- Central + South America,
- Rio de Janeiro
I hope to explore Rio with a few friends, experience culture and take tons of photos.
Hotel Fasano, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: 55 21 3202 4000
When the Hotel Fasano opened in 2007, it radically changed Rio's hotel scene, turning some of Brazil's costliest square footage on Ipanema's prized beachfront into a temple to high design. Efficient staff, connected by Secret Service–style throat mikes, seem genuinely dedicated to guests' enjoyment. Strict city zoning codes slashed the hotel's planned footprint, but designer Philippe Starck brought inspired touches (many ultimately realized by owner Rogério Fasano) to the comparatively limited space. Floor-to-ceiling drapes divide the discreet lobby from the hip ground-floor restaurant and languorously plush lounge—the latter scattered with corduroy sofas and vast tables hewn from natural-fall Amazonian pequia trees. Lustrous tropical hardwoods also clad the 91 rooms and suites, their flowing, asymmetrical lines luring the eye outward, where oceanfront balconies command an unparalleled view of Ipanema. The deft design touch extends into traditionally overlooked areas, such as corridors and portals, brightened with imaginative lighting and playful furniture. A crowd of moneyed Brazilians and European media types patronizes the hotel's darkly attractive bar—think aged leather club chairs, cowhide sofas, and walls decorated with gilt-framed Bowie and Clash LPs—all steeped in the aroma of good cigars and ribald fun. But only guests are admitted to the luxurious rooftop pool, where they gaze magisterially down at the public frolicking on the beaches eight floors below.
See + Do
Sugarloaf (Pão de Açucar), Brazil
If you only have the time (or the inclination) for one scenic overview of the city, do Corcovado's Cristo instead. But on sunny, clear days, the cable car ride up to 700-foot Morro da Urca and then on to the taller, 1,300-foot Pão de Açucar is a classic Rio experience. The truly energetic can scale a route up the near-vertical rock face, exploiting barely visible crevices to rise through wild flowers, bromeliads, and circling vultures before emerging triumphantly among camera-toting tourists on the Sugarloaf's upper platform. Even novice climbers can make it to the top: Guiding outfit Companhia da Escalada provides all the gear—and encouragement—you'll need.
One of Rio's few neighborhoods with detached residences, the rest of Urca is also worth exploring. Surrounded by military housing and officers' clubs, it's one of the city's safest areas. To the right of the cable car station (as you exit), caught between Sugarloaf and the jungle-covered Morro do Urubu, is the 300-yard-long Praia Vermelha beach, a pretty stretch of sand with scintillating views of Niterói's rolling hills on the far shore. At its northern end, a well-maintained path (it's patrolled by military police until 6 pm every day) zigzags through the dense vegetation that lines the rocky coast. It's great for a morning stroll, when black vultures whirl overhead, and butterflies and flycatchers flit through the undergrowth. You can even spot some rare brazilwood trees, recently planted by a local environmental outfit. At the beach's southern end, accessible through a military club, is Praia Vermelha Bar e Restaurante, where the decor is nothing special—plastic chairs, zinc tables, and a girder roof—and even the food is forgettable, a mix of stodgy meat, caldo de peixe, and fried chicken. But the barman mixes a mean caipirinha, and there's live music at nights, when the party shifts down onto the sand, directly beneath the improbable lump of the Sugarloaf (Praça General Tibúrcio, Urca; 55-21-2543-7284; 11 am–1 am, every day except Monday).
The rest of picturesque Urca "village," straddling the Morro da Urca's base on the city-facing side, is a ten-minute walk away. Pretty cottages and palatial mansions border its winding lanes—one house, now marked with a plaque, once belonged to Carmen Miranda—which never stray far from the sparkling waters of Guanabara Bay. There's even a tiny beach where kayakers practice on weekends, and a decent restaurant, Bar Urca, known for its fine seafood. Try the chowder, served in a mug—it's been voted the best in the city by a local travel magazine (205 Rua Cândido Gaffrée, Urca; 55-21-2295-8744). You can eat formally upstairs, but most locals crowd along the sea wall, gaze at the lights of Niterói gleaming on the far shore, and order from circulating waiters who happily bring your food across the street.
See + Do
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
While Catholicism is the official religion in Brazil, futebol is a very close second. Brazilians follow their national, city, and local teams with avidity, and even tourists will soon be asked whom they root for. The two big rivals in Rio are Flamengothe working class's teamand Vasco, often favored by the elite. Maracanã, the largest soccer stadium in the world, plays host to Flamengo's home game. An enormous open-air ovum that erupts with frenetic energy on game day, American sport has no equivalent. Fans wave enormous flags half the size of a football field, pound samba drums, shout chants, throw things, and party in the seats. A must, even if you care nothing for soccer. (More than one gringo has been converted this way.) Tickets can be bought before the game at the stadium, or ask your concierge. It's a ways from Zona Sul, so take a taxi for the round-trip.
See + Do
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Roughly behind the neighborhood of Ipanema lies this saltwater lake, usually just called Lagoa. Ringed by expensive apartment buildings and a 4.6-mile track for running, walking, and bike-riding, it's a great place to get exercise, hang out, or eat (you wouldn't want to swim here, though). In the evening, there are a number of decent kiosk-style restaurants serving sushi, Italian, and Middle Eastern food, and they usually feature live musicians at night.
See + Do
Corcovado and the Cristo Redentor, Brazil
Rio's equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, this 125-foot-high statue of Christ has an arm-span of more than 90 feet. Sculpted in France, it was installed in 1931 on top of Corcovado—or Hunchback mountain—which rises some 2,300 feet above the city and sea. It serves as a geographical reference point in most parts of the city and reminds you that you're in an unmistakable place: You're in Rio! Is it worth actually visiting, though? Yes—for the best views of the city, but only on a clear day (Rio's skyline can descend into a smoggy haze). The peak can be reached by a very slow, crowded train (the Corcovado Rack Railway), but it's faster, cheaper, and easier to hire a taxi instead. The steep, winding road runs through the Tijuca Forest—an enormous rain-forest-covered park. Once there, you can walk the 200-step staircase or take the escalators to the base of the statue and admire Christ's smooth, beneficent face and expressive posture. But it's the amazing view of greater Rio that helps you understand how all its elements work together: Sugarloaf, the beaches, the lake, and the glittering sea beyond.
See + Do
Beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you come to Rio with any intentions other than hitting the beach, you're mildly insane. Sand and sun inform most everything about the city and its people, from the informal and scanty dress to the happy-go-lucky attitude. (Show up on time to a party or dinner date? Perish the thought.) Drop by on a Monday morning and—yep!—the beach is packed. No wonder the citizens of São Paulo joke that Cariocas don't work.
You will be identified as a tourist, but to lessen the sting, here are a few tips: Buy one of the cheap wraps sold on the sidewalks and use it to sit on rather than a towel (which nobody uses outside their homes). Or rent a chair and umbrella beachside—it's about $3 for the day, and the vendors will bring over cold drinks or snacks. Leave your baggy board shorts or one-piece at home—you'll find the best beachwear in the world here, so pick something up. Guys, those tiny elastic shorts are de rigueur, no matter your build. Topless bathing is strictly a no-no—and actually illegal. Lastly, you'll find that almost anything sold in stores can also be bought on the beach, including drinks, jewelry, sunglasses, sunblock, and bikinis (recent city ordinances banned food sales on the sands). Everything's of good quality and fairly priced. When it's really hot out, nothing quenches a thirst (or helps a hangover) like a coco gelada—a chilled green coconut with a straw, available at sidewalk stands.
Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are the most popular beaches, separated from the high-priced real estate by a four-lane road and those famous patterned sidewalks. In the hundred yards of sand between the road and sea you'll find a universe of commerce, sports playing, flirting, and tanning—the Carioca lifestyle at its best. Each portion of the beach has its own "address": Look for the changing stations/bathrooms, which have the number on them. Posto 3, in front of the Copacabana Palace, is where you'll find the greatest cluster of tourists. The hotel staff will look out for you, but be aware that petty thieves hang here, so watch your possessions. Walkng southwest along the beach, near Posto 6, you'll encounter a rock jetty that sticks into the ocean: This area is Arpoador, which is popular with surfers. The next beach is Ipanema, where you'll find both the hopping gay section, identified by the rainbow flag, and Posto 9, famous for being the hangout of the young, beautiful, and tragically cool. (Even if you're none of those things, be sure to take a look.) A ten-minute walk down the beach will bring you to Leblon: This is excellent middle ground—mostly locals, but rarely overpacked. Note: On Sundays the main street along the three beaches closes to traffic and locals come out to stroll, ride bikes, and hang with friends.
Farther afield are São Conrado, where hang gliders who've taken off from Pedra Bonita land quite spectacularly, and many more miles of good sand along the nouveau riche neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. Two of Rio's best beaches, though, are secrets, and you'll need to rent a car, convince a local to take you (not that hard), or make an arrangement with a taxi to pick you back up. Prainha and Grumari are 40 minutes west of Zona Sul and are protected—there are no permanent buildings out here, and the hills behind the beaches are covered with lush green rain forest. Prainha, which means "little beach," has lots of surfers, but both places are wonderful for getting away from the crowds and feeling like you're on a (mostly) deserted isle, especially during weekdays.
Warning: The currents on all of these beaches can be quite strong, and even though there are lifeguards, be cautious. Also, stay off the beach after dark; it can be dangerous.
Remember to bring sunscreen!