Last stop on our vacation was Rio, a city which sounded both invigorating and frightening at the same time. We had allotted 6 days to Rio, mostly due to the scheduling of our tour, and we worried it was too much. (We were right.)
We opted to exhaust pretty much every sight in Rio in a single day – by going on a city tour – partly due to convenience and laziness and mostly due to fear of the city’s reputation (especially after our mugging in Buenos Aires). The city tour was a great way to get around and see some sights so it wasn’t a bad choice. We had more than enough time at most sights such as Christ the Redeemer, the controversial Rio de Janeiro cathedral and Rio Branco Avenue. However, I think it would have been nice to spend an afternoon drinking coffee atop Sugar Loaf mountain while soaking in the amazing views, rather than rush through it like we did.
My biggest to-do in Rio was to see a Bossa Nova concert. We sought out some recommendations – Bossa Nova was surprisingly difficult to find in Rio – and went to Bar do Vinicius, in Ipanema, named after the famed composer/writer Vinicius de Moraes who wrote the lyrics to Girl From Ipanema. We saw two artists, one who played more traditional Bossa nova and the other who had modern, jazzy renditions of Bossa Nova classics.
We walked around Ipanema but it was a bit of letdown because there really wasn’t much there except for some stores, although the beach was nice. Cocacabana didn’t have much to offer either. Rio architecture is quite unimpressive – slabs of concrete – and the most interesting architectural offering is actually in the neighbouring city of Niteroi which houses the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer. It has a futuristic design, like a spaceship, and the interior is completely round, with few edges.
We also visited the Botanical Gardens, which was quite lovely. There were orchids, gigantically tall trees and the ugliest monkeys I have ever seen. (They looked like diseased monkeys in a horror film.)
The most disappointing thing about Rio is it has a dangerous reputation and that can affect the way one travels because we avoided doing certain things to avoid getting hurt. We were nervous to ride cabs, although we did, we were nervous to walk around alone in the night and to visit random neighbourhoods. Cars don’t have to stop at red lights in the night if the path is clear so it can avoid carjackings. I think, however, Rio is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be, but until the city has its drug problems under control, I think its reputation will belie its calm.
Another disappointing aspect of Rio is its price. Everything is quite expensive, except transportation. Prior to our vacation, I did lots of research on hotels and nearly every one had a horrible review despite its high prices. The first hotel was part of our tour and it was disgustingly filthy. The ceiling was rotting and the bedsheets were stained. Our second hotel was much nicer, but no luxury hotel, and it cost $150 US/night.
By the end, we were literally sick and tired, and it was the first time I was ever completely ready to go home during a vacation. Still, I would recommend Rio as a vacation destination but probably for three days rather than the six we had.