With preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics in full swing, always-lively Rio de Janeiro is buzzing with even more energy and excitement right now, making it a great time to visit.
One day simply isn’t enough time to do this vibrant city justice. But if one day is all you have, begin with an early morning walk along famed Copacabana Beach, which by midday will be packed with locals spread out on the white-hot sand under umbrellas. As it’s said in Rio, everything happens on the beach — and you can absorb so much of the local culture while you soak in some sun. Grab an acai shake or a fresh squeezed juice from one of the beachside stands. Then, pop into Copacabana Palace for a peek at the landmark hotel.
If you’re feeling ambitious, cab it over to another famous beach, Ipanema. Enjoy a refreshing coconut water while you people-watch, then, catch the bus to Cosme Velho to see the single most recognizable icon of Rio, the Cristo Redentor statue. Ride the cogwheel train up Corcovado mountain and nab a seat on the right side of the train on the ascent for the best views of the city.
After snapping the mandatory photos in front of Cristo’s open arms with the sprawling city below, head to the Jardim Botanico neighborhood and have lunch at the café in Parque Lage inside the gorgeous Italian villa. Afterward, hop in a taxi and wind up the narrow cobblestone streets of Santa Teresa, Rio’s artsy, bohemian neighborhood. Once up top, wander the streets, enjoying the eclectic architecture and the views of Rio below, stopping at Cafecito for a coffee, or grabbing some souvenirs in the artisan shops.
Hitch a ride with the bonde (trolley) down Santa Teresa’s steep hills back into the city center, where you can get a taxi to Urca in time to catch one of the most breathtaking sunsets in the world on top of Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf) mountain. Take a lovely nighttime walk along the water in Urca and have dinner at Bar Urca — try the seafood stews and fried shrimp pastries. Finally, head back to the city center to Lapa, a neighborhood that explodes with people, music and activity at night. Get moving to live samba as you sip a caipirinha (the lime and sugarcane liquor cocktail is Brazil’s national drink) to round out the busy day.
Photos Courtesy of Niko Vujevic, luoman and Nikada