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Rio - the Marvellous City

By John Clites

Rio, more than most cities, is defined by her geography, which is a bit complex. Guanabara Bay, sprawling beaches, majestic granite cones, plus the world’s largest urban forest smack in the middle – all combine to influence everything from traffic to social structure.

If you are planning to visit The Marvelous City, you’ll want to devote a little time to studying a map. Rio is divided into four zones: Downtown, North, West, and South. Why is there no East Zone? Because to the east, my friend, lie Guanabara Bay and the glorious South Atlantic!

Each zone is divided into bairros (pronounced “BUY whose”). Sometimes bairro is translated as “neighborhood”, but a bairro typically is larger and contains several neighborhoods.

Rio’s downtown, known as Centro, contains the expected high rises, shops, and governmental offices. There are also several interesting museums here, including the Museum of Fine Arts and the Air Force Museum. In Centro you will also find some landmark eateries. Perhaps the most famous is Colombo Confetaria, which specializes in decadent desserts – and is a wonderful spot to rest your feet after a bit of exploration. So don’t overlook Centro during your visit here. However, don’t linger there after dark either, as you’ll find many homeless on the streets.

Adjacent to the downtown business areas is the bairro of Lapa, which is the center for weekend revelry. On Friday and Saturday nights, streets and nightclubs like Bola Preta fill with partiers who drink and dance until dawn. If you want to enjoy some great live music, stop by Beco do Rato.

Rio’s South Zone – Zona Sul – is where most tourists stay and hang out. Zona Sul is comprised of many bairros, but the most famous are Copacabana and Ipanema, which are well known for their beaches. (Alas, contrary to what you might have heard, Rio’s beaches are not topless! The swimsuits, however, are tiny!) In these glamorous bairros you’ll also find a wide variety of restaurants and nightspots, and some tres chic shops, especially in Ipanema and in neighboring Leblon, Rio’s most upscale (and pricey) bairro.

Another bairro in Zona Sul to add to your itinerary is Santa Teresa. Located adjacent to downtown and to Lapa, Santa Teresa was at one time the place to live, and you can still see many lovely mansions there. Located atop a granite morro (hill), Santa Teresa affords wonderful views of the city and receives cool breezes. It’s a wonderful place to wander on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

If you would like to exercise a bit, visit Lagoa, named for the lagoon around which it wraps. Here you can walk, jog, cycle, rent a paddleboat, or just sip a chilled coconut. Or you might prefer to stroll the aterro (reclaimed land) along Guanabara Bay in Flamengo or Botafogo, where you have wonderful views of Sugarloaf Mountain.

And speaking of Sugarloaf, no visit to Rio is really complete without a cablecar ride to the top. Enjoy 360-degree views of Zona Sul, Centro, and the neighboring city of Niteroi. I think the views here are even better than the ones from Christ the Redeemer, but not everyone agrees. You’ll just have to visit both and decide for yourself!

Zona North is worth exploring a bit, too, particularly those areas near Centro. Even if you aren’t a soccer fan, you might want to take in a game at Maracanã Stadium, newly renovated for the 2014 World Cup. Quite nearby are the Rio Zoo and the Museum of Astronomy. All are in the bairro of São Cristóvão. Not far away in Meier is the Train Museum.

Zona West has less of interest, but you might visit Barra de Tijuca. It has some of the best beaches – and the best surfing – in Rio. Barra (say “BAH hah”), as it is called by locals, was developed to look like the U.S., so it has a different feel from the rest of Rio. You’ll find great restaurants, shopping malls, and hot nightlife here.

One aspect of Rio to love is that, although it is a large city of six million, there is so much nature to enjoy close at hand. There are the beaches, of course. But don’t overlook Lagoa. Also, you should pay a visit to Tijuca Forest, the largest urban forest in the world, which is located right in the middle of Rio.

There are many ways to enjoy the forest. You could climb Pedra Bonita and watch the hang gliders launch from the ramp – and maybe even go soaring yourself! If you aren’t so daring, you might prefer just to stroll through the Botanical Gardens or nearby Parque Lage. Guided tours of the Forest are also available.

Truly, there are many activities and attractions awaiting you in Rio – many more than we could possibly mention here. So get out there! See what The Marvelous City has to offer!



Text: John Clites (contact)


(Any views or opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/opinions of the publishers/website)






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