It can be tough to leave the marvelous city, as its seemingly endless attractions—beaches, rainforests, nightlife, and so much more—conspire to keep the traveler here long past his or her plans. But, you should be aware before heading back to Copacabana, that Rio de Janeiro is surrounded by paradise, just waiting to be explored.
It’s easy to arrange day trips and overnights all over the region, with time to get you back to Rio in time for the next party. You can avoid painful markups and paying for steep commissions by approaching the operator yourself. Here are just a few destinations to consider.
1) Angra dos Reis, the Amazing Archipelago
The 365 islands of Angra dos Reis could keep committed beach bunnies busy all year. But as this pretty port city lies only about 110 kilometers (69 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, you could pop down just for the day. Claimed by the Portuguese in 1502, Angra dos Reis (and neighboring Paraty, often included on Angra dos Reis tours), snuggled into the rainforested mountains, has its share of pretty churches, markets, and buildings. Most Angra dos Reis day trips take to the seas, visiting some of the region’s 2000 beaches and provide snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, fishing and more. Independent travelers can head inland for waterfall hikes, whitewater rafting, even parasailing.
2) Beautiful Buzios, the Prettiest Peninsula
Once just an impossibly beautiful peninsula scalloped with perfect beaches and dotted with tiny fishing villages, Buzios has become a prime destination for Rio’s sun-loving glitterati. First “discovered” by Brigitte Bardot and her Brazilian beau, Buzios is now a top spot for sunbathing, snorkeling, diving, and some of the country’s best surfing. While it makes for a remarkable day trip, travelers eager to indulge themselves might opt to spend the night, and experience its renowned nightlife and fine dining scene.
3) Petropolis, Brazil’s Imperial City
The misty, cool hills of Petropolis were once the seat of the Brazilian Empire, a rather liberal constitutional monarchy that reigned from 1808 to 1889. After Napoleon chased the Portuguese royal family from Europe, they continued the dynasty in relentlessly steamy Rio, choosing Petropolis, some 65 kilometers (40 miles) away, as their pleasantly temperate (15°C /59°F–23°C/73°F) retreat.
Visitors can peruse Emperor Pedro II’s palace, now the excellent Imperial Museum; the Santos Dumont House, dedicated to the aviation expert who invented the wristwatch; the glass-enclosed Crystal Palace, a gorgeous greenhouse; or the graceful Catedral de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Several outfits offer trekking, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting excursions, or just exploring the pretty town, still a favorite weekend away for the Brazilian upper crust.
4) Niteroi, Modern Art and Architecture
An easy, 20-minute ferry ride across Guanabara Bay brings you to the “City of Smiles,” a small city from which you can watch the sun set over Rio. While it would be a worthwhile escape just for its less-crowded beaches (with some of the best surfing in South America), art lovers will make the trip to see the world-class Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), in an Oscar Niemeyer-designed building that resembles a flying saucer, landing just above the crashing waves. Architecture buffs will find several other futuristic Niemeyer buildings in town, including the undulating theater and domed Memorial Roberto Silveira. Those with more classic tastes could visit a colonial-era Santa Cruz Fortress, with remarkable views back to Rio.
5) Take a Cruise and See the City from the Sea
After spending so much time admiring the Atlantic in this most scenic of settings, why not set sail? You can arrange boats catering to just about every taste, from all-day fishing trips to sunset booze cruises.
Two of the most popular trips are Guanabara Bay cruises, for fantastic views of Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer reflected in the shimmer water; and assorted island cruises, such as to the Sepetiba Bay Island, which visits a beautiful, beach fringed island with opportunities for snorkeling and more.
Because in Rio, life is indeed a beach.
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