After approximately 43 hours of travel from Israel, we assumed our first few days in Brazil’s unofficial capital would be spent catching up on much needed sleep. But after a quick power nap and some handy directions from one of the guys at our hostel, we couldn’t resist exploring this amazing city.
Rio is the perfect combination of rugged natural beauty and thriving metropolis, bordered by world-famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema and surrounded by huge hills covered in lush greenery. Each area of the city has its own distinct vibe, from the upscale yet chilled out beaches to the buzzing boroughs around Lapa and Santa Teresa.
Our first day was spent exploring these last two areas, taking in some pretty spectacular views from the Ruin Gardens in Santa Teresa and stuffing ourselves on traditional rice and beans. We found our way to the iconic Escadaria Selarón (or Selarón Steps) where we joined the crowds for a signature selfie before losing them again in the streets of Lapa. It seemed really easy to lose track of time in Rio, without even doing too much our days quickly slipped away.
We had planned our arrival in Rio to coincide with the end of the Paralympic Games (and free visa period, thank you Rio 2016) but we hadn’t given much thought to actually attending any events. We were pretty excited then, while exploring Copacabana on our second day, to walk right into the Marathon finals. It was absolutely amazing to be able to see some of the athletes powering their way around the track that ran alongside the beach and I definitely had a little something in my eye when we cheered on some of the Aussies in the wheelchair marathon finals.
We spent the afternoon exploring Ipanema and the craziness of Ipanema beach. We were almost happy we’d accidentally come on a Sunday because it meant we could see the locals out in force, drinking caipirinhas, playing paddleball and practicing their capoeira skills on the sand.
The streets of Ipanema were packed with markets and tons of delicious-looking food places so we were able to fill up on açai smoothies and cheese pastries (the unofficial diet of champions) before making our way back to Arpoador beach for sunset.
The next day, Marcelo, one of the lovely guys from Discovery Hostel offered to take a group of us to hike Dois Irmãos – the twin mountains that overlook Ipanema Beach.
Getting there involved a hair-raising ride on the back of a local moto-taxi through the Vidigal, one of the poorer favela neighbourhoods that sits right next to some of the most expensive parts of Rio de Janeiro. Almost an extreme sport in its own right, our motorbike drivers definitely took some pleasure eliciting nervous whimpers out of each of us as they ducked and weaved between minibuses, cars and even other bikes on the one lane road up the hill to the base of the mountains.
Once there (and thankful to be alive) we started the long, sweaty trek up through the rainforest to the top of the taller of the Two Brothers mountains. Along the way, we were rewarded with stunning, lush surroundings and even greeted by a few marmoset monkeys who were happy to come say hello and munch on the bananas Marcelo had brought with him.
Twenty more hot and sweaty minutes and we finally reached the end of our climb and were rewarded with breathtaking views looking out over Rio de Janeiro. High above the clouds, we could see Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, and even glimpses of the Christ the Redeemer statue when the clouds obligingly drifted out of the way.
After our big day of exploring, we were definitely looking forward to rewarding ourselves with a big dinner and (even bigger drinks). Our new friends from the day’s trekking knew of a tiny barbecue place so we crammed into the bar and ordered what ended up being enough food for twenty. We happily worked our way through various meats, salads, rice and more, sharing tales of our travels so far and future destinations to come.
Dinner turned into drinks, which turned into more drinks and us finally getting booted out of our hostel around midnight, with directions to one of the many clubs in Ipanema. It goes without saying but Brazilians (and Aussie backpackers) know how to party so we danced our way into the small hours of the morning.
We definitely didn’t give ourselves enough time to enjoy Rio to its fullest (although we gave it a good go), because while the lush greenery of Rio is stunning to admire, the rains that make it possible can definitely ruin a few plans, like our repeated efforts to get up to see the Christ the Redeemer statue (we’ll just have to come back again one day!)