For the month leading up to our visit to Rio de Janeiro, all we kept hearing about was how dangerous the city was. Just a week before we arrived someone posted a video online of young adults mugging tourists in a downtown business area. Needless to say, we were a little apprehensive about our time in Rio.
In order to make ourselves feel better about Rio we decided to be a little more cautious than we had been in some other cities. Before we booked a place to stay we did research online to make sure we were staying in the safest neighborhood. We also made sure to keep our money and credit cards in different bags and pockets so that it wasn’t all in one place. In addition to that we also used the money belt to carry our passports and some cash.
What we learned was that Rio de Janeiro did not seem to be much different than other big cities we have stayed in. The key to being safe is staying aware of your surroundings and not doing anything stupid, like walking down an empty street by yourself in the middle of the night. We never felt unsafe during our time in Rio, and even though it rained every day we were there, we still had a great time.
Full Day City Tour with Inside Rio
Our tour was called a full day tour, but it was actually only 5 hours long. We booked it through our hostel and paid 210R or $50. We first thought this was pretty expensive for a 5 hour tour that made 4 stops, but during the tour we realized that two of the admission fees were 75R each (the other two sights were free). This meant we paid around 60R or $15 for the transport and the guide. This was a pretty good deal since a taxi would have been a lot more and we had a great guide during our tour.
Our tour van picked us up at a little after 12:30 in the afternoon, and we were just the second group to get picked up. We actually thought that there might not be that many people on the tour because of the rainy weather, but they slowly filled up the van after a few more stops. During one of the stops I jumped out of the van and bought a larger umbrella for 15R or $3.75. This was the best decision we made, otherwise we would have only had one small umbrella and we both would have been soaking wet after the first stop.
The van held 14 people plus the driver and the tour guide. Our tour guide, Leo, was very informative and spoke perfect English. We also met two American guys on our tour, which was nice as we were able to chat with them and they were our photographers for the tour.
Corcovado Mountain & Christ the Redeemer
The first stop on our tour was Corcovado Mountain, where the famous Christ the Redeemer statue is. It took us quite a while to get there because of traffic and because the road to get there is all up hill and curves back and forth as it climbs up the side of the mountain. Half way up the mountain we had to get out of our tour van and get into an official Corcovado van to bring us the rest of the way up to the top.
Once you get to the top your supposed to have sweeping views of the city and the ocean below. It was so foggy and misty at the top, that we could hardly even see the Christ the Redeemer statue that was directly in front of us. We took a picture of what we were supposed to see, but all we saw was white.
At the top, our tour guide told us that the weather in Rio is normally pretty sunny, except for an occasional 30 minute shower in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the forecast was 5 days straight of rain when we were visiting… something that we’re blaming on El Nino.
More importantly we learned some interesting facts about the Christ the Redeemer statue:
- The top of the statue was built in France (where the architecure was better at the time) and the bottom (the more basic part of the statue) was built in Brazil
- The statue is covered in tiny triangular tiles, which were placed individually on mesh sheets by the women of society in Rio de Janeiro before they were later attached to the statue of Christ
- The statue stands around 40 meters or 120 feet high on top of Corcovado Mountain
Even though it was hard to even see the entire statue we did get our picture with the statue behind us. We thought that it would be terrible, but it actually ended up looking better than we expected with the statue above us surrounded by thick fog.
We came back down the mountain and into the city center to stop at the Metropolitan Cathedral. Our guide told us that the church was built in the 70s which you could tell because of the very 70s architecture. It was a large circular cone shape which was symbolic of the church embracing the congregation. It was very different from all of the other buildings in the area, and also very different from so many of the gothic style churches around the world. The most interesting thing about the church was the 4 large stained glass windows that stretched from the floor to ceiling (one was being fixed and was covered with a large tarp).
Escadaria Selaron in Lapa
It is also known as the Lapa Steps, but the Escadaria Selaron is a long outdoor staircase that was covered in tiles by the artist, Jorge Selaron. Placing the tiles on the stairs was something that took him over 20 years to complete. Over time people would bring tiles from where they lived and the tiles would be added to the mosaic. We found a Chicago tile which was exciting.
The stairs were very busy with tons of people walking up and down and trying to get photos. Even with all the chaos, we were able to get a picture on the stairs without too many people around.
Our guide Leo told us that the stairs are very famous and have been featured in many different things including a Snoop Dogg music video. We couldn’t think of what song it was so we had to look it up when we got back to the hostel. It was the music video for Beautiful by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell.
The story of the artist that created the stairs is actually pretty sad. It was just a few years ago that he was found dead on the stairs. His friends feel that he may have committed suicide because of depression.
The last stop of the day and our favorite was at Sugarloaf Mountain. On a nice day Sugarloaf has amazing 360 degree views of the city and the ocean. On rainy days, the views are still pretty good. We actually got lucky, as the weather continued to get better as we got to Sugarloaf and started our way to the top.
There are two cable cars that you have to take to get to the top of the mountain. The first cable car brings you half way up the mountain. Once you walk to the other side of the first level you can catch the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf. The sign by the cable cars say they leave every 20 minutes or whenever they are full.
When we got to the top there were many places that you could go to look out at the city or the ocean. Our guide told us where he felt the best places to take pictures were. We followed his directions and got some great shots from one of the lower balconies to the right of where we got off of the cable car.
At the top of the mountain there were a lot of great places to get photos, but there were also snack bars and gift shops for anyone that was interested in grabbing something to eat or picking up a souvenir. We decided that we could probably get a keychain and some postcards for a lot less near our hostel.
Even though it was still foggy and misting the entire time, it did clear up quite a bit when we were at the top of Sugarloaf which was great. It cleared up just enough so that we could see across to Corcovado Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue. We actually had a better view than when we were standing right in front of it.
On our second day in Rio we decided that rain or shine, we would go and walk around Copacabana Beach. Rain it was! When we left the hostel it was misting a little and it continued as we walked the 20 minutes or so to the beach. When we got to the beach it was pretty quiet, which we figured was probably because of the rain and the fact that it was still pretty early. We later learned that it was another holiday, so many things were closed. As we’ve come to realize, it’s always a holiday in South America!
We walked along the beach for a little while, but because of the weather and the holiday there wasn’t really anything exciting going on. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of soccer fields on the beach instead of volleyball courts which we’re used to seeing in the US. We also couldn’t help but notice that there was a larger police presence in Copacabana. Compared to Botafogo where we were staying, there were a lot more homeless people and shady looking characters walking around… which is probably because it’s such a large tourist area. Either way, we were happy that we decided to stay a little off the beaten path in Botafogo instead of in Copacabana.
We really thought that we would be more upset about the weather, but we also keep reminding ourselves that we have had really good luck with weather throughout our trip, so it was bound to happen. The city tour that we took ended up being perfect, especially with the weather being as crappy as it was. If we hadn’t done the tour we would have had to figure out how to get to each of those places on our own using public transit. With the rain it would have been a mess and we probably would have given up trying to see anything.
We were apprehensive about Rio at first, but we ended up really liking it. We actually would like to return to Brazil again at some point, so that we can visit Rio again, maybe in the winter when the weather is better. If we do make it back we’ll also have a chance to visit Sao Luis, located in northern Brazil and near the Lençóis Maranhenses sand dunes, which is also better to visit during the winter months.