Surreal, spectacular, mad and vivacious- after one whirlwind of a week in Rio, our minds were totally blown.
This larger than life city is bursting with too many flavours to ever fully pin down. Here´s what we´ve got to share from our little taster.
Beauty and the Beach
Golden Brown Adonises and Aztec Bronze Goddesses illuminate every stretch of Rio´s beaches. The Brazilians are sinfully stunning. Six-packs and knock-out bodies populate the beaches as densely as the white sand. There´s gotta be something in the water and we were hoping to catch it one day in.
Rule Number One- DON´T fall asleep at the beach
We might as well have thrown our sun block and umbrella into a burning pyre. Pale and interesting is one thing. Looking like you´ve busted all your veins is another.
We were so red by the end of the day, we were more effective stopping vehicles and pedestrians in their tracks than a level crossing.
A week later our skin stopped bubbling.
Brazilian babe operation was going well.
Back to beaches- Copacabana (our nearest) was the buzziest beach by far. It boasted large and lively crowds, water sport fanatics and an endless parade of beach shacks enticing you with caipirinhas at every turn (the mojito’s punchier sister).
The downside to Copacabana is it gets so busy you´re practically sunbathing like sandwiches on the beach. We obviously had zero objections to sandwiching a Brazilian dream – but a girl’s gotta think about her tan lines too.
This is why we preferred Ipanema beach, the classy birthplace of “The girl from Ipanema”.
This sophisticated swoon was made for Ipanema’s pure golden sands and serene surroundings. Plus Barraca do Uruguai 80 beach shack by Post 9 was where it was at. We had one of our best and largest caipirinhas for just £2. We were on a liquid diet but heard their sandwiches are supposed to be mouth-wateringly good too…
As we walked up from Copacabana to Ipanema beach we got an incredible view of the horizon. Startling blue skies were off-set by misty mountain tops, caked in dense layers of the Amazon, while favelas spiralled up the hills sideways, surging past the tallest tower blocks. It was well worth doing this walk to see untouched and urban beauty come together in a really cool way.
If you want to venture further still, Leblon was the suavest beach out of all the ones we had seen. I’m talking Rio´s very own tropical San Tropez. We enjoyed a dreamy sunset there with pinks splashed across the sky and favelas twinkling up the hillside at night.
Carnival- dirty lyrics and dirty dancing
When carnival festivities were in full swing, hot hedonism ran through the veins of the city. Rio became a whirl of shimmering party goers, throwing moves that made Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video look tame.
Celebrations kick off on the early hours of Friday morning with the first blocos (street parties). All the hostels have timetables of the different blocos happening across the city so plan your fun this way.
Just like Notting Hill carnival you can expect touring boom boxes, floats and vibrant paraders. Otherwise, it’s to a baile funk soundtrack, non pedestrianised routes and on a mind numbingly huge scale (around 5 million attendees to Notting Hills’ 2 million).
We caught some of the Copacabana bloco but our main carnival day was Saturday when we hit up Ipanema´s famed bloco and beach party.
It was dreadful- and dreadfully catchy. Its hypnotic melody charmed us like snakes. We would pace the streets for days after hollering out the lyrics. A week later a Brazilian winced as he shed some light on their translation- total filth.
Looking back, us innocently singing about ‘f***ing p*ssy’ at the breakfast table, over a fresh cup of OJ was not ideal…
We also made some incredible friends we´ll never forget, like Vicz. Rio´s very own Kate Moss. We couldn´t understand each other much but she could slur in almost perfect English “I LIVE FOR PARTY”.
Good old Vicz. She had her maternal instincts, that´s for sure. She was convinced our friend Liam was from the “Italian Mafioso” and motioned for us girls to cover up and run away. When she thought no one was looking, Vicz sidled up to him and with suggestive eyebrows purred “Hunky Mafioso”. Cougar patrol…
She also just wanted to show us a good time- like when she tried taking us to a favela in the darkest hour. Sorry Vicz, not tonight.
After a while it became clear she was absolutely cuckoo and hellbent on drinking all of us into oblivion. We bid adieu to our dancing queen. Vicz wouldn´t have it. Neither would we. She demanded we pay for her cab from Lapa back to Copacabana. We´d paid for her entire journey there!
Vicz started to well up with crocodile tears, clinging to us like a child. She said we forced her to get in the car. We´re all certain we saw her little feet dangling out earlier after she´d dived in head first.
When what seemed like a decade later we were no closer to closing a deal, we did the only thing we knew our young legs could do better, “RUN!” We all sprinted through the streets of Lapa with our hearts in our throats.
We did feel a little bad but Vicz was one of those people you just know will be fine in the end. She probably moonwalked all the way home.
Tales of caution- It’s a shame our carnival experience was dampened by locals wrestling our belongings off us on our last day. They managed to escape with Hannah’s bag, phone and other valuable items in tow.
Rio is so deceptive. After so many tales of caution we thought we´d have to navigate around compromising situations on a daily basis. After a couple days we felt more comfortable in our surroundings than we ever imagined. Rio seemed pretty safe.
Then it happened. A gang of 8 locals who weren´t put off by the large crowds which surrounded us. All I’ll say is these safety tales aren’t a myth- be careful! Sometimes even when you are, these situations are beyond your control. We’re not letting this experience ruin our stay but afterward we were ready to leave carnival chaos behind.
The touristy side to travelling
Seeing Christ the Redeemer is a must and we’re glad we did to get this picture with the big man.
Clearly visible from most points of the city 98 feet on top of the Corcovado mountain, he’ll make you blink twice. The uphill is steep, wear sturdy shoes if you’re traveling by foot or get ready for a back massage of a different kind.
By the time we arrived the savage sunshine made it difficult to get a good picture face on. Earlier in the day would have been a better shout but you can still get snap happy.
We planned to visit Sugarloaf mountain next but we missed our bus stop by an impressive hour and a half. Classic idiots abroad…In all fairness, we were more than satisfied with the superb view from Christ.
We ended up visiting the Lapa Steps after a carnival night out. While we missed out on the picture perfect photo of the steps practically secluded at dawn (any later than the earlier hours and you’re fighting off passers-by), we still got to see the steps’ rainbow of colours, animated with the songs and dance of Rio carnival.
Rio’s botanical garden was a tranquil and tropical haven. From the world’s tallest palm tree, to an incredible view of Christ the Redeemer on top of an overgrown veranda, to trees bearing fruit the size of a large goat, this trip didn’t leave us short of eye candy.
I wish I was a little bit taller….
Mi casa es su casa
If you book anywhere, make it Books Hostel in Lapa. They could show all of Rio how to host a warm-up carnival party. They supply a mini fancy dress shop, equipped with face-painting and make-up stations that the boys lap up just as readily as the girls. The music and atmosphere was a solid ten out of ten. After visiting our friends staying there for one party, we wished we had stayed there the entire time.
The staff were super friendly and there were mainly English speaking travelers which helped break any language barriers down. Lapa also has the best buzz and we had the funnest nights in Rio there. Just like a large university town this is your bars, clubs and pubs number one destination. Book well in advance to avoid disappointment!
Food- the good, the bad and the ugly
When we arrived in Rio it was pleasing to see the general food offer was kind to the hips. It was carb o’clock deep fried by the hour. Dreams of a Brazilian bod were dissolving away with every mouthful. I was almost ready to accept defeat and leave Rio feeling like Miss Potato Head. When we looked a little closer we discovered there was more on offer.
There were plenty of fresh seafood platters and a sushi scene too. You won´t struggle to find Italian inspired dishes too. Their black bean sauce is a tangy delicacy and I had a good few. My favourite meal though had to be at “La Bicyclette“, a beautiful cafe located by one of Rio’s botanical garden entrances. Deli sandwiches, sharing boards and hearty salads were a refreshing change from the meat and potatoes we’d been chowing down.
Unfortunately, this is all I can share. From pasta dishes which tasted like rubber tyres, to meat dishes which sent our tummies in turmoil for days, luck just wasn’t fully on our side in Rio but better luck next time!
Next blog post coming up- Week Two: Ilha Grande (Brazil) It’s been a struggle to find strong enough wifi but update hopefully to come soon!
Love the llamas x