While it would be foolish to forget that when in Rio common sense should prevail, a little extra caution wouldn’t hurt. It’s best to blend with the Rio vibe and avoid the Favelas.

Dress down and party up and let Rio do its thing!

About Carl Williams