Rio de Janeiro

After exploring the mountains of Peru on the west coast of South America, we crossed the continent to find the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the east coast. Our first introduction to the city came as we flew into Rio’s SDU airport where you circle through the Guanabara Bay, past Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer before landing. To say it’s impressive is an understatement. Rio is certainly full of breathtaking topography with beaches and mountains that sprawl for miles throughout the city.

As a Portuguese colony, Brazil is similar to other countries in Latin America, but with its own unique Portuguese twist on history. And Rio itself has an identity and personality all its own. Its people are colorful and vibrant with a laidback beach style in the heart of a huge city. It’s honestly hard to put into words what it’s like without going there and experiencing it yourself. There are colors everywhere…especially when it comes to the street art, which I have to say was one of my favorite parts of exploring Rio. Everywhere you go, you can find art on the walls of the city…

Aside from seeing art, Perry and I started our week in Rio walking through a few of the different neighborhoods of the city like Centro, Lapa, Santa Teresa and Porto Maravilha. Rio has interesting architecture with the colonial Portuguese style dating back to the 1500 and 1600s throughout the downtown area. There’s a bakery, Confeitaria Colombo, from the late 1800s that is filled with delicious treats and a line that stretches forever to get a seat. And there’s endless streets to explore with something new around every corner.

Outside of walking around and exploring, our time was spent visiting a few of the “touristy” things that you must see in Rio: Escadaria Selaron, Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. 

You may not recognize the name (or maybe you do!), but the brilliantly colored tiled steps of Escadaria Selaron are a masterpiece that gained international recognition in the early 2000s when Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selaron, started placing tiles on the stairs outside his house. Slowly people from all over the world donated tiles from their cities and countries to contribute to Selaron’s work. You can find tiles from everywhere: from New Orleans to Barcelona to Jerusalem to Munich to St. Louis to New Zealand. Unfortunately we didn’t find any from Tennessee but hopefully there’s one in there somewhere! Now there are approximately 215 stairs covered in over 2000 red, yellow, blue and green tiles from over 60 countries. And similar to the street paintings throughout the city, it too is a work of art!

Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the more recognizable sights of Rio de Janeiro. With it’s steep cliff faces and how it juts out of the water of the Guanabara Bay, it’s easy to spot when you look out over Rio. When you take the cable car to the top, you have amazing views over the Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the city. We didn’t have the most beautiful day when we visited Sugarloaf, but the views were incredible just the same.

Perhaps the most recognizable of all the sights of Rio is the Christ the Redeemer statue that sits atop Corcovado Mountain. Placed there in 1931, the statue is 98 feet tall and 92 feet wide where Christ’s arms expand into the sky. It’s really pretty impressive and neat to see. The views from the mountain though are what make the trip to the top and dealing with the massive amounts of crowds worth it. From up there, you have 360 degree views around the city, and it’s amazing.

Whenever we visit a city, one of the things that we always try to do is visit the parks. Two parks that we visited in Rio were the Botanic Gardens and Parque Lage. Both were full of lush summer foliage and beautiful native plants. And both were located close to the Christ the Redeemer statue, which also was neat since you could usually find it in the distance no matter where you were in the parks. You can probably find it in a few of our pictures as well if you look closely :)

One rainy day, we visited the Sao Bento Monastery. It was established in 1590 and was beautiful on the inside. Neither of us had ever seen a Portuguese-style church before, and it was a sight to behold. While the exterior was a little plain, the interior was quite intricate and lavish.

As with any city, we found ourselves enjoying an abundance of delicious food and drinks. From coxinhas to brigadeiros to caipirinhas to picanha to all of the meat, it was yummy. One night, we ate dinner at the restaurant where the song, “Girl from Ipanema” (“Garota de Ipanema”), was written in 1962 by Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Did you know that this song is the second most recorded song in history after the Beatles’ song “Yesterday”? I had no idea. We also splurged one night and ate at a Brazilian steakhouse. And while I’m not usually the biggest meat eater, even I thought is it was super delicious. And of course Perry enjoyed the endless meat options.

In every city we visit, we always try to arrive with a loose itinerary of what we hope our days will look like while we’re there. And for Rio, the list seemed long. Yes, we were there eight full days, but when you look at everything that you want to do there and you notice how spread out everything is, you start to realize that doing it all will be a little difficult. Especially when you see the beautiful beaches that abound throughout the city and realize what a beach-going culture they have there. And who can blame them? I think if I lived in Rio, I’d have a hard time not visiting the beach every day.

Fortunately for us, our AirBnB was located in between the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches so it made for easy access to the sun, sand and water. We definitely spent some time at these two beaches as well as a beach in southern Rio called Barra Da Tijuca. I think we would say that Barra was our favorite just simply because of the lighter crowds, but all of the time we spent at the beach was lovely.

Our time in Rio was nice, and we will always remember it. But can I be honest? It wasn’t our favorite city that we’ve visited so far. The landscapes and the people were lovely, but it was kind of a big, dirty city. There were definitely some contributing factors to our negative views, like the fact that our AirBnB wasn’t great (which is a whole other travel lesson in-and-of itself…always invest in good accommodations, people- it can make or break your time somewhere! We thought we had a winner, but pictures can be a little deceiving unfortunately…). But aside from the AirBnB, we had these super high (probably too high and therefore unfair) expectations for Rio with everything we wanted to do, and it failed to meet those expectations. I think on paper all of the things we wanted to do sounded amazing and many of them were, but in reality, we maybe should have just planned to spend more time at the beach which is what Rio is known for :)

While it was really easy to get caught up in the “to-do’s” of our time in Rio, Perry and I talked yesterday about how nice it was to take the time to slow down and go to the beach a few days. Life can get so busy sometimes as we rush from one thing to another that I often forget how important it is to slow down and enjoy the moment before it passes by. I love lists and I love even more to check things off my lists. While accomplishing things is wonderful, when I focus solely on the end and not the journey, I miss so much. 

So I’m not chalking Rio up to a fail. We don’t regret visiting it. I think it’s a city that would have always called to us to visit one day or another. And I don’t think you necessarily should let our opinion decide whether you should visit it or not. There are SO many people who LOVE Rio. I’m thankful for our time there because of lessons learned from the experience. The lesson of choosing a better accommodation next time and the reminder to slow down in life and take advantage of life’s beaches. When we go back to the “real world” one day I know I’m going to need that reminder more than ever…or maybe I need it now as we leave Rio behind and head off on our next adventure.

Either way, today I’m thankful for lessons learned on this wonderful road that we’re on. I’m looking for more moments to take a deep breath and rest. And I’m praying that today you will take some time to slow down and enjoy life’s moments. May we all find a way to put our “to-do” lists aside every once in a while and enjoy the beaches in our lives, no matter what they may look like.


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