The second largest city in Brazil at 6.3 million people, Rio de Janeiro is most accurately viewed as a city of extremes. For one, there's the huge population, many of which fill some of the most widely characterized slums in all of film and media. For another, Carnival, the greatest party in the world, has come to fame in the extravagant floats and glittering, gyrating bodies that fill these streets every year prior to Lent. For yet another, Christ the Redeemer is a hundred foot statue that looms atop the 2,300 foot Corcovado Mountain, beckoning all the world into Guanabara Bay with open arms. Ironically, in a city whose greatest monument is a symbol of peace, violent crime represents the other extreme, with rates that are annually among the highest on record, particularly with youths in the poverty-choked favelas.
Such talk of extremes can give a visitor pause. It may dishearten some of you enough to settle for the typical Bahamas vacation that sports the type of amenities that remind you that you can afford cable and electricity without having to resort to drug and human trafficking. Which would be too bad, for you would be missing out on weekend dance parties beneath the arches of the Lapa neighborhood, paragliding and hang gliding through the Tijuca Forest to the praia (beach), climbing Corcovado or Sugarloaf mountain for a view down this world-famous coastline or even just a day on the boardwalks and sand of beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema that have been memorialized in song. These activities won't be occurring aboard your cruise ship, and we suspect that a little karaoke in the lounge may not be enough to fill the hole.
There are also plenty of opportunities to get away if you don't want to spend your whole trip bouncing between Zona Sul and Centro. Think multi-day hikes through the dense forest and rock formations of Serra dos Orgaos National Park or the unpaved routes of island paradise, Ilha Grande. Think the swimming, surfing, and scuba diving of the Buzios Peninsula, Arraial do Cabo, and Cabo Frio, all of which will be far less touristy than Ipanema. You can also head down to the western suburb of Guaratiba where the small beach, Barra de Guaratiba is all the better because it allows access to the untouched peninsula and its vacant lengths of sand. Give our Rio adventure page a look for more activities worth doing.
The World Cup host in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016, Rio continues to build on its reputation as a must-see destination. Whether you've been dying to try out an authentic churrascaria, shake your hips to samba, sprawl out amongst the beach bodies of the Zona Sul, lose your voice at a soccer match or even partake in a community-funded tour of various favelas, the options are plentiful in this iconic city on the Brazilian coast. Browse our Rio culture, nightlife, and cuisine pages to fully flesh out what Rio has to offer the traveling "gringo."