It's 11:30pm and I am seething. United just announced a 12-hour flight delay, which essentially wipes out my first full day in Brazil. I get it. Flight interruptions happen. But this was an expensive trip with an incredibly condensed itinerary. So even the slightest delay called for a triple caipirinha infusion to temper my disappointment.
It's my fault. I booked a fast-paced tour of Rio and didn't anticipate the pre-excursion snafu. I originally allocated 2.5 days to explore my bucket list city. So naturally, I reached my boiling point when precious hours suddenly vanished from my schedule.
Since I couldn't dwell on the uncontrollable, I let my rare meltdown dissipate as our plane finally made its way towards South America.
In hindsight, that delay helped me definitively answer the following question - Can you cover Rio de Janeiro in less than 48 hours?
Totally doable if you prioritize your activities beforehand.
So my airport hissy fit was warranted since I didn't think I would make my pre-scheduled visit to Corcovado Mountain. I was relieved when we finally landed several hours before this excursion began. Who needs sleep when you can soak up the best panoramic views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay.
TIP: To avoid the tourist stampede, schedule your tour as early as possible since scaling this 2329-foot granite peak is arguably Rio's top tourist activity.
Christ the Redeemer, one of several "New World Wonders", towers 2400 feet above Rio. It's definitely worth the trek via Corcovado Railway for an unforgettable, close-up view of this 125-foot landmark.
My local guide shared plenty of historical tidbits as we boarded glass cable cars en route to Pão de Açúcar - aka Sugarloaf Mountain. Instead of listening to important narration, I gawked at the show-stopping view from Morro da Urca just 722 feet above the base.
Hmmm. This photo may have actually been taken from the summit. Either way, I was captivated by Copacabana Beach, enormous dangling jackfruit, and the favelas featured in Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" video.
I could have sworn these were durian...
Notice the conical shape? This mountain resembles clay molds that encased refined loaf sugar during the height of Brazil's sugar cane trade. Now you know how this bucolic peak got its nickname.
I asked our guide several times if we were going to visit the world-famous Escadaria Selarón, a local masterpiece showcasing over 2000 hand-painted tiles. My incessant pleading must have worked since we detoured towards these vibrant steps in Rio's Lapa neighborhood.
I am a seasoned world traveler and highly accustomed to roaming solo. But after watching someone get robbed with a machete on TLC's "90 Day Fiance", I WAS SCARED SHITLESS. City of God", the highly-acclaimed film depicting rampant crime within the favelas, further amplified that fear.
With that said, I was extremely thankful that my fellow Gate1 traveler accompanied me during my downtown city tour. Missing this self-guided outing would have been a huge faux pas since there were many noteworthy spots such as Museu do Amanha, Aquário Marinho, Theatro Municipal, and many others.
TIP: Pair up and avoid alleys with very little foot traffic. Download Google maps on your mobile device to navigate the area easily.
Brazilian Street Art
My favorite experience involved discovering Brazilian street talent along Av. Rodrigues Alves. These full-scale murals were awe-inspiring and breathtaking. I couldn't help but excitedly pose against my favorite backdrop featuring Eduardo Kobra's bold artistry.
Other notable artists are featured on larger than life canvases for several city blocks. These striking murals added depth and color to our visual walking experience.
Her name was Lola..She was a showgirl.
I couldn't help but hear Barry Manilow's song whenever I traversed Copacabana Beach. These sandy getaways are typically flooded with bikini/speedo-clad locals. But Tuesday afternoon provided a rare, people-free photo op.
You couldn't possibly visit Rio's famous beaches (Copacabana or Ipanema) without sporting Brazilian flip flops. Havaianas are extremely affordable here - roughly 6 USD compared to 29 USD in the States.
Copacabana Palace Hotel
If you're strolling down Av. Atlantica, you will likely discover the Copacabana Palace Hotel, Rio's "crown jewel". I didn't have the opportunity to roam inside, but the exterior definitely exudes elegance and luxury.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian
Many locals, regardless of faith, frequent this pyramid-shaped cathedral. This multi-dimensional church is dedicated to the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro and provides the ideal setting for prayer, meditation, and reflection. Floor to ceiling stained glass displays are simply mesmerizing and worth capturing with my 360 degree camera.
So I crammed as much as I could into an extremely short visit. While I covered many hotspots, I missed several opportunities that would have further enriched my stay. If I had more time, I would have volunteered with Project Favela, a non-profit organization that helps underserved children with literacy, mathematics, and even computer coding. For information about this worthy cause, click here.
The following video provides a visual storyboard of my brief, yet highly-memorable journey. I can't wait to revisit this South American metropolis sans the unexpected travel delay that wiped out those critical first hours.
Obrigada, Rio! I'll definitely be back for samba and caipirinhas. Carnival, anyone?
To access photo highlights, click here.
Restaurant Recommendations: Since I stayed at the Windsor Leme along Copacabana Beach, most restaurant and happy hour recommendations are within walking distance of that hotel.
Happy Hour Caipirinha:
Safety was my biggest concern so I booked an escorted tour with Gate1 Travel. While Gate1 covered all logistics and activity planning, I definitely could have used the entire week to roam around freely.
Click here to view my itinerary.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”