Rio is awesome! Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to have spent a lot of time in this incredible city. The city has so much to offer, so with that in mind here are my favourite things to do in and around Rio:
Go Hang Gliding from Pedra Bonita
Head out to the São Conrado neighbourhood to the south of the city. There are number of different operators to choose from. I used Rio Adventures because of their slick online booking system and years of experience. From the meeting point by Pepino Beach, you are taken up to Pedra Bonita, part of the Tijuca National Park, to get kitted out and prepare for take off.
After a safety briefing and orientation you are strapped in and ready to take off. Running off the platform and soaring over the forest is a real adrenalin rush. The views are incredible and after having a go at flying yourself, you will be brought in to land on the golden sand of Pepino Beach. It is an incredible experience and one that should not be missed on a trip to Rio.
Learn to Surf in Recreio dos Bandeirantes
Ignore the surf schools on Copacabana and Ipanema. Instead, head to where the locals surf. 35km outside of the city in the West zone is the quiet neighbourhood of Recreio. The area is on the ‘up’, largely due to its pristine beaches and regular surf. I had never surfed before and contacted Rio Surf N Stay to arrange a morning lesson. A two hour group lesson cost R$100 with the opportunity to buy professional photos after.
My lesson ended up being just two of us and one instructor. After a warm up and a quick basics lesson we hit the water and were standing up in no time. There was a good amount of surf and the instructor gave me tips and pointers to help me surf for longer. If you’re an experienced surfer you can rent boards or go on one of their more advanced surf tours to remote spots.
Climb the Escadaria Selarón in Lapa
Visit the artwork of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, who claimed it as “my tribute to the Brazilian people”. The bright and colourful 215 steps are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. The stairs are easy to find and are busy and bubbling with tourists and locals.
Aim to get there earlier in morning to avoid the crowds and tourist buses. The stairs are located in the heart of Lapa and the whole area is a great place to explore on foot. In the evening the whole place can get really lively and Lapa is one of the best places to sample local delicacies and listen to some Samba!
Wander through the Jardim Botânico
Situated in the Zona Sul and nestled beneath the Corcovado Mountain, the Jardim Botânico is home to some 6,000 species of tropical and sub-tropical plants. The park is a dedicated UNESCO biosphere reserve and home to several monuments of historical, artistic and archaeological significance.
Some highlights include the Atlantic forest path, the avenue of palm trees, Lago Frei Leandro pond and the Fountain of Muses. The gardens are a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for something a little less taxing. Afterwards, head over to one of the nearby lagoonside bars to enjoy sunset drinks.
Rent a bike and cycle Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
Known as ‘The Heart of Rio’and located in the Lagoa neighbourhood of Zona Sul, the lagoon is linked to the the Atlantic by a dredged canal and is one of Rio’s principal tourist spots. It played host to the rowing events at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic games. Along its edges lie the jockey and rowing club, as well as the Jardim Botanico and Parque Lage.
The best way to enjoy the lagoon is to do as the locals do and get on a bike. Dotted around the fringes are several bicycle rental stands supplying bikes per hour, half day or full day. It takes about half an hour to circle the lagoon on the 7.5 km bike path and is highly enjoyable, with plenty of stunning viewpoints.
Check out the view from Arpoador
Arpoador is a small rocky peninsula in between the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. It is a popular lookout point for some great views of Rio’s most famous beaches. The area can be quite busy with people looking for the perfect photograph, so it is better to go early or at lunch time when the majority of people are either eating or sleeping.
Go inside a military bunker at Fort Copacabana
Fort Copacabana is a military base at the south end of Copacabana. The base and museum is open to the public, where the coastal defences of the fort are on full display. The fort was built in 1914 and decommissioned in 1987, along with many more of Brazil’s coastal defences.
Inside the fort is a labyrinth of ammunition stores, strategy rooms, military accommodation and museum exhibits all waiting to be explored. Highlights include the insides of the two armoured Krupp cannons and the rooms of munitions.
Take a tour of a favela at Santa Marta
The favela is located in the Botafogo area of Rio’s Zona Sul, it is one of the city’s steepest, and is home to roughly 8000 residents. Santa Marta is famous for two reasons; The first is that it was once the setting for Michael Jackson’s music video ‘They don’t care about us’ and is commemorated with an MJ statue and mural. More recently, the favela was used as a filming location for Fast Five.
The second reason is that Santa Marta was the first of Rio’s favelas to undergo pacification from drug trafficking. In 2008 the first Pacifying Police Unit took control of the favela, since then it has enjoyed relative safety from major crime and drug trafficking. Santa Marta is safe for tourists to visit and can be done so via the tourist information office at the favela entrance, or through any number of private registered guides.
Escape to paradise in Buzios
Three hours outside central Rio lies the idyllic resort of Armação dos Búzios. Made famous by the French actress Brigitte Bardot, who used the peninsula as an exclusive hideaway, Buzios is now popular with predominantly South American tourists. With over 23 beaches, crystal clear waters for snorkelling and scuba diving as well as the trendy Rua das Pedras, it’s easy to see why people love the resort.
Buzios has a wide variety of shops and restaurants with widely regarded better shopping options than anywhere in Rio. There are plenty of decent restaurants and all manner of nightlife from chilled out bars to international nightclubs. It is the ultimate mix of pure relaxation, retail therapy and all night partying.
Hike to Christ the Redeemer through Parque Lage
Parque Lage is a public park close to the Jardim Botanico. The land was formerly the residence of industrialist Enrique Lage and the mansion still stands in the middle of the park. There are several walking trails through the park, including one that will take you all the way to Christ the Redeemer.
The path takes you through Parque Lage past caverns within the forest and up a path to Corcovado and the entrance to Christ the Redeemer. The hike is straightforward and a much better option to the tourist buses that ferry passengers all day. However, if you get the option to take the rack railway it is worth the ride.
What would you add to this list?
What activities would you suggest people must do in Rio de Janeiro? Let us know in the comment box below!