After a work week in the somewhat dull São Paulo, including some of the worst traffic we’ve ever experienced, we felt like treating ourselves to a few days of relaxation. So, when Friday arrived, we quickly (well, again, the traffic…) sped to the airport and hopped on a one-hour Avianca flight heading north, touching down in Rio De Janeiro just as the sun had set.
Known for its spectacular beaches, carnival, samba and crime, Rio is definitely not dull. Its year-round beach weather and friendly, gorgeous locals, the Cariocas, seduce foreigners (literally and figuratively) with all of Rio’s magic. To help get you started, we’ve put together some of our favourite spots to eat, sleep and drink.
Where to stay?
There is no abundance of places to stay in Rio but we’d highly recommend narrowing it down to either Ipanema or Leblon – located right next to each other and both offering up amazing beaches as well as restaurants, shops and cafés.
For Ipanema, check out Ipanema Inn, a clean and recently renovated “no bullshit” place with a pretty great breakfast. It also hosts one of the better restaurants, Quiteria, in the area. Without overselling it too much, it’s a bit like The Hoxton of Rio. If you’re looking for something more premium, check out Fasano, also in Ipanema.
There’s a lot of cool flats to rent, so make sure to quickly scan through AirBnB before you book a hotel. Again, Ipanema is the place to be if you’re renting.
Where to eat?
When it comes to eating in Rio, keep expectations low. In fact, it’s the one thing about Brazil that genuinely disappointed us. Even at flashier joints the food is quite bland, and service is often rough – so expect quantity over quality on both accounts. The reason? Well, according to a local friend, much of the staff will never have eaten in a restaurant themselves – and, without sounding like too much of a douchebag, much of the local clientele don’t have much reference.
Apart from Quiteria, mentioned above, our two favourites restaurants are located within 5-10 minutes taxi ride of each other. We’re lazy, that way.
One of Rio’s best restaurants, Zuka prepares delectable, mouthwatering cuisine. Try zingy ceviche or the confection-like delicacy of Zuka’s original foie gras to start, and follow with tender octopus over a roast potato crisp, honey-glazed duck breast with Moroccan couscous, grilled fish of the day with truffle sauce or many other outstanding dishes.
Unusual recipes, simplicity of preparation and elegance of presentation guarantee a good meal at Via Sete. Organic meats and greens grown without chemicals harmful to the environment are at the heart of the menu, and in 2007 the restaurant became the city’s HQ of the World Wildlife Fund.
Oh, and something Rio does really well is caipirinhas. You can order one almost anywhere – including the dodgy beach stands where they’re like $2 – and it will taste just fine.
What to do?
Honestly? Just do the beach. If you must do the tourist thing, keep it to Sugarloaf Mountain for the views and then take a motorbike taxi up the favela of Vidigal. If you’re feeling energetic, and most importantly, alive, then climb the
(two brothers). Either way make sure you end up at Bar De Laje, which in our opinion offers up the best-ever views of Rio.
Also don’t miss the central neighborhood of Lapa, packed with pubs dedicated to samba, and the bohemian Santa Teresa with its spectacular view of the city. And consider a day trip to the hidden and untouched beaches of Joatinga and Prainha.
Generally, avoiding looking like a tourist is a good thing. Leave the gold watch at home.
Lufthansa offer great (and not too pricey) overnight flights via Frankfurt onboard their new 747-8L jumbo jets. When you arrive (and whilst you’re here) taxis are cheap.