Rio de Janeiro is a city of extremes – wealth and poverty, ugliness and beauty, rapid development and inspiring nature. Up close, Rio’s extremes can be challenging. It’s not until you take a step back to see how it all fits together that Rio starts to make sense. To really appreciate this chaotic metropolis, you need to see it from up high.
Of course the most famous vantage point is Corcovado Mountain, home to Christ the Redeemer. Being 700 metres up above the city has its drawbacks – all too often the statue is swathed in cloud, making it tough to see very far. Be sure to check the weather report before you ascend.
The view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain is stunning, particularly at sunset. At 396 metres, it’s not as high as Corcovado, but its location right next to Copacabana means you’ll feel a lot closer to the action. Sip a drink at the bar as you watch planes take off from nearby Santos Dumont airport, or take a wander through the rainforest. You can ride the cable car to the top, or for the energetic, you can climb up by scaling the steep rock face.
Favelas are woven into the tapestry of this city. For many years these disenfranchised communities existed off the grid, plagued by gang warfare and violent crime. These days, due to Rio’s police force taking back control of these areas, many favelas are becoming more peaceful, open places with better infrastructure and quality of life. Unlike most other cities, the best views in Rio belong to the lower classes. If you want to see a different side to this city, book a walking tour through Rocinha, Latin America’s largest favela. From the top, the views are arresting. At times, it feels like the tightly-packed, ramshackle maze of houses are about to tumble into the ocean. Afterwards, take a wander through Rocinha’s narrow passageways, which offer occasional glimpses across the city as you head deep into the chaotic belly of the favela.
If you’re looking for the favela experience without all the walking, jump onboard the cable cars which soar high above the cluttered skyline of Complexo do Alemão.
Rio is surrounded by soaring mountains and an urban rainforest which is said to be the world’s largest, so it’s no surprise that hiking is a popular pastime. The trek up to Pedra Bonita is a popular choice, rewarding visitors with some of the best views in town. At 696 metres, it’s a great workout for your legs. The ascent should take an hour, so check the weather report and take plenty of water with you. Once up top you can kick back and watch brave hang gliders take a running leap from a sloped wooden platform, precariously perched on the edge of a cliff. If you’re feeling brave, you can even take the leap of faith yourself. Flights can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the weather.
Buried in the bohemian hills of Santa Teresa is Aprazível (Rua Aprazível, 62, Santa Teresa +55 21 2508 9174, +55 21 2508 9174), a plush restaurant with impressive views across the city, particularly at night. The lush garden setting and open-air design feels like dining in a luxurious treehouse.
For a more cheap and cheerful experience, grab a burger and fries at the food court in Shopping Leblon (Avenida Afrânio de Melo Franco, 290, Leblon). Enjoy panoramic views across Leblon and Lagoa through giant windows.
If your budget allows, a helicopter tour over the city is a memorable way to take in the city’s famous landmarks. There are a range of itineraries ranging from a few minutes to a full hour.
With a surging economy, and a program of high profile events like the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil’s seismic shift is being felt around the world. With so much change and excitement in the air, now is the perfect time to discover why they call Rio ‘the marvellous city’.
Published on Yettio, 1 March 2014. Photo Christian Haugen and João Lima.