First day: Selaron stairs / Copacabana and Ipanema beaches / Football match at Olympic stadium
After our scary episode at the airport we settle down at our hostel in the Gloria district which is located just 5/10 min walk from the famous Selaron Stairs. It made perfect sense to start the tour of the city by climbing the 215 steps a Chilean artist had been covering with ceramics since 1990. When his work became known around the globe, he received thousands of ceramic pieces from all over the world which he integrated into the stairs. There are tiles and mosaics from more than 120 countries. Due to safety concerns we decided not take the camera for many of our trips around Rio, but we did take some photos and videos with the GoPro !
After this first stop we took the metro to the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. It was over 35°c and in our morning excitement we didn’t even think of taking our swimsuits… No other choice than to walk by the water to cool down. From Copacabana the view of the sugar loaf and the turquoise water is mind-blowing. The beaches are crowded with locals and children playing in the waves. Some paddle while others try surfing in the midst of the swimmers … We begin to realize where we are.
While taking a break from the sun, sipping freshly cut coconut (this is the life) we rise from our seats due to a couple of women shouting. A teenage boy had just tried to steal a bike from outside of one of the food stands. People from all directions ran to stop the boy as one man leaped on top of him bringing the both of them to the ground. The boy wiggled free and tried to run. As he did the man, still on the ground, grabbed him by the shorts. The boy was determined and escaped from his clothing and continued to run along Copacabana beach completely naked while being chased by several men. We lost sight of what happened after this.
We sat back down, slightly dazed but also revived. In a city known for its violence, we witnessed ordinary people doing good and looking out for one another. In fact we felt this the whole time in Rio. It gave us the impression that people aren’t sitting by at accepting it, for the most part the city is good and honest.
After all of that drama, we jumped on the metro back to our hostel to join a tour to the Olympic stadium. We were lucky enough to arrive the day Brazil played Colombia. A friendly match commemorating the Brazilian football team who died in a plane crash the previous month. The atmosphere was not as electric as we hoped because of the missing Brazilian stars stuck in their respective European clubs but nevertheless it remains a very good experience. Only two days before, we where standing in the Barcelona Olympic stadium…
Day Two: Christ the Redeemer
On the second day of our trip, we decided on going to the Corcovado mountain to see closely the Christ The Redeemer, icon of Rio. We chose to hike up from Lage Park… A 2 hours intense walk which was rather tiring, not because of the difficulty (although…) but mainly because of the heat. It was about 38°c and we literally sweat like pigs !
We where exhausted by the end but with a feeling of great merit, we ascended the last steps leading us to the Christ. The view is breathtaking. We can see the bay of Rio, where we remember watching the olympic rowing course, the Sugar Loaf rising straight out of the turquoise waters and on the right the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Finally completely on the side the “two brothers” mountain and the largest favela in the world: Rocinha.
We went down with the train to gain some time and enjoy the rest of the day napping and drinking Caipirinha.
Day Three: Favela Tour / Santa Teresa / SugarLoaf
Through our hostel we booked a 3 hour tour to Rocinha, the largest favela in the world which has been pacified just before the Olympics. Located in the southern suburbs of Rio, nearly 70,000 people live here. The favela is autonomous and there is everything you need: banks, supermarkets, post offices, hospitals and libraries. It is a city within a city.
Arriving at the bottom of the Favela, we got on scooters. Zigzagging in the streets of Rocinha is in itself an incredible experience that only we can recommend. Thrilled with adrenaline, we arrive at the top of the hill. From one of the colorful houses we have a 180° panorama view of the whole community. On each roof there is a blue water tank. These have been installed by the government to ensure better access to water.
We begin our descent by the main road then through a maze of stairs and alleys. We cannot take pictures everywhere so we wait until our guide tells us we are safe to take the camera out… Indeed, “pacified” does not mean that there are no gangs (quite the opposite) nor that we are safe in the streets. This means that the military are present and “control” the favela and the drug dealers. We must remain vigilant not to cross (and film or photograph) a gang member…
Along the way we stop off and meet members of the local Capoeira club. All raised in the favelas, the club travel to national and international competitions and give back to the community by coaching kids. After watching them preform and listening to them boo Conor McGregor, we got a chance to practice some of our skills.
We return to Gloria and head towards Santa Tereza for lunch. This is a booming neighborhood, almost hipsterish,, boasting good restaurants (very expensive) and artists’ galleries. In the center of the cobblestone streets and bordered by magnificent colonial buildings, a tramway has been going back and forth since 1877 (with a stop between 2011 and 2015) to the old center via the “Carioca” aqueduct. It is one of the oldest trams in the world. (no photo taken)
We swallow two Brazilian specialties based on cassava and dried meat and then head to the Sugar Loaf for sunset. Again, we preferred to climb the hill rather than take the cable car. It is 6 pm when we reach the top of the first peak after a 30-minute walk. The superb view of the city plunging into the dark under the protective eye of Christ balances our disappointment at not being able to witness the sunset we were hoping due clouds partially blocking the sun. (no photo either)
This is how our Carioca experience ends. The next morning we are taking an internal flight to Foz do Iguazu.