Rio de Janeiro Attractions:
Going to the beach is a ritual and way of life for the Carioca. People of every color, class and creed, in all shapes and sizes, congregate waterside. One of the world's most famous beaches, Copacabana, hardly needs any introduction - it's the sensuously spectacular, and very crowded, spot of sand fronting the ocean and backed by steep hills. It's where skin sizzles and shines, cameras forever flash, money streamlessly changes hands and excitement rides through the salty sea air.
Copacabana, so big in concept and fantasy, runs just 4.5km (3mi) along the Atlantic, yet crammed into this narrow strip of land are 25,000 people per sq km, one of the highest population densities in the world. There is always something happening on the beach during the day and along the footpaths at night: drinking, singing, eating and all kinds of people checking out the scene. Tourists watch Brazilians, Brazilians watch tourists; the poor from the favelas eye the rich, while the rich avoid the poor; prostitutes look for tricks and johns look for treats.
Southwest of Copacabana is Arpoador, a small beach with good surfing, even at night when the beach is lit. There's a giant rock that juts out into the ocean where you can enjoy a great view.
Ipanema, like the suburb, is Rio's richest and most chic beach. It's less frenzied than Copacabana, as well as safer and cleaner. Different parts of the beach attract different crowds. Garota de Ipanema beach, right off Rua Vinícius de Morais, is also known as the Cemitério dos Elefantes because of the old leftists, hippies and artists who hang out there, but it's also popular with the young and beautiful joint-tokers who come out at sunset.
The beach in front of Rua Farme de Amoedo, also called Land of Marlboro, is the gay beach. Ipanema is an Indian word for 'dangerous, bad waters.' The waves can get big and the undertow is often feisty. Be careful, and swim only where the locals are swimming.
Pão de Açúcar
Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) is almost too beautiful to be real. Two cable cars lift you 396m (1300ft) above Rio and the Baía de Guanabara. From here, Rio is the most dazzling place in the world. Sunset on a clear day is the best time to make the ascent; as daylight dims, the city lights start to sparkle down below. Avoid going from 10 to 11am and 2 to 3pm, when tourist buses begin to moo. The two-stage cable cars leave about every 30 minutes from Praça General Tibúrcio in Urca.
There are 50 established climbing routes here, and one of the best hikes is up the back side of Pão de Açúcar.
Parque Nacional da Tijuca
Tijuca is all that's left of the tropical jungle that once surrounded Rio de Janeiro. In 15 minutes you can go from the concrete jungle of Copacabana to the 33 sq km (13 sq mi) tropical forest of Parque Nacional da Tijuca.
A more rapid and drastic contrast is hard to imagine. The forest is exuberant green, with beautiful trees, creeks and waterfalls, mountainous terrain and high peaks. It is home to several different species of birds and animals, including iguanas and monkeys. The park also has an excellent trail system, with several good day hikes. The heart of the forest is the beautiful Alto da Boa Vista with several waterfalls (including the 35m/115ft Cascatinha Taunay), peaks and restaurants.
Rising straight up from the city to 710m (2330ft), Corcovado (Hunchback) the mountain offers spectacular panoramas of Rio and surrounds. Its prominent feature is the statue Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). At night, the brightly lit statue is visible from all over the city. Christ's left arm points toward the zona norte, and Maracanã (see below) is easily visible in the foreground. In front of Christ is Pão de Açúcar, in its classic postcard pose. Choose a clear day to voyage up the mountain, lest you be disappointed.
This museum and its grand imperial entrance are still stately and imposing, and the view from the balcony to the royal palms is majestic. However, the graffitied buildings and unkempt grounds have suffered since the fall of the monarchy. The park is large and busy, and, because it's on the north side of the city, you'll see a good cross-section of Cariocas. There are many interesting exhibits: dinosaur fossils, sabre-toothed tiger skeletons, beautiful pieces of pre-Columbian ceramics from the littoral and planalto of Peru, a huge meteorite, hundreds of stuffed birds, mammals and fish, gory displays of tropical diseases and exhibits on the peoples of Brazil.
Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
With more than 800 original paintings and sculptures in the collection, this is Rio's best fine arts museum. The most important gallery is the Galeria de Arte Brasileira, with 20th-century classics such as Cândid Portinari's Café. There are also galleries with foreign art (and these aren't all that incredible) and contemporary exhibits.
Work on the ultramodern, cone-shaped Catedral Metropolitana was begun in 1964 and inaugurated in 1976. It's worth stepping inside to see its four huge stained-glass windows. The cathedral is situated behind the Petrobras building and fits 20,000 people.
Other spectacular places of worship include the baroque Igreja São Francisco da Penitencia, overlooking the Largo da Carioca; Nossa Senhora de Candelária, which was built between 1775 and 1894 and was the largest and wealthiest church of imperial Brazil; and Mosteiro de São Bento, one of the finest examples of colonial church architecture in Brazil.
Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil (CCBB)
The CCBB is the best cultural center in the country, as its 120,000 visitors per month will attest. Its world-class facilities include a cinema, two theaters and heaps of exposition space; most of the exhibitions are free. There's a permanent exhibit about the history of money in Brazil. Something is always abuzz in this complex, so flip through the entertainment listings to do some research before your visit.
Next door, the Casa França-Brasil is another cultural center with diverse exhibitions. It's in an old customshouse dating from 1820 and is considered the most important classical revival building in Brazil.
This stadium is Brazil's temple of soccer. It's a giant among coliseums, easily accommodating more than 100,000 at a time. If sports interest you even the littlest bit, or if you just want a new insight into Brazil, then by all means check out a game of futebol here - preferably a championship game or one between local rivals Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense or Botafogo. It can be an intense, quasi-psychedelic experience. The sports museum inside the stadium has photos, posters, cups and uniforms of the greats.