Brazil - Rio de Janeiro - Guanabara Bay

Rio de Janeiro

After checking into my Flamengo neighborhood hotel in the morning, I was eager to explore Rio, but I had a problem. I didn’t have any clean clothes left in my backpack. My first destination in Rio wasn’t an overlook or a beach–it was a laundromat.

Nestled between forest-covered mountains and golden beaches, Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautifully situated cities in the world. I decided to begin my sightseeing with an overlook of Rio’s spectacular landscape. In the afternoon, I set off walking to Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) in clean, fresh smelling clothes. I followed the beach path to Sugarloaf Mountain, stopping on the way to eat a “pastel de carne” (a deep-fried pastry with ground beef filling) and drink “caldo de cana” (sugarcane juice). Upon arriving at the entrance, I purchased a ticket for the two-stage cable car trip. The first stage ascends 220 meters from Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) to Morro da Urca (Urca Hill). The second stage continues from Morro da Urca to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, an altitude of 396 meters. From the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, I took in the 360-degree view of Rio: green hills rising from the deep blue, Guanabara Bay; the golden beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana; and the iconic Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain, watching over the city. I purchased a beer at one of the shops and enjoyed the view for a while before heading back down.

In the evening, I joined my travel companions for dinner at a churrascaria with rodízio courses. The servers sliced all-you-can-eat grilled meat directly on our plates until we signaled that we were full. We then moved on to an Ipanema bar with 2-for-1 caipirinhas, not returning to the hotel until 2:00 am, which is early by Brazilian standards.

We continued our sightseeing in the morning by walking to Santa Teresa, a bohemian neighborhood with a world-famous staircase. Beginning in 1990, the late artist Jorge Selarón spent 20 years decorating 215 steps near his home with colorful tiles. Now known as Escadaria Selarón, or the Selarón Steps, the stairway is covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries. I searched the mosaic steps for a tile from Idaho but didn’t find one. After seeing the beautiful staircase in person, I understand why it’s one of Rio’s most-loved attractions.

We shared a taxi to Rio’s best-known attraction: Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer. After the taxi driver dropped us off at the cog station, we rode the train to Corcovado Mountain’s 710-meter summit. At one of the souvenir shops on the way to the statue, my travel companion batted her eyes at a shopkeeper and asked for a Brazilian flag. We arrived at Christ the Redeemer, flag in hand, and took photos of ourselves holding the flag in front of the 30-meter tall statue and the mountain viewpoints. A picture of my attractive travel companion holding the Brazilian flag in front of Christ the Redeemer went viral on Instagram, receiving almost 20,000 Likes! We paused for a drink and took in the view from the top of Corcovado Maintain before moving on to Rio’s beaches.

When we arrived by taxi to Ipanema Beach, the song “The Girl From Ipanema” started playing in my head. (“The Girl From Ipanema” is the second-most recorded song in history.)

Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes
Each one she passes goes ah

When she walks, she’s like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gently
That when she passes
Each one she passes goes, ah

Oh but he watch her so sadly
How can he tell her he loves her
Yes he would give his heart gladly
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead not at he

Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes he smiles
But she doesn’t see

Oh but he sees her so sadly
How can he tell her he loves her
Yes he would give his heart gladly
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead, not at he

Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes he smiles
But she doesn’t see, she just doesn’t see
No she does not see, but she does not see
She does not see, no she does not see

We walked along Rio’s iconic, wave pattern sidewalk from Ipanema Beach to Copacabana Beach. Along the way, we saw teenagers playing soccer, cariocas queuing for caipirinhas at kiosks, and women wearing Brazilian bikinis. Upon reaching Copacabana Beach, we stopped at a stall for açaí smoothie bowls before setting our towels on the sand and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. After tiring of the sun and water, we sat at a beach-side cafe and drank beers and caipirinhas until after the sunset.

Early the next morning, I said goodbye to my travel companions. The first half of my mega-trip ended in Rio de Janeiro. Later in the morning, I boarded a LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago de Chile to begin my Patagonia overlanding trip.