Rio de Janeiro

Backpacking in Rio de Janeiro

Christ The Redeemer

With so many amazing places around the globe it can be hard to commit to one as your favourite. At least that was how I felt until I arrived in Rio de Janeiro.

Former holder of the infamous title, Murder Capital of the World, warnings blare out with the very suggestion of visiting this Brazilian city. And with murder rates topping 50,000 in Rio’s record year, 2003, the warnings shouldn’t be ignored. But you shouldn’t let them stop you either. In 2010 around 167,000 British citizens visited Brazil and only 66 of those required consular support. Provided you are street smart, letting your hair down in this Latin American city holds the promise of putting Rio streets ahead in your list of favourite destinations.

Iconic Rio – Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain

Brazil Panorama

It's near impossible to think of Rio without conjuring up the iconic image of the huge statue of Christ sitting atop Corcovado Mountain surveying his city. The statue, a neck stiffening 39.6 meters tall and 30 meters wide, was recently dubbed one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and observing Rio’s Cristo Redentor in all its art deco glory, it is easy to see why.

But before you set off up Corcovado, it's well worth taking a trip to Sugarloaf Mountain. Not only does this afford a near unbeatable view of the Cristo from a distance (beaten only by wallet vaporising helicopter tours), but it also ensures that the wonder of Sugarloaf is not overshadowed – seeing this smaller mountain after ascending the staggering height of the Christo peak runs the risk of a shoulder-shrugging ‘so’ instead of the more deserving ‘wow’.

The best time to take the cable car up Sugarloaf is in time for sunset. Grab a cold Brahma and sit back as the sun descends and the Cristo and his city burst into action, illuminating Rio like a Christmas tree. Magnifico!

Being a Rio Beach Bum – Copacabana and Ipanema

Two of the world’s most famous beaches nestle side by side on the coast of Rio offering visitors the wonderful ability to set foot on their scorching hot, golden sands all in one trip. The waters can be fierce, but that does not deter the scantily clad Brazilian bikinied women and their equally toned men heading for the waves. Whether you think beach volley ball is a cliché or not, it is wonderful to watch this Brazilian passion over a fresh, chilled coconut juice.

And when you are ready to explore beyond Copacabana, hop on the bus or take a taxi to neighbouring Ipanema (the beaches are next to each other but stretch on for miles). Achieving fame courtesy of the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, the beach is as glorious as its equally well known neighbour. To avoid the masses, visit at sunrise (after a night of reveling) or sunset. But be sure to take a friend or two.

Alternative Rio – the Favelas

Brazil Flag

The news will have us believe that Rio's favelas are a dangerous no-go zone, and indeed you'd be foolish to wander into them alone, but Rio has turned these city dwelling shanty towns to its advantages by offering tours. The favelas are probably the clearest example of the wealth gap in Rio, and whilst the number of inhabitants are on the decrease (30% of the population in 2000 down to 26% in 2010) the favela population in Rio is sadly significant.

If you want to get a better insight into favela life, check there is no current unrest in the area, choose a well-established tour guide, treat the locals with respect and you should be fine.

Coco-loco in Rio de Janeiro – Nightlife

Rio’s passionate Latino spirit cannot be contained 24 hours a day and Rio’s nightlife is testament to this with the area Lapa at its beating heart. Head there to shake your thang with the locals, rhumba style. Don’t worry if your rhythm was inherited from your ancient uncle at family parties, there will be no shortage of naturally talented rhumba-ing locals to help you get into the grove.

With people spilling onto the streets and music throbbing in the air, it won't be just the effect of the street vended caipirinhas making you smile. If you really want to tap into the local offerings, try a fresh coconut filled with rum, but be warned, it is not called coco-loco without good reason!

Safety First

Copacabana Beach

So, how do you manage a safe trip to Rio? For solo travellers, and particularly single females, try and find some other backpackers to see the sights and nightlife. If going alone is truly your preference, just be extra careful and always take licensed taxis at night, even if you are only going a couple of blocks.

It's never wise to flash your valuables and that is particularly so in Rio. Removing watches and any jewellery, no matter how inexpensive, will also remove the risk of robbery, and only take out as much cash as you need. If you can, swap your day pack for something less valuable looking – a carrier bag is perfect. Yes, hardly attractive, but the thieves will think that too.

Between its famous Carnival, golden sands, iconic sights and a throbbing Latin American night life all set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop, Rio should be the envy of every city. Whilst crime fears might do this place down, with the anticipated influx of visitors for the upcoming Olympics and World Cup, the whole world is on the brink of discovering how fantastic Rio is. Just try and make sure you see it first.