Rio de Janeiro is so much more than just a city. It is a lifestyle. Breaking down my latest 24 hours stay in the 2016 Summer Olympics hosting city, I can only describe it as a life enhancing experience.
There are quite a few cities on this planet that I have a special connection to. Like Miami, Reykjavik, Lima or Melbourne, but since October 2016, I have another spot to mark as deeply influencing: Rio.
It was a rather cloudy early Saturday morning as our flight from Sao Paulo approached Rio´s downtown airport Santos Dumont. I was lucky to get hold of a window seat on the right hand side and stared with amazement as the plane passed Corcovado with the statue of Cristo Redentor on top and the world-famous Sugarloaf Mountain before making a steep landing on the airport´s short runway.
Rio had always been on my bucket list since I can recall and even if it is not really a big deal to hop over when layovering in Sao Paulo, I never really found the time to do so. But since our nonstop service from Munich to Brazil was officially coming to an end with my rotation (for an unknown period of time) this would be my first and last chance to experience it myself.
So as we rode our taxi to our hotel situated a few blocks away from the famous Copacabana, we could not wait to see all we could in these short 24 hours.
Check-in at the Hotel Atlantico Rio was not before 2 pm, nevertheless we made halt there to store our luggage in order to be a little more independent and having our hands free. I had a backpack with me for all personal belongings. It was 8 am at this time, but our fatigue from getting up at 4:30 in the morning was completely washed away by excitement and thrill.
We jumped into the next taxi which brought us to the train station at the bottom of Corcovado Mountain from where the Trem do Corcovado, a rack railway, climbs up the approximately 650 metres to the upper station. Try to get a seat on the right hand side from where you get to experience panoramic views while the train slowly goes up.
Before we obtained the tickets at computers directly at the station, the staff informed us that visibility up on the mountain was close to none. It was cloudy this day, but from the final approach I had seen that the cloud cover was a little above the statue, so even though chances were 50/50 to be disappointed in the end, we still took the chance and went up. This website used to have a webcam where you were able to check the visibility, but it has been offline for quite some time now…
And what a good decision this was. As we reached the top, the cloud cover had broken up revealing blue sky and breathtaking views over Rio and the Christ statue. Watch out when you walk the monument though! Many tourists lay themselves on the ground in order to get the perfect snapshot with the Cristo Redentor. Despite the many visitors, the atmosphere up here was sooooo magical. Having Rio laid down literally to your feet is a truly amazing experience that no one should miss. No matter how touristy this may be.
We stayed for a little while and savoured the tranquility along with a glass of fresh banana and maracuja juice while enjoying the warm sun. By the way, even if it should be a cloudy day, always take sun screen and a hat for protection with you! A bottle of water is also never a bad idea to stay hydrated and refreshed.
Our next stop: Pao de Acucar, the Sugarloaf Mountain.
If you have never been to Rio like me before and skies are clear, Sugarloaf Mountain is another hotspot not to be missed. You reach the top of the almost 400 metres high mountain by cable car. The first cable car brings you to the first level called Morro da Urca. From here, you can take panoramic helicopter tours, enjoy the view from one of the benches, do a little shopping or feast on a snack in one of the local restaurants.
The next cable car ride takes you all the way up to the top. If you recall, this is also the part of the ride that was featured in the James Bond movie Moonraker. The views are impeccable. If you are afraid of heights, I recommend not to stand next to the windows though.
From the top, indulge in the 360 degree panorama of Rio. The city literally lies at your feet, it is absolutely stunning! Enjoy an ice cold beer in the bar and take afterwards a little stroll over the hidden paths on the back of the mountain for more beautiful views. Thinking about it right now puts instantly a smile on my face!
Tired and hungry, it is the perfect time to enjoy lunch buffet with the locals at Terra Brasilis right on Praia Vermelha with a drop-dead view onto Pao de Acucar. After you have settled at a table, grab a plate at the buffet and pay only as much as your plate weighs! This is a typical way to eat in Rio and absolutely cool to experience (and the food tastes great, too!).
Another thing that is an absolute must for every first time visitor (and returner) is a traditional Caipirinha on Copacabana or Ipanema beach with an afterwards stroll along the promenade. Sit down in one of the many beach stand´s beach chairs and listen to the sound of the massive waves rolling in or watch those sexy Brasilians working out outdoors right at the beach.
Yes, I love Rio! These 24 hours have been an awesome experience and way to short! There is so much more to explore in and around the city that I absolutely need to come back sometimes. I love to travel to exhaustion and still feel that inner contentness as the plane lifts off the ground heading for home.