It might seem odd, but this was one of the first things I was told by a friend who moved to Rio from the UK a few years ago, on hearing I was coming for a weekend on my way back from a work trip in the north of Brazil. “Why on earth not?” I asked. “Because it’s not long enough.” I thought that was a bit of an odd thing to say, but it turned out he was right, for two reasons. First, the weather is a little unreliable, and with only 2 days, you might be unlucky and get a bad spell, which would be unfortunate because there are so many great things to do when the weather is good (and not so many when it isn’t). Second, because it definitely isn’t long enough to see and do even half the things you’ll want to. Unfortunately, I really couldn’t stay longer, due to work commitments, so we attempted to pack as much as we could into just under 72 hours. Of course, that meant there was little time for sleep, but that’s the advantage of the long flight home.
Everyone knows Rio has great beaches. Copacabana and Ipanema are world-famous, of course, but the real beauty is that they’re right on the edge of the city and so easily accessible.
Known as balneario beaches, they’re not just about sunbathing and the odd bit of swimming, but real recreational destinations, with all kinds of organised events such as beach volleyball, surfing, footvolley, beach parties, fireworks and so on.
The centre of Rio reminded me very much of Havana, with an odd juxtaposition of beautiful old colonial buildings and dereliction. And in many cases, both at once.
The centre is quite manic however, so a great way to escape after a hectic morning is to visit the Botanical Gardens. It might sound a cliche, but it really is a haven of tranquillity, and a great place to wander aimlessly, recharge the batteries and ponder the meaning of life. After all, I was on holiday.
Rio is of course also famous for its nightlife, and I was lucky enough to visit what is apparently the world’s best samba club, Rio Scenarium. A huge old mansion which is more like a vintage museum than a dance club, with collections of antique teapots, clocks, gilt mirrors, and music on three floors, there’s a surprise round every corner. On Saturday nights they have several live bands, and the music goes on until around sunrise (though I have to confess I was exhausted at 3am and we called it a night).
- Rio Scenarium
I’d never realised that Rio is such a great place for hiking either. Of course I knew about Sugar Loaf Mountain, but that was about it. I had no idea about the spectacular Parque Nacional da Tijuca, right on Rio’s doorstep, and even all the little trails within the city limits that take you up into the hills.
On my last day, I needed to be at the airport by 1pm, but since the weather forecast was finally good after 2 days of cloudy skies, we decided there was time for a quick hike up to the top of Morro Dois Irmãos. The fact that we had only had time for 3 hours’ sleep the previous night, having been out dancing till late, didn’t deter us, and we arrived at the Favela of Vidigal, where we took a mototaxi to the start of the trail. I’d never been on a motorbike before, so I was a little apprehensive about this part. Not to mention the fact that favelas (slums) are scary places where terrible things happen to foreigners (it turned out that this particular one was not dangerous, at least so my friend told me). I was handed a helmet (far too big, and without even a strap to keep it on, so next to useless, but it gave my mind some small degree of security nevertheless), climbed on the back of the bike, and we were off up a tortuous climb through the favela at breakneck speed. I didn’t want to make my terror too apparent by clinging tightly onto the random stranger in front of me on the bike, but I didn’t really want to fall off either, especially when we negotiated the tight bends with only a hair’s breadth between us and the trucks descending in the opposite direction. In the end, I went for a halfway approach which I hoped conveyed an air of cool detached calm with a healthy regard for my own safety, by just keeping my hands lightly on the ribs of the driver. I doubt it worked, but my friend was too polite to say otherwise, and the driver didn’t speak English.
After about 40 minutes of steep climbing through the rainforest, with a few breaks for photographic opportunities (clearly not to catch our breath), we were rewarded with some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen from a city location: 360 degree views around the whole of Rio and far beyond, and barely a soul in sight. What a way to finish the weekend! “So this is why you moved to Rio.”
Never go to Rio for the weekend, it’ll leave you totally frustrated at not being able to spend longer there.