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The residents of Rio de Janeiro are called “cariocas,” and they play on Ipanema and Copacabana beaches below the outstretched arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue.
This cidade maravilhosa, or marvelous city, is wedged between lush green hills and the white sands of Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. Accentuating the landscape are Sugarloaf Mountain and the huge statue of Christ that stands on the top of Corcovado Mountain. The arms that extend outward represent the open spirit of the Brazilian people. Once a year, Rio positively hums when cariocas gear up for Carnaval, the mother of all street parties with plenty of dancing and colorful costumes.
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What First Time Visitors Can Expect
A casual atmosphere and fun-loving locals. The city is divided into two sections, the Zona Norte (the north zone) and the Zona Sul (the south zone). The bulk of Rio’s attractions and hotels are found in the Zona Sul. A sightseeing tour will undoubtedly include the spectacular views of the city from the summit of Corcovado, where the thirty-eight-meter tall statue of Christ stands. Make sure to go up on a clear day.
For a day at the beach, bring your sunglasses and sun lotion if your skin is fair. The summer season is at its peak between December and March, and temperatures can go up to 40 degrees Celsius in Rio. B
e careful and don’t stay out in the sun too long on your first day. Leave all of your valuables in the safe at your hotel, and bring just enough money for lunch, drinks, and a taxi to get back to the hotel (and in this case, be sure that the meter is working). Avoid using buses to get around if you are new to Rio and don’t have a firm command of Portuguese. The routes are complicated, and drivers don’t speak English.
How to Stay Safe in Rio
Despite its violent reputation, Rio has about the same risks as every other big city around the world. Some things to keep in mind when walking around town are:
Try not to look like a tourist and appear as though you know where you’re going.
Don’t hang around the downtown area at night because it’s deserted.
Unless you are with a local guide, do not wander near or inside a favela (a slum). You will attract unwanted attention, and your presence may cause violence.
Tours of the favelas that surround Rio are now possible. In stark contrast to the fancy apartments that line the beaches, residents of these shantytowns make do with ramshackle cardboard, metal, and brick homes. Conditions are improving slowly, and many of the people that live in the favelas now have access to medical facilities and schools.
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Eat and Drink Like the Locals
Eating out here won’t cost a fortune. Follow the locals to a luncheonette, a sandwich, and juice bar and sample some wonderful treats such as Pao de queijo (deep-fried cheese balls), with a vitamin (a large fruity milkshake). In the evening, don’t miss an all-you-can-eat barbecue feast at a churrascaria, an authentic Brazilian steakhouse.
For something a little stronger when drinking, try Brazil’s national drink, the caipirinha. It’s a potent mixture of sugar cane alcohol with sliced limes and ice.
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