Llama Travel director, Luca Newbold, hadn’t visited Rio in 18 years, but when he did finally go back, he discovered a city more lively and inviting than ever. This is his account of his recent trip to Brazil’s most iconic city.
I have just recently revisited Rio de Janeiro after 18 years - and I am kicking myself for not having been back sooner! The tourist attractions are great (Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer are both fabulous), and the setting is to die for, with the city crammed in between jungle-clad hills and stunning white sand beaches. However, what I fell in love with this time was the feel of the place. There's a spirit in Rio that made me want to smile the whole time, from the street art in the Olympic Boulevard, to the Bossa Nova playing on the streets of Santa Teresa, and even just watching the locals jogging and cycling around the lagoon in Lagoa.
I stayed in Copacabana, which was one of the few parts of Rio that I felt had not really changed that much since my previous visit. The beach was still fabulous, with volleyball and football being played, and it felt safe. I took a late night stroll from one end to the other, and there were plenty of people wandering around, although I didn't venture on to the beach itself.
My favourite part was hiring a bike and just riding along the coast. Rio has become very bike-friendly in recent years, with many miles of bike lanes, including all along the coast. I took a gentle ride down Copacabana and along the more upmarket Ipanema and Leblon beaches, stopping to take a stroll on the beach and watch the surfers, and then enjoying an ice cream near the enormous lagoon, with the mountains rising up above the city.
The road continues for many miles beyond Leblon, passing through the new area of Barra de Tijuca, where many of the Olympic events took place, and on to the beautiful, secluded beaches at Prainha, less than 25 miles from Copacabana.
The main transformation I noticed in Rio is around the city centre, where what had felt like a slightly shabby area was completely renewed, with smart boutiques and restaurants, and a waterfront busy with people wandering around the striking Museum of Tomorrow, a science museum and architectural spectacle.
The food in Rio was great, with the upmarket Fogo do Chao, overlooking the marina in Botafogo, offering possibly the best all-you-can-eat barbecue in the city. The traditional feijoada I had in a local restaurant in Santa Teresa was, if anything, even better. And all accompanied by excellent caipirinhas.
You cannot get away from the favelas in Rio - they are visible from just about everywhere in the city, and whenever you look up to the omnipresent Christ the Redeemer, the view is usually framed by favelas. However, Rio felt safe, even when out at night. Like any city, make sure you know where you are and don't flaunt expensive electronics or jewellery, but there is no reason why you should have any more problems than in a European city.
A stay in Rio is a fabulous way to end a trip in Latin America. My recent trip has reminded me why it is such an iconic and lively city, and I cannot wait to go back. Hopefully before another 18 years has passed this time.
If you would like to visit Rio de Janeiro, you can see all of our Brazil holidays here.