Let vibrant Rio de Janeiro get under your skin

Stunning scenery, miles of epic beaches and locals who adore life. Find out why Hollie-Rae Brader loves Rio de Janeiro

With perfect golden-sand beaches surrounded by staggering verdant green peaks; epic nightlife with samba-fuelled street parties; and scenery that will make your jaw hit the floor, there’s nowhere on the planet quite like Rio de Janeiro.

This achingly cool city, which is also blessed with a perfectly balmy climate, is as vibrant as they come – and once Rio gets under your skin, you’ll soon be craving another dose; as such, many visitors quickly return.

Grab a caipirinha, pop on a pair of Havaianas and get ready to fall for the charms of the Cidade Maravilhosa – or Marvellous City. Here’s Aspire’s guide to experiencing the best of Rio.

Why sell it?

Rio sells itself. Lush mountains? Check. An endless stretch of powder-sand beaches? Check. High-end hotels? Check. Iconic landmarks? Check times 10! The list goes on, and so do the acknowledgements that Rio has it all.

This city is intoxicating on all fronts but its beautiful landscape is what makes it truly unique – I’m sure the term picture-postcard was created with Rio in mind. Then add in the fact that it is also encased by nature and home to cariocas (locals) brimming with a positive, vibrant spirit and zest for life and you’ll soon realise why Rio is the definition of a triple-threat destination.

With iconic landmarks aplenty, this stunning city is bound to be on every client’s wish list, so plant the seed and get them booked for a trip of a lifetime.

When to go?

It’s best to visit Rio between December and March – during Brazil’s summer months – or in the spring months of September, October and November. When there isn’t a global pandemic, a visit to Rio in February for Carnival would prove a big draw for those wanting to experience the vibrant, party vibes of the city. Others would find the crowds overwhelming.

Where to stay?

Luxury hotels aren’t hard to find in Rio. The best-known hotel in the city – and probably in all of Latin America – is the Belmond Copacabana Palace. The property is as glamorous as they come with dozens of black and white photos of Hollywood legends and royalty donning the corridors. Nowadays you’ll still find high-flying celebrities lounging around the pool of the 147-room hotel.

The property itself has for many years been one of the only redeeming features of the Copacabana strip, which had become a seedy part of town, particularly after dark. However, that’s been changing of late with new openings revitalising the area. Among them is newish Hotel Emiliano, which opened its doors in 2017 and has quickly established itself as one of the city’s coolest hotspots.

If Copacabana Palace is the grande dame here, nearby Hotel Fasano is the trendy cousin. Located on chic and sexy Ipanema Beach, the 91-room Fasano has one of the best rooftop infinity-edge pools in the city. If clients can afford it, recommend they book one of the hotel’s 10 suites, which have balconies overlooking the beach. This place is a big draw with celebrities with the likes of David Beckham, Madonna, Kate Moss and Harry Styles all having stayed here. 

Other top picks on the coastline include the city’s Grand Hyatt and Fairmont Rio de Janeiro Copacabana, the latter of which opened just last year with 375 rooms and 68 suites. For those happy staying away from the beach, recommend the Santa Teresa Hotel RJ - MGallery – a former coffee plantation mansion.

What to do?

Come to Rio with plenty of energy, you’re going to need it to see and do everything on offer!

I’m sure the first things that spring to mind when you think of Rio are dancing the night away and playing football on the beach; and yes, you can join in those festivities. For the former, head to the Lapa Arches on a weekend where you’ll find locals dancing under the stars. For a game of football – head to almost any beach on any given day and you’re bound to stumble upon locals kicking a ball around. But there’s far more to Rio than the samba and sport.

At the top of most visitors’ lists will be Rio’s world-famous beaches. The aforementioned Ipanema Beach is well worth a visit. Located in one of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods and lined with chic boutiques and trendy hangouts – it’s the place to be. Enjoy a coconut water or something stronger, and while away hours in the sunshine.

Museums might not be the first thing you think of when visiting the city, but Rio’s offering is impressive and shouldn’t be dismissed. Recommend the iconic Museum of Tomorrow, created as one of the legacies from the 2016 Olympic Games and aiming to get visitors thinking more about the planet. 

A city surrounded by as many mountainous peaks as Rio means countless viewpoints and vistas. Adventurous clients should hike in Tijuca Forest National Park – essentially an urban rainforest.

For a less strenuous option, and a bucket list experience, recommend a trip to the top of 1,299ft-tall Sugarloaf Mountain. Take the two-part cable car trip and marvel at the incredible views of the city. You’ll find a very trendy little bar right at the top – my favourite place to watch the sunset. Grab a caipirinha and enjoy the chilled house music while marmoset monkeys run around, their fur glimmering in the pink hues of the fading sunshine.

A visit to the iconic Christ The Redeemer is another absolute must. This 98ft-tall statue looms over the city and can be reached by train, taxi or on foot for those brave enough to hike up the Corcovado mountain.

While you’ve got those hiking shoes on, head out on the five-hour-long Two Brothers Mountain trek. There are numerous guided walks on offer as this route passes through the pacified favela of Vidigal, giving walkers the opportunity to learn an important aspect of local life in Rio. Almost a quarter of the city’s population lives in favelas, and for many years these densely populated areas were off limits to tourists. Nowadays, there are a number that welcome visitors accompanied by guides, including Santa Marta. It’s home to a bronze statue of Michael Jackson, whose music video for They Don’t Care About Us was shot in the alleys of this favela back in 1996.

Back in the centre of town, the up-and-coming district of Lapa, is worth exploring. It’s home to amazing street art, but also the mosaic staircase of Escadaria Selarón. Beyond the Lapa Arches you’ll also find a once unloved, crime-ridden area that is now packed with samba and choro bars.

The nearby area of Santa Maria is a cool and quiet neighbourhood, home to villas and a number of boutique bed and breakfasts, such as my personal favourite Casa Geranio.

Pair it with

llha Grande, which translates to Big Island, lies just off the coast of Rio, and is well worth adding to any Rio itinerary. Take a 30-minute boat trip to Vila do Abraao, the island's main hub, and explore this tropical island, which is perfect for hiking, snorkelling and diving. Rio 1s the perfect gateway to explore more of Latin America. Head on to lguau Falls (pictured above) - a stunning location on the border of Brazil and Argentina where you'll find 270 individual waterfalls, which combined, make up the largest waterfall in the world. From there, hop further south to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Hollie-Rae Brader

Hollie is editor of Aspire’s print and online products. She is responsible for the running of the club and ensuring the content produced and the events organised are relevant to the Aspire audience. She was previously deputy news editor and cruise writer for sister title Travel Weekly. She loves exploring new destinations and is gradually ticking new countries off her list. She most enjoys writing about cruise, South America and Japan. Before working in the travel industry she held news reporting roles at the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star.

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