Rio de Janeiro is a world-famous seaside city in Brazil. With a population of 13 million, it is the 21st largest city in the world and 2nd largest in South America behind Buenos Aires, Argentina. Rio de Janeiro is a city I have always wanted to visit but wasn’t sure if I would ever actually get there. Fortunately, my work travel would give me an opportunity to visit, and I added some vacation time to explore.
Traveling to Rio, there are a few destinations that are top of mind: Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach, Copacabana Hotel, the Selaron Steps, and something related to Rio’s world-famous Carnaval festival.
My journey starts with a rooftop sunset from the Grand Hyatt overlooking Barra Da Trijuca.
Barra da Tijuca is an upscale area near Rio filled with luxury condominiums, large office complexes, and resort hotels. The Barra Shopping Mall filled with 700 stores and restaurants is also located here. Having a drink on the rooftop overlooking a beach is one way to spend time. Another way to enjoy the area is to get out for a walk or run as I did on several mornings.
Christ The Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer is a massive statue of Jesus Christ standing with welcoming arms on the summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was completed in 1931 and stands at nearly 100 feet tall with an equally wide wingspan.
The statue is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most recognizable landmarks and considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. This was my #1 must-see site in Rio.
As you may know, while much of South America was settled by Spain, Brazil was colonized by Portugal and Portuguese (not Spanish) is the national language of Brazil. Portugal has a similar statue called Christ the King overlooking Lisbon that was inspired by Christ the Redeemer. I would catch of glimpse of that statue when visiting Lisbon a few months later.
The sky was so clear when I arrived, but it seemed to change in a matter of minutes and quickly became cloudy and windy. The images below leave a lot to be desired in terms of quality but provide a sense for the surrounding area and the relative elevation of this site.
In the image below, you can see the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain which is on a peninsula at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. If you have time and weather allows, Sugarloaf is another key point of interest in Rio with amazing views. Unfortunately, it was time to get off the mountain and the next stop wouldn’t be Sugarloaf.
The Selaron Steps
Escadaria de Selaron (Selaron steps) is a world-famous artistic site in Rio de Janeiro. The tiled steps are the work of Chilean artist Jorge Selaron who created this space as tribute to the Brazilian people.
As you can see in the images, there are a lot of people visiting this site. He shares the story of his work in English and Portuguese on the tiles below and it is an interesting read and project – one he promised to continue until his passing.
Over the years, Jorge Selaron’s art received international recognition and his street art has become a major tourist attraction in Rio. His work was even featured in Brazil’s Olympic promotional video.
Beyond this segment of the stairs, the stairs keep going and going upward.
Selaron’s thousands upon thousand of tiles were made at this request, purchased, or donated by others. He shaped them as needed and used many of them as a canvas for his own paintings.
Selaron was found dead on his stairs at the age of 65 in 2013. At last, his work was complete. Escadaria Selaron lives on as major attraction in Rio de Janerio.
Rio de Janeiro Cathedral
This Catholic church was inspired by the architectural styling of Mayan temples and holds up to 20,000 people.
It is estimated that 2000 tribes (~ 3 million people) inhabited the area now known as Brazil when the Europeans arrived. Many of these natives were assimilated or died due to disease or conflict. Today there are 155 indigenous languages still spoken in Brazil and 800,000 people who classify themselves as indigenous. A fact I find fascinating is there are still 67 “uncontacted” tribes in Brazil. This means they are still living “off the grid” with minimal to no contact with the outside world. Brazil has a national agency charged with ensuring their protection from encroachment by the modern world (unless they seek it).
One area I would suggest prioritizing and staying in (though I didn’t for work reasons) is Copacabana. I wasn’t able to make it there during the day but have a couple licensed images to share:
Copacabana beach has over 2 million visitors for New Year’s Eve and hosts, perhaps, an even bigger party – Carnival.
While I didn’t make it to Copacabana during the day, I did make it there for dinner one evening and dined at the famous Copacabana Palace. This is an historic hotel that has hosted some of the biggest names in Hollywood and world leaders alike during trips to Brazil.
Zacapa Rum XO is considered one of the best rums in the world and this seemed like the place and time to try it. I’m a fan!
The use of artistic tiles, better known as azulejos in Portuguese, have a strong presence throughout Brazil and Portugal. The Selaron Steps and Copacabana Beach boardwalk are examples. Even the subways are vibrant in Brazil.
South America is a continent I hope to see more of in the future and Rio de Janeiro was a great way to start.
Rio de Janeiro was established in 1565 by the Portuguese Empire. In 1763, it became the capital of the colony of Brazil. The Portuguese Royal Court transferred itself from Portugal to Brazil in 1808 after Napoleon invaded Portugal. Rio de Janeiro became the chosen seat for the court of Queen Maria I of Portugal. This is one of the few instances in history that the capital of a colonizing country officially shifted to a city in one of its colonies. The Portuguese Royal Court would return to Portugal in 1821.