- Central + South America,
- Rio de Janeiro
A fantastic, fun-filled, beach-going, sushi-eating, fruit-juice-drinking, flip-flopping week in Rio!
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.
Zazá Bistrô Tropical, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: 55 21 2247 9102
The contemporary menu at this hot spot for post-beach lounging shamelessly mixes its metaphorsceviche to dim sum to ravioli. The terrace is sweet, but everyone goes upstairs to kick off their shoes (it's compulsory) and recline, pashalike, on pillows in the candlelight to drink caipirinhas de saquêmade with Japanese sake and cachaça.
Open for dinner Mondays through Thursdays 7:30 pm to 12:30 am, Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 pm to 1:30 am.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: 55 21 2540 8041
As much a nightclub as a restaurant, 00 (Zero Zero) becomes more of a beautiful-person scene the later it gets. Inside, conversation at the tables will get drowned out by the DJ around midnight (particularly on Sundays, which attracts a stylish gay crowd). But before then, the food is quite good Brazilian-Caribbean-contemporarythink jerk chicken and salmon burgers. After eating, chill on the huge candlelit patio with its Indonesian benches. If a cabdriver doesn't know the place, tell him to take you to the planetarium, to which it's attached.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Caesar Park, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: 55 21 2525 2525
Until the Fasano showed up, this was the only top-tier hotel in Ipanema actually fronting the beach, and it remains to be seen how long it can rest on its location laurels. Compared with its glossy new rival, the Caesar Park seems dull, and it's only just competent enough to justify its sky-high rates. Indeed, you are paying for that golden location—Posto 9, the beach where the young and beautiful spend all day strutting and posing on the sand. (The gay section is also nearby.) Caesar Park is primarily a business brand, however, and though there are tourists here, it's hard not to be self-conscious when you return trailing sand and caipirinha fumes. The buttoned-up front-desk attendants speak good English, service is prompt if not particularly solicitous, and you'll get Wi-Fi in the rooms for about $20 a day (the Copa Palace still makes you plug in for DSL). The 222 rooms are blandly contemporary (be sure to get one that's renovated), but the bathrooms are big and modern by Brazilian standards. If you need a break from the bustle of the beach itself, or need to work on your tan before venturing out, head up to the top floor, with its tiny outdoor pool and bar. Beware the hard sell and surcharges here: $7 for a bottle of water, a club floor that offers only bottled drinks and Nespresso coffee as an upgrade, and bellmen steering you toward "hotel taxis" that charge at least double what a regular metered (and perfectly safe) cab would cost. The bottom line: If the Fasano is booked, the Caesar Park is Ipanema's distant runner-up.
It's considered one of the best places to stay in Rio (or so all the locals told us), but we were less than impressed. Nonetheless, it's directly across from the most gorgeous beach in Ipanema