When we were in Brazil back in May we made sure to add a few days onto the end of our trip to do a day tour of Rio de Janeiro and spend some time on Copacabana Beach.
We felt like we couldn’t come to Brazil and not tour Rio! I am so glad we took the time, in fact I wish we had spent more time touring this city.
We had the equivalent of 2 whole days in Rio after our time in Buzios. When we got into Rio it was later in the afternoon so we just checked into our Hotel and then met up with our friends to head out to a soccer match. Our tour guide Vincente had purchased the tickets for us and they were waiting at our hotel.
JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro Review
We stayed at the JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro and it was lovely. This is the higher end of the Marriott range and it really showed in comparison with the other Marriott’s I have stayed at. Most of the other tourists that were staying at the hotel were American and there was a lot of English being spoken. Compared with Buzios where you had to search for hotel staff that spoke English, everyone at the JW Marriott was fluent and it made the check in process a breeze.
We paid for this room with points and I really wish we had of chosen to stay here for our second night.
With our upgraded room we also were able to have breakfast in the business lounge, which worked out in our favour as there was no continental breakfast included when you pay for your room on points. I think this is a bit ridiculous because if we had of paid with cash instead of points the breakfast would have been included. Wifi is also not included in the rooms but it is free in the hotel lobby.
We were upgraded to an ocean view room and it was amazing. I would highly recommend going with Ocean view if you can afford it! Looking out onto Copacabana just added to the magical Rio experience.
All we had time to do was drop our bags and meet up with the rest of our group because we had to take the subway to Maracana Stadium to watch the soccer game.
Soccer Game in Rio
I was really impressed with the subway in Rio it was not crowded when we were on there even though there was a sporting event and the cars were new and super clean. I had visions of what I experienced in Italy where the train cars were crowded like Toronto rush hour all the time!
Soccer is to Brazil as Hockey is to Canada and when you get into Maracana stadium you feel the energy. The only thing I can really compare it to is a Toronto Maple Leafs game when they are playing a rival team. Still I think the energy in that stadium when the home team was scoring was more intense. I am not really a soccer fan but I would still recommend attending a game just to experience the high energy and visit one of Rio’s landmarks.
After the game we took the subway back to Copacabana and ate at one of the restaurants that are out on the large boulevards across from the Beach. I found with these restaurants the closer you got to Ipanema beach the less expensive they became. Most of the restuarants had the meals we had come to expect, plenty of meats with fries, a lot of Italian influence (the Chicken Parmesan is SO GOOD) and can easily be shared for two.
Day Tour of Rio de Janeiro
The next day we all met at the Olinda Hotel which just like the JW Marriott is centrally located on Copacabana Beach. Vincente our guide picked us up with a van to carry our 7 person tour group and we started on our first of many stops throughout the city.
Our tour began at one of the lookout points within Tijuca National Forest which is the rebuilt rainforest that is in the middle of the city and is the worlds largest urban park.
I say replanted because the area was originally coffee plantations but the land was reclaimed and the plantation farmers were essentially kicked out of the city proper. This is why you will see non-native species of plants (such as bamboo) that were planted here to reforest the area.
While this view was awesome, it was not my favourite view on the tour. But it was a great place to start and when you haven’t seen the rest of the views yet you are still amazed by everything you see!
This first stop on our day tour of Rio de Janeiro was also our first glimpse of Christ the Redeemer or Cristo Redentor. As you can see he is still a bit far away but I thought this was one of the better angles to get just Christ as opposed to many other things going on in your picture.
There is a Helipad at this location where I assume you pick up the many helicoptor tours of Rio. If you are looking to get the really amazing up close pictures of Christ the Redeemer I suggest the helicoptor route as you won’t have to fight with throngs of tourists at the foot of the statue.
Next stop on our day tour of Rio de Janeiro was going up to see Christ the Redeemer up close and personal. I am so glad that we went up as close to when the site opens as possible as we were able to view the statue without too many other tourists making the visit unbearable. It was getting quite crowded by the time we were leaving so if you are crowd adverse I would suggest going at the beginning of your tour.
The one thing I did wrong on this day is that I didn’t have a zoom lense with me just my 50mm portrait lens and it was hard to get a good picture of the statue. Thank goodness for my iphone which allowed me to capture Christ the Redeemer in all his glory. (see the collage above).
The next two stops on our day tour of Rio de Janeiro were back in Tijuca Rainforest; at the Cascatinha Waterfall and the Vista Chinesa. The waterfall was a gorgeous stop, not just for the waterfall itself but for all the vegetation and wildlife.
The Vista Chinesa or the Chinese View was built in the early 20th century as a nod to the Chinese immigrants that came to Rio and Brazil to start a tea plantation. A later immigration brought Chinese to start a rice plantation which was a failure and much like in the Canadian west, these immigrants then found jobs in construction.
Nevertheless this Chinese style pagoda marks the site of one of the best public views in all of Rio. Here you can get a picture of Corcovado Mountain, Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf. If you want one stop to see it all this is it!
After all this touring we stopped for lunch. Our guide took us to a local lunch spot near the Botanical Gardens. My one regret from our tour is that we didn’t take the time to go to the Botanical Gardens as I think that it would have been a beautiful site that isn’t really conveyed by the term Botanical Gardens!
After lunch we went into one of the Favela’s which are the neighbourhoods that seem to be built on top of each other. While I feel it was good to see this area to appreciate the dichotomy between the Rio in the hillsides and the downtown area, and there were some seriously amazing views from the Favela rooftops, I could have done with less time in this area in our day tour of Rio de Janeiro.
This might not have been up to our guide however as I think our bus driver was in a bit of a traffic jam trying to get turned around to pick us up. I think if we had of spent less time here and dedicated some time to the Botanical Gardens that would have been a perfect trip. However none of the rest of our group was interested in spending more time touring!
We were supposed to be able to tour Sugar Loaf the same day however because of a shut down for some maintenance we had to push our tour to the next day.
This is where our day tour of Rio de Janeiro turned into a two day tour. But our guide Vincente went above and beyond and agreed to take those of us who were left (some of our group flew out the day before) out to Sugar Loaf the next day when it was open again to complete our tour.
Vincente assured us that this was not a usual thing and he couldn’t remember when Sugar Loaf was shut down for an entire day of maintenance.
Again we went up Sugar Loaf first thing in the morning. It was worth it to avoid the crowds which is something we wouldn’t have been able to do if we had of had this tour with everything else the day before.
To get to the top of Sugar Loaf you take a cable car up to the top, well actually two separate cable cars, and then you can see Rio from a whole different vantage point.
After seeing all the magnificent views the day before I was a bit skeptical that I would still be in awe of Rio but it was totally worth it to go up to Sugar Loaf.
The rest of our last day was spent lounging on Copacabana Beach. While the waves were especially strong, the beach itself was well maintained and easy to enjoy. We split our time between sitting close to the shore and then back closer to the boardwalk where the beach restaurants are located.
There are people trying to sell you things constantly, there is plenty of room to spread out and relax in the sun. If you want to hang out with friends and have a beer, sit up closer to the boardwalk because you can get a lounge while you drink!
Olinda Rio Hotel Review
As I mentioned before we stayed at the Olinda at our second night in Rio. After staying at the JW Marriott the Olinda was very much a step down. Still if you are used to budget travel it was fairly standard. Larger than a room in Europe but definitely not luxurious.
If I were to do it over again I would have either stayed at the Olinda first and upgraded or just payed for the second night at the Marriott. I was a bit disappointed at our accommodations to say the least. Still if I had not stayed at a more expensive hotel first I don’t think I would have been phased.
There was free wifi in the room and continental breakfast so this option was more inclusive, and being a block down the road was essentially in the same location. Great for a budget hotel.
So that is my last post in my Brazil series! If you are considering taking a trip down to Buzios and Rio I would highly recommend it as it is so different than the Caribbean. Definitely a trip of a lifetime!