The first thing I noticed about Brazil was that from the sky it looked like there was no spare piece of land. It’s one of the most congested birds eye views I’ve seen from a plane. However, once you get thick into the skin of Rio, you soon realise that its actually very green. Huge park areas either side of main roads that are cordoned off on a Sunday, to enable city slickers the luxury of space at the weekends to enjoy barbecues, sunshine and free running.
The time of year that we were there was Carnival!!!! Usually around February, it was quite late this year which was a good thing because although it was stiflingly hot, the summer months are worse. It was a very wet humid heat, which I think is the reason why most people wander the streets in their swimwear and nothing else, or at least I hope that’s why!! Carnival time seems to bring a lot of people together that wouldn’t normally be so. It’s rather like a giant street fancy dress party to which everyone is invited.
If there had been an invitation to aforementioned party, choice of themes must have read like any of the following: “anything goes” “be your fantasy” or “dress without mirrors”!! We saw everything from men in nappies, tutus or gladiator costumes, to old women in skin tight lame silver bikinis (wide bottomed thank goodness) who I realised were actually selling them. Not a great advert for the product if I’m honest. It was like a giant hen/stag weekend in Blackpool where everyone had taken an acid pill!! Even the dogs were decorated with flowers and skirts.
At that point I decided I was going to buy and wear an orange tutu. I didn’t care what I looked like as nobody else seemed to. That was my inner rave persona speaking out. I like to live on the edge! Sadly it wasn’t to be; nobody sold orange ones, only yellow, blue, red, green or purple. I wasn’t happy and ended up with flowers in my hair and round my wrists.
Our Hilton hotel on Copacabana Beach was in a prime position, down the road from the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel and right opposite the beach. We were both happy to compromise with twin beds for our 2 night stay in order to get the last room with a view. This was ideal once we realised the smells and litter on the beach weren’t so inviting.
It was nice to view some of the street parties from our window and escape the chaos down there. We did go out and about however, you can’t not join the crowds gathering in all the various beach hut bars for spontaneous sing songs, street made Caiprahna cocktails, and music and dance. It was as if the atmosphere was contagious.
My tip would be if you want to visit Rio then only stay there for a maximum of two nights. There are budget hotels, Ritz Copacabana, Athena Copacabana and Othon Palace. I’d advise getting a hotel with a rooftop pool. If we did it again we’d perhaps stay further up the coast road at Ipanema beach, The Fezano Hotel, with their staff wearing boaters, if you have the funds. Later on in the trip we also stayed further up the Rio coast road in Barre deTijuca for a few nights as this area was the Miami Beach of Rio and supposed to have the nicest beaches in Rio, but I’m afraid to say, they still weren’t great and it was outside the buzz.
We ate dinner at the Copacabana Palace one night. So old school, the hostess comes out of her little booth to take you to your table. Pianist playing old songs. It really felt like we were in a film. White table cloths and red velvet armchairs, waiters in white jackets, the huge square pool is the focal point of the restaurant. It was class personified. Service, food, presentation and surroundings were all outstanding and we could definitely forget what was going on outside for a brief while.
For the record, I never found a toilet on our 3 week trip in South America that had all 3 necessities, paper, a lock, or a door that closed, except at the Copacabana Palace hotel or our hotel room obviously!!
We had a brilliant guide for a day. Click here for Vicente’s details, who took us to the Urban Rainforest for a shower in their natural waterfalls, to the Botanical gardens, and also to the nicest steak restaurant I’ve ever been to. Mostly locals, a large plate of steak, 3 side dishes; a couscous style grain with banana, sounds hideous but was actually delicious, crisps, and a broccoli rice. De-lisc-ous!! During the drives that day the other half kept saying the forest looked like it was trying to take the roads back, a perfect description of how the trees created canopies over the roads as well as so much foliage growing on the sides of the roads.
People pay to have living walls like that in the UK yet the Brazilians are constantly hacking them back to prevent them causing havoc! We drove past the infamous favelas. Now here’s a myth buster. Most of the thousands of people who live in them are working class Brazilians, not able to afford a better life for themselves (including one of our drivers). They have water, electricity, shops and even banks! The imminent danger in these places is the drug lords and if one gets caught in the crossfire of their wars then you’re in trouble. Police are no use there. Having said that I still wouldn’t let the other half do a tour, firstly I think it’s a bit degrading to those who live there and secondly I was still too darned scared!
We took an early morning visit to Christ the Redeemer and up Sugar Loaf mountain, I spotted some idiots from our cable car practising their mountaineering skills, mainly idiots because a: it was so hot and b: it was so high!! Note I say ‘I’ there. That’s because the whole of our tour group managed to get in the same cable car except me! They wouldn’t let my other half stay behind so off he went, with no backward glance may I add, whilst I waited for the next one. Luckily out of my many anxieties, heights isn’t one of them!
Spectacular views of the whole city from both of those attractions and definitely try to be one of the first up there. We took the half day tour with Viator. That day was a welcome respite from the mayhem that is carnival.
As for the safety concerns, I had many before we left but we dressed down and I mean really down, shorts, vest tops, flip flops, no bag or mobile phones on show. Don’t walk the beaches at night, we walked down the main Copacabana avenue after eating at the Copacabana Palace Hotel, I wasn’t happy doing so but it was too near our hotel to get a taxi. We survived but as I say dress down and whatever you do, don’t go into the street market as tempting as it looks.
The carnival itself was definitely one of the visual wonders of the world!! Photographs and videos don’t do it justice, the creativity, skill, dedication and passion is tangible when it’s right in front of you. Eight hours of parades from 9pm to 5am, from one end of the Sambadrome to the other and we weren’t bored for a minute! An all night party and a once in a lifetime experience that I’d highly recommend you do if you get the opportunity.
For other South America trips please read my blogs on Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Uruguay!
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