Rio de Janeiro, a city of incomparable natural beauty and incurably addictive culture, isn’t usually categorized as a one-night stand. In fact, once travelers have breathed in the intoxicating combination of sun, sand and samba, they often start mentally mulling over possibilities for permanent relocation. Still, a quick fling in the Marvelous City might be all you get, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
Start off the morning in the revitalized Centro with a light but tasty breakfast of pão de queijo (cheesebread) and suco de maracujá com leite (passion fruit juice and milk) or a small cafezinho (coffee) at one of the juice bars found on practically every corner. Stop by the elegant Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) and check out one of its stellar temporary art exhibitions, then take in the century-old grandeur of the recently restored Theatro Municipal, a neo-classical masterpiece in the heart of Rio.
Head over to the verdant Tijuca National Park, the world’s largest urban forest, and make your way up to the top of Corcovado for that mandatory photo of you with your arms outstretched under the statue of Christ the Redeemer. On a cloudless day, the panoramic views of Ipanema, Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain from the statue’s feet will make you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Or, save your energy for the beach and take it all in with a heart-stopping Rio helicopter tour.
For lunch, sneak down to Rio’s bohemian quarter, Santa Teresa, and snack on local delicacies or fill up on feijoada, the national dish of Brazil. Discovering the cobblestone streets and antique facades on a Santa Teresa tour is the perfect way to work off the calories.
If the weather is sunny, leave the afternoon for the beach. Watch the sun linger over perfectly-toned beach bodies on classic Copacabana or iconic Ipanema, the two storied strands that keep Rio aficionados coming back year after year. Have a sugary-sweet fruit juice or an ice-cold beer at one of the many beach-side kiosks blaring reggae or Brazilian pop and enjoy the sand and surf, or contemplate the setting sun as it drops behind the towers and peaks to the west.
In case of rain, the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) and the Museu de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Museum), in Centro, offer fine cultural respite when the weather cuts in on your beach time, and the MAM sweetens the deal with a scrumptious lunch buffet.
Dry off and have a casual dinner before stepping into your dancing shoes and heading over to Lapa, the lively entertainment district accented by the immense, gleaming white aqueduct-turned-trolley-way passing overhead. Here’s where you samba your heart out, and possibly even meet that sexy Brazilian thing who brings a happy ending to your day.
-Ernest White II
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