Rio de Janeiro: The Definitive Guide

Adam Wright
Jul 12
Rio is awesome! I have been lucky enough to have spent a lot of time in this incredible Brazilian city. There is so much on offer, so with that in mind here are my favourites.
Hotel: Mama Ruisa
Check in to the boutique colonial rooms of Mama Ruisa in the heart of Santa Teresa. The exterior is a beautiful example of late 19th Century architecture. High ceilings, lush vegetation, an inviting swimming pool and Brazilian design make this hotel stand out from the crowd. 
Go Hang Gliding from Pedra Bonita
Head out to the São Conrado neighbourhood to the south of the city. From the meeting point by Pepino Beach, you are taken up to Pedra Bonita, part of the Tijuca National Park, to get kitted out and prepare for take off.
After a safety briefing and orientation you are strapped in and ready to take off. Running off the platform and soaring over the forest is a real adrenalin rush. The views are incredible and after having a go at flying yourself, you will be brought in to land on the golden sand of Pepino Beach. It is an incredible experience and one that should not be missed on a trip to Rio.
Rent a bike and cycle Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
Known as 'The Heart of Rio'and located in the Lagoa neighbourhood of Zona Sul, the lagoon is linked to the the Atlantic by a dredged canal and is one of Rio's principal tourist spots. The best way to enjoy the lagoon is to do as the locals do and get on a bike. Dotted around the fringes are several bicycle rental stands supplying bikes per hour, half day or full day. It takes about half an hour to circle the lagoon on the 7.5 km bike path and is highly enjoyable, with plenty of stunning viewpoints.
Learn to Surf in Recreio dos Bandeirantes
Ignore the surf schools on Copacabana and Ipanema. Instead, head to where the locals surf. 35km outside of the city in the West zone is the quiet neighbourhood of Recreio. The area is on the 'up', largely due to its pristine beaches and regular surf. I had never surfed before and contacted booked in for a two hour group lesson.
My lesson ended up being just two of us and one instructor. After a warm up and a quick basics lesson we hit the water and were standing up in no time. There was a good amount of surf and the instructor gave me tips and pointers to help me surf for longer. If you're an experienced surfer you can rent boards or go on one of their more advanced surf tours to remote spots.
Take a tour of a favela at Santa Marta
The favela is located in the Botafogo area of Rio's Zona Sul, it is one of the city's steepest and is home to roughly 8000 residents. Santa Marta is famous for two reasons; The first is that it was once the setting for Michael Jackson's music video 'They don't care about us' and is commemorated with an MJ statue and mural. The second reason is that Santa Marta was the first of Rio's favelas to undergo pacification from drug trafficking in 2008. Santa Marta is safe for tourists to visit and can be done so via the tourist information office at the favela entrance, or through any number of private registered guides.
Hike to Christ the Redeemer through Parque Lage
Parque Lage is a public park close to the Jardim Botanico. The land was formerly the residence of industrialist Enrique Lage and the mansion still stands in the middle of the park. There are several walking trails through the park, including one that will take you all the way to Christ the Redeemer. The path takes you past caverns within the forest and up a path to Corcovado and the entrance to Christ the Redeemer. The hike is straightforward and a much better option to the tourist buses that ferry passengers all day. However, if you get the option to take the rack railway it is worth the ride.
Go inside a military bunker at Fort Copacabana
Fort Copacabana is a military base at the south end of Copacabana. The base and museum is open to the public, where the coastal defences of the fort are on full display. The fort was built in 1914 and decommissioned in 1987, along with many more of Brazil's coastal defences. Inside the fort is a labyrinth of ammunition stores, strategy rooms, military accommodation and museum exhibits all waiting to be explored. Highlights include the insides of the two armoured Krupp cannons and the rooms of munitions.