- Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s most vibrant – and exotic – urban landscapes
- Dramatic, rainforested mountaintops surround a city nestled picturesquely between jungle and sea
- The Sheraton Rio is one of the best places to stay, boasting two pools and mesmerising views of the beach
When you think of Rio it’s impossible not to picture golden beaches, lush tropical mountains and, of course, the carnival.
Rio’s location is something to be marvelled at. Set between peaks of lush forested mountains along the Brazilian coast line, the skyline is both beautiful and alluring.
We began our tour with arguably one of Rio’s most famous sights: Sugar Loaf Mountain, Pão de Açúcar. Set 1,300ft above the city, it’s one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with the geography of the place.
Stunning vistas: Rio is a captivating city nestled between mountains of lush tropical rainforest and sandy golden beaches
Focal point: Atop Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer statue is seen poking through the clouds. The image on the right shows just one of the many amazing views of Rio’s beaches tourists can take in
Going up: Passengers take two cable cars to the top of Sugarloaf mountain. The first ascends to the shorter Morro da Urca, from which this view can be enjoyed
The cable car whisks you to the top of Sugarloaf in just ten minutes
You’re able to see almost all of the neighbourhoods from one vantage point from the top, plus you’re rewarded with stunning views of green undulating hills and Rio’s golden beaches.
Such is the popularity of the attraction, there are even places to eat, drink and shop on high, along with an amphitheatre for summer concerts.
I particularly enjoyed the cable car ride to the top. Two all-glass aerial trams whisked us there in less than ten minutes. The more adventurous can even rock climb their way to the summit.
I got sweaty palms simply contemplating the thought.
While we were at Sugarloaf, we couldn’t help but stare at Cristo Redentor, the Christ the Redeemer statue. We were captivated by the sculpture. The clouds around Cristo would sometimes obscure the base of the statue, giving the illusion of Christ literally soaring through the clouds. It was otherworldly.
At the foot of sugarloaf lies one of Rio’s charming but least explored neighbourhoods – Urca.
It’s home to the city’s military school, but the leafy streets around the college are great for an afternoon stroll. There is even a small, well-concealed uncrowded beach, Praia Vermelha, to while away the afternoon on. It was here that we enjoyed our first taste of Brazilian steak at the Garota Da Urca. The restaurant is typical of many in Rio and it was the do-it-yourself option that appealed to us as it meant we were able to cook mouth-watering pre-seasoned wafer-thin slices of steak on a sizzling hot grill.
Looking down: The leafy streets of the wealthy suburb of Urca, home to 7,000 people, is in full view from the top of Sugarloaf mountain
Sizzling: Garota is one of the Rio’s most famous restaurants. The smell and sound of the sizzling steak cooked on a portable grill lured James in
No show: Crowds cheer as the sun sets on the famous Ipanema beach – but not on the day James went as clouds rolled in
Towards the end of our first day, we decided to head to Ipanema beach to witness the sunset. The beach was a hive of activity with a colourful mix of characters, from people playing beach volleyball to surfers catching the waves before it got dark.
Most people come here to top up their tans, people-watch and walk along the surf. For cariocas (residents of Rio), the beach is the city’s backyard that is free and open to all.
The next day we decided to tackle the second of Rio’s fantastic viewing platforms and head to the Cristo Redento.
From the Sheraton Hotel where we were staying, we could see the statue each morning as we enjoyed our breakfast. He appeared to be smiling down on us favourably as it was much clearer than on our first day. Situated 2,300ft above the city, there is a cog train that heads to the base of the statue.
It was exhilarating to be beneath the enormous Cristo and you could clearly see how expertly the piece had been carved out of stone.
The statue has been gazing peacefully over Rio since 1931. The viewing platform perched on top of the mountain of Corcovado was absolutely packed and it was hard to find enough space to snap a photo.
Many people were laying on their backs on the ground in order to capture the entire statue in their cameras’ lenses.
Outstretched: Keeping a watchful eye over the people of Rio, the Statue of Christ the Redeemer sits 2,300 feet up
There are few statues in the world with such a magnificent view. From the top there are sweeping vistas of Sugarloaf and the beaches
View from the statue: Sugarloaf Mountain can be seen clearly, left, and Rio’s lake, Rodrigo de Freitas or Lagoa is also visible
Strike a pose: Almost everyone who reaches the top does this
After lunch we made our way to another fabulous view at the Plaque Das Ruinas, set high up in the hilltop neighbourhood of Santa Theresa. The ruins are of a former mansion where Rio’s artists and intellectuals used to gather.
The neighbourhood is picturesque and full of winding streets and old homes. When we got to the top here, we found that there was a lovely patio for artists to sit, draw and relax on as well as a rooftop café.
Being high above the city once again, we searched for a way to get back down and came across what must be Rio’s most colourful staircase, the Escaderia Selaron.
Created by the Chilean artist Selaron, the staircase consists of 215 stairs that lead up to Santa Teresa. Many of the tiles were donated by travellers from cities around the globe.
You may have seen the staircase without even realising it as it features in a number of film shoots including Rio’s bid for the World Cup, U2’s Walk On and Snoop Dogg’s Beautiful.
Our final day in Rio was a hot and windy one.
We headed straight for the outdoors and Lagoa Lake around which many of Rio’s luxury apartments are located.
Village-like: The hilltop community of Santa Teresa is famous for its winding, narrow streets and a favourite spot for artists and tourists
Watch your step! Escadaria Selarón, also known as the Selaron Steps, are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón
Colourful: The steps appear in many popular culture references
A four-mile footpath loops around the lake but we sought shade under the foliage at the botanical gardens.
It made a refreshing escape from the city.
The gardens are beautifully set out with Portuguese palm trees lining the main footpaths.
The royal palms were planted when the Portuguese royals ruled from Rio.
With more than 8,000 plant species, the garden was quiet and serene.
We even saw a couple of toucans perched among the trees.
Eventually, the heat and humidity of the summer sun soon got the better of us and we decided to head to Copacabana beach for a couple of hours, making a stop at the Havaianas store to pick up some flip flops.
Havaianas are one of Brazil’s most famous fashion brands.
Originally created by a Scotsman in 1962, the colourful flip flops are now made by a company in Brazil.
Lakeside: On one of the hottest days of the trip, James decided to head to the lake in the Lagoa neighbourhood to cool down
At the Copa! Copacabana Beach began drawing visitors to its sandy shores in the 1920s and the buzz hasn’t died down since
A shore thing: The beach draws everyone from tourists to locals, along with vendors who offer cold drinks or even cook food on their portable grill
The beach at the Sheraton Hotel is secluded and quiet
The two-and-a-half mile long Copacabana beach was packed on the afternoon we arrived.
It also had a completely different feel to Ipanema beach.
Copacabana has more oceanfront hotels and restaurants along its shoreline, whereas Ipanema is a little more residential.
The curved beach became a symbol of Rio during the 1940s when international stars would jet down for the weekend.
It was with the construction of the Copacabana Palace Hotel in 1923 that saw the area become one of South America’s most elegant destinations.
The entire beach is also like a market place with passing traders trying to sell everything from skewers to sarongs.
The beach is full of cariocas having fun with a real mix of old-timers, favela kids and tourists.
You are barely alone for more than a minute before a roaming vendor will come by offering you a cold drink or even cook you some food on their portable grill.
Barracas (beach stalls) set us up with an umbrella to provide us shade.
In the late afternoon we strolled the length of Copacabana beach.
On weekends, they shut down the traffic on the side closest to the sands. It leaves the road open for people to cycle, skate, jog and walk along a huge stretch of boardwalk that would normally be choked by traffic.
At the end of the beach is the Forte Copacabana. Built in 1914, this was one of Rio’s most important defences against attack. You can still see the original features including 36ft-thick walls along with giant Krupp cannons. There is also a military museum with some of the war rooms and barracks recreated.
On the rooftop of the forte, there are striking views across the bay. Within the grounds of the fort there are also a couple of open-air cafes including the Café Columbo, where we went to recharge.
Shanty town: Rio has a huge number of favelas, or slums, which are located upon some of its steepest hillsides
Steering clear: The favelas are crime-ridden and have long-been dominated by gangs immersed in illegal drug trafficking
Luxury: Sitting at the end of Ipanema beach, the Sheraton Rio is a self-contained resort with fine pools and restaurants with comfy rooms
Perfect position: The hotel offers spectacular views of the bay and Ipanema Beach is just a short walk away
Street art: Colourful graffiti and murals can be seen all over Rio
We rounded off our evening with dinner in at a Churrascaria, Fogo de Chão.
I was surprised to have been recommended this place by both my hotel concierge and other Rio residents, who claim it’s the city’s best.
It came as a surprise me because Fogo de Chão is a chain restaurant with about 31 branches in the USA.
The food certainly didn’t disappoint with an all-you-can-eat meat extravaganza with endless skewers of sizzling steak, lamb, pork and chicken brought from the kitchen.
It was delicious, juicy and the seasoning was just magnificent.
We ended our evening by heading to a rooftop bar with another fabulous view – this time over Copacabana beach.
The view at night was also something to behold as the city’s beaches are lit up with huge spotlights.
Overall the Sheraton Rio proved to be a fabulous place to be based.
It’s located right at the end of Ipanema beach and there are stunning views of the coast line and nearby favelas.
The hotel is a full resort with its own secluded strip of public beach and two enormous swimming pools.
I certainly fell in love with Rio and after 2016’s Olympics showed much of the place on our TV screens and in newspapers, I am sure others around the world may be thinking about it, too.
You certainly won’t regret a trip there.
We flew to Rio on TAM, Brazil’s national airline. From New York we flew on the 767 which has almost lie-flat seating in business class.
The flight was exceptionally comfortable with a vast amount of entertainment on board including a selection of the latest film releases. The food was also of an excellent standard in both directions.
The airline has a number of routes direct to Rio and Sao Paulo from the U.S. as well as the UK.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online