When most people think of Brazil, whether they've visited the country or not, the first city that usually comes to mind is Rio de Janeiro. Known as "The Magnificent City," Rio de Janeiro presents a personality overflowing with energy, beauty and passion that is unique in its own right. With this good, comes some bad though, as the city still grapples with high levels of crime and robberies to the point that one must always be cognizant of their surroundings, limit the cash that they carry and not take anything to the beach that one wouldn't be comfortable losing.
The amount of crime appears to be more prevalent in part due to the unique makeup of the city, where affluent neighborhoods sit adjacent to extremely poor slums (better known as "favelas"). Without scaring one too much, while the potential for crime is real, by sticking to more of the "touristy" areas (Ipanema & Leblon for example) and not being an idiot (hanging out on the beach late at night), one can limit their risk. For me (except for a small situation when my Brazilian friends and I were briefly pulled over in their car by police at the foot of the favelas on our way home from a bar - maybe not as small now that I think about), all was good:) Anyways, to my highlights:
The Must-do Sightseeing Spots:
Rio is truly one of the most beautiful cities I've come across and to best appreciate it, there are two sites to definitely check out: Cristo Redentor (the big Jesus statue) and Sugar Loaf (two big hills basically).
- Long Arms: Good for volleyball and reaching high objects. Bad for fitting in a picture with Jesus
The most famous statue in Brazil and recently crowned as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the Cristo Redentor/Statue of Christ rises 2,300 feet above Rio on top of Corcovado Mountain. The statue, measuring in at 136 feet in height, looks down on all of Rio providing spectacular views of the city. It's well worth a visit, but make sure to do it on a clear day as there are times when the weather can be generally nice, but clouds can still be covering the statue. Oh, and make sure to get your pic (like all other tourists) with your arms stretched out to your sides. This was a little more difficult for me to do, being in a crowded place and having longer arms, needed a bit more room...
Probably the second most visited attraction in Rio de Janeiro (if you don't include the beaches), providing 360 degree views of the city, are two mountains that make up Sugarloaf. To access the mountains one must take two connecting cable cars. As a random sidenote, I learned that one of the old James Bond movies (Moonraker) actually featured a pretty famous scene here (it's a bit edited). I vaguely remember seeing this at some point when it was on a rerun on something like TNT, which is cool because 007 movies are awesome in my opinion. As a tip, it's best to get here to catch the end of the day and then stay for the sunset for some great photos.
Hang gliding Over Rio:
Around six months ago, I remember coming across an article talking about cool/bucket list things to do when traveling. One of the activities mentioned was hang gliding over Rio. Now I'd never done this (despite it existing in San Diego and LA), but the idea of doing it over such a beautiful place like Rio definitely appealed to me, so I made an appointment to try, or at least die trying.
I ended up doing my flight with the same instructor that coordinated this activity in Rio for the "Amazing Race" and "The Today Show's" segment where Matt Lauer travels around the world. Generally, I go by the stance that "When you can potentially die from something, do it with someone you have confidence in." All that said, I think I basically had 1 minute of instruction that can be stated in two sentences: "When I say run, run. And don't stop, or look down (as its a giant cliff that drops off)."
It was a very cool experience and as close as I think I'll ever get to flying – plus the view was awesome. Flying in the air was pretty surreal, and to be honest I wasn't ever really scared or worried – maybe because I felt that once I was flying over Rio, being scared or worried couldn't change the outcome in it no matter what happened. All in all, I am definitely happy I did it and would recommend giving it a go.
You can check out the video below: