Sunny Rio de Janeiro
After 2 weeks of overcast weather in Brazil we were excited to head to Rio, which is renowned for it’s pristine beaches and blazing sunshine, but on our approach we still had the singular enormous cloud overhead. Since we assumed that beaches would be distinctly average in poor weather we decided to book ourselves in to a hostel in one of the first pacified favelas, all the way in Chapeu Mangueira, to get an once-in-a-lifetime experience of favela living.
As with most of South America, the common misconception is that Rio is dangerous — especially favelas, with kids holding guns on every corner and daily robberies, but thanks to police pacification in the lead up to the 2014 world cup and the olympics, if you are remotely sensible it’s hard to get into trouble.
The hostel was incredible. A handmade, 3 level building, which was put together with materials found lying about. The glass balcony was made with bank security doors and sometimes old wardrobes would make up part of a wall.
It was definitely an experience, especially on the first night when it rained and the smell of wet dog wafted around ever corner of the hostel. We were close to leaving the next day but decided to stick it out — a good decision, as the next day the clouds finally gave out and the sun popped it’s face out and Rio transformed.
Our favela hostel was only 10 minutes from Copacabana, so first thing we grabbed our gear and jogged our pale, British bodies to the beach to be greeted by thousand of other sun-lovers. We paid £3 for 2 chairs and a parasol and life was great again.
Over the 2 weeks we had in Rio, we spent an awful lot of time on beaches. We discovered that Ipanema beach is where the locals hang out — it’s much, much better than Copacabana. Clearer water, perfect sunsets and better beach vendors. You’d regularly here the call of ‘sandwiiiiich’ or ‘dos cerveja, dos agua’ being shouted miles away and as soon as they’d spot us gringos, they’d jog on over and ask if we wanted to buy anything. 2 bikinis and 2 beach towels later we learnt to fend them off and they soon left us to bathe in peace.
The 2 ‘must-do’ things in Rio are Christ the Redeemer and Sugar loaf. To be honest, they aren’t as amazing as I expected. The big JC was pretty good up close, but it’s very crowded and everyone is doing the same lame pose for photos. We enjoyed the bar just behind the statue and the relative quiet that came with it.
The food in Rio is very good. As long as you know how to avoid tourist traps you get super tasty food as decent prices. In our favela was an amazing local restaurant run by the son of the first president of the favela. He uses his mum’s recipes, which guaranteed it’s excellence. Ribs were cooked to perfection and the beers were £1.50 per litre. Not something I could argue with! And if that wasn’t cheap enough, in the mornings we would grab 2 cheese and ham croissants and coffee for a grand total of £2!
On the last night in the favela, Pablo the host cooked up a huge Brazilian bbq which blew my mind, especially with one of the greatest sunsets imaginable providing the backdrop.
We also spent a Friday night out in Lapa — the famous Brazilian party destination. Live music in every venue and caipirinhas strong enough to make you walk like a baby giraffe, Lapa has a lot of fun behind every door. We opted to head to as many places as possible and ended at an epic cover band who played from midnight to 4am playing everything from ‘Joline’ to ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. One of our best nights out in South America.
There’s so much more I could describe from our 2 weeks here, but I’ll start rambling, so my advice is just head there and enjoy it all for yourself.