Magnificent scenery, relaxed and hospitable people, the sound of the samba in the streets, glorious beaches… It is all true!!! What is more, Rio de Janeiro is the biggest tropical city in the world, superimposing all the metropolitan conveniences and excitements onto a happy scene of noble palms and blinding white sand.
The population of Rio de Janeiro is over seven million and multiplying fast. More than two million live in shanty-towns that grow like mushrooms on the steep hillsides.
The beauties of Rio de Janeiro are legend, but you’d hardly know it on the way into town from the international airport. Do not let first impressions of the Northern Zone’s heavy industry discourage you.
Central Rio is a busy mixture of historic buildings over-shadowed by high-rise office blocks. The district is graced with sweeping gardens and the man-made beaches that front Guanabara Bay. Tunnels through Rio’s several hills link the centre with the alluring Southern Zone (Zona Sul). This is the oceanfront area where the tourists and Rio’s “beautiful people” spend most of their time.
Sightseeing can be something of an ordeal under the tropical sun, so it is not advisable to wander aimlessly afoot. Decide where you want to go, and then take a taxi or bus. Taxis are plentiful and economical. The bus service is good and cheap, but you have to figure out the complicated routes. Also note that many bus stops are unmarked, though passengers and drivers always know which buses stop where. You will just have to ask for help.
Line 1 of the Metro (underground, subway) goes all the way from the northern suburb of Tijuca to Botafogo, the south-zone district where Rio’s elegant yacht club is located.
The ferryboats from Praca XV de Novembro offer the cheapest sightseeing imaginable, or you can view the bay from a luxury tour boat. There are bus excursions but you could also hire a car and drive yourself, but taxis are more convenient for in-town travel.
With so much to see and do in Rio, do not try to cover it all too fast. When the going gets hot, it is time to follow Carioca custom and head for the beach.
“Pao de Acucar” (Sugar Loaf) is such a well-known landmark that some visitors are surprised to find it is not as tall as, say the Matterhorn or Mount Fuji. No one ever claimed it was any more than a dramatic rock standing guard over the entrance to Guanabara Bay. From its summit 1293 feet above sea level, you can read Rio like a map.
The only way to reach the top of Sugar Loaf is aboard a cable car which makes the journey in two stages. The trip begins at the “Estacao do Teleferico” near Praia Vermelha (Red Beach). All the buses marked “Urca” pass within a couple of blocks of the station. The first stage of the aerial itinerary takes you to the top of Morro da Urca, somewhat more the half as high as Sugar Loaf. At this way station, which also has good panoramas over Rio, there is a big restaurant, as well as shops and a curious little museum of mechanized marionettes. The next car leaves for the Sugar Loaf summit, where you get an airline pilot’s view of Rio and Guanabara Bay. In fact, you are high above the runway of Santos Dumont airport. There are several “mirantes” (observation points) overlooking Rio, but none more dramatic than this one especially at sunset when the lights of the Marvelous City flicker on.
Overall travel time on the cable cars is only five or six minutes, with departures at least every 20 minutes and much more frequently during crowded periods. Delays rarely occur, though should there be a sudden storm, safety-conscious officials might temporarily suspend traffic, stranding passengers at all levels (but not in mid-air). A more likely problem: if there is a cloud within ten miles of Rio, it tends to sidle up to Sugar Loaf and spoil the view. Look carefully at the sky before you begin the cable-car adventure, lest you wind up contemplating a wall of mist and drizzle.
At 2,326 feet, “Corcovado”, meaning Humpbacked Mountain, is nearly twice as high as Sugar Loaf. In modern times it has become equally symbolic of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), with arms outstretched over the bay, was inaugurated as a national monument in 1931. The reinforced concrete statue, designed by the French sculptor Paul Landowski, is 98 feet tall; a small chapel is built into the base of the monument. Since approximately ten different local, state and federal bureaus share responsibility for the site, maintenance problems are chronic.
You can take a sightseeing tour of Rio which includes Corcovado; the buses stop halfway up the mountain and transfer passengers to smaller vans for the circuitous drive to the parking area, from which it is still a vigorous hike up to the base of the statue, or you can take a taxi or drive yourself. The most enjoyable way to Corcovado is aboard the funicular which begins its ascent in Cosme Velho. All buses marked “Cosme Velho” stop within a few steps of the funicular terminal (Estrada de Ferro Corcovado, 513 Rua Cosme Velho). A Swiss cable railway replaces a line inaugurated by Emperor Pedro II in 1884. The trip takes about 20 minutes and passes through full-fledged jungle with brilliant flowering trees.
The view from the top of Corcovado is sensationally comprehensive – from the bay to the city centre to the sea. Conversely the statue, which is well lighted at night, may be seen from almost any place in Rio – a symbol more ubiquitous than the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower.
If clouds are clinging to Corcovado, you may be able to sneak in under the ceiling at another belvedere in the same area, the Mirante Dona Marta (1191 ft.) Luxuriant tropical plants surround the modern observation platforms, from which you have an excellent perspective on the spacious Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lagoon separated from the ocean by the communities of Ipanema and Leblon.
Corcovado and Dona Marta are within the Parque Nacional da Tijuca (Tijuca National Park), a precious wilderness inside Rio’s city limits. Another belvedere in the same park is called Vista Chinesa (Chinese View), and the look-out point is occupied by a pagoda-like structure. This is not quite the flight of fancy it may seem. In the early 19th century Chinese immigrants established a tea plantation on this site.
I am sure you will enjoy visiting Rio de Janeiro. It is a trip you will never forget!!!