Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is one of those rare cities—like Paris, Venice, and New York—that is so legendary you think you know it. Even if you’ve never been there, it’s easy to hear “Rio” and automatically conjure up its postcard sights: Pão de Açúcar, the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop lush Corcovado, and the sweeping white crescent of Copacabana beach. When you do finally arrive, you receive a shock because—although you’ve seen them in countless films and photographs—these landmarks are even more impressive in real life.
Better yet, even if you return to Rio a second, third, fourth…time—and you inevitably will—that initial shock will never wear off. After all, this is the city that Cariocas (residents of Rio) refer to proudly as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). As you get to know it, you will discover that they are not exaggerating.
Like many a modern tourist, Brazil’s imperial family enjoyed Rio to the hilt, but when they couldn’t stand the heat (40 degrees Celsius anyone?), they literally took to the hills. In fact, Emperor Pedro II went so far as to build an ornate pink summer palace (now a fascinating museum) in the mountains. Other members of the court soon followed suit, giving rise to the imperial town of Petrópolis.
Only an hour away from Rio—but usually 5–10 degrees cooler—Petrópolis, Teresópolis, and other neighboring towns continue to offer refuge to vacationers who can take advantage of sophisticated amenities while surrounded by majestic scenery. When nature beckons, the national parks of Serra dos Órgãos and Itatiaia are close by with their orchid-laced hiking trails winding through native Atlantic forest.
Natural attractions are also in abundance along the coasts of Rio de Janeiro state. East of the city are the pulsating, upscale resort towns of Cabo Frio and Búzios, which offer beautiful sandy beaches, with calm pools for snorkeling fans and big waves for surfers. Búzios is particularly charming with its cobblestoned streets and shades of St. Tropez: It was actually a bikini-clad Brigitte Bardot who, in the ’60s, put this fishing village on the map.
Meanwhile, those in search of more tranquil options can head south along the Costa Verde (Green Coast), named for the verdant mountains that provide a striking backdrop to the unspoiled beaches. Highlights along this coast include Angra dos Reis, which serves as the departure point for the island paradise of Ilha Grande, and the beautifully preserved colonial town of Paraty.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition