Did you watch the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies? Are you still humming the sultry Basso Nova tune “Girl from Ipanema”?
Get ready for more spectacles. You all are going to be seeing some mind blowing shots of Rio de Janeiro broadcast back here during the Olympic Games. It certainly is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever visited. But unfortunately, the natural beauty masks the problems there…and the neighborhoods into which travelers should not wander. It’s a true shame because it is such a vibrant city.
I was in Rio probably eight or nine years ago for work, and the beach town captivated me. It felt exotic, raw, and provided some of the most amazing topography…rugged green mountains and jagged blue coastline – the curves and colors creating dynamic synergy.
I felt safe most of the time..walking only in my Ipanema neighborhood where my hotel was.. but was told to be careful because there are so many pick pocketers and lots of crime. Beyond my hotel neighborhood, I couldn’t believe the poverty. Shanty towns lining the highways.. the sheer number of people living that way was astonishing.
I recently had conversations with people from Rio and they tell me crime and poverty have only gotten worse.
On a brighter note and for fun, I want to give you some background on the places you will be seeing in tv beauty shots..and places you should visit if the tide ever changes. And yes, I’m still grooving to Basso Nova nine years later.
1) Christ the Redeemer
Holy holy statue. This is one amazing monument – A 125 foot art-deco statue of Jesus Christ – or Cristo in Rio – plunked smack dab at the 2300 foot summit of Mount Corcovado… overlooking the coast and mountains.
The best part is visitors can take a train to the top for fantastic views. There is also a chapel beneath the statue where people can get married or have baptisms.
What’s interesting is this statue took years to come to fruition. After a first proposal failed, a second proposal for a landmark statue was made in 1920, by a group of Catholics who perceived “Godlessness” in society at the time. (What would they think today?!) Donations came mostly from Brazilian Catholics.
It is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and was constructed between 1922 and 1931. It’s an amazing outing.
2) Sugarloaf Mountain – A almond shaped peak on a peninsula that juts out into the ocean… but was named “Sugarloaf” because it was said to resemble a refined loaf sugar. Sugar cane trade was big in Brazil.
It is so striking to see a mountain like this rise so close to the water’s edge. Visitors can take a cable car to the top for some more mesmerizing views.
3) Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches
Arguably two of the most famous beaches in the world. Wide stretches of sand,and the epicenter of fun in Rio. The parties doesn’t stop at either place… take a walk at night time and the lights are on, runners are jogging along the sand, and the volleyball courts are full. I was there in Brazil’s summer, so it stayed light longer and locals were still playing on the beach well past dusk.
Copacabana Beach has more hotels and a 2.5 mile promenade to stroll..
What’s special about it is you have a great view of Sugarloaf , lots of restaurants and clubs in the area as well.
Ipanema Beach on the other hand has some of the more expensive real estate for the area. Look not only for football, and volleyball on this beach, but a game called footvolley. Unfortunately, according to reports, this is one of the beaches affected by poor waste management – large amounts of pollutants are found in the beach water.
4)Parque Lage – I always like visiting public parks wherever I travel – I find them to be more interesting than beaches, and reflect the culture a bit more also. This particular park is such a peaceful haven in this boisterous city… it almost feels forgotten.
The land was formerly the residence of industrialist Enrique Lage and his wife, singer Gabriella Besanzoni. Their mansion still exists in the park with a cafe there, as well as the Visual Arts School . I heard once you can take a painting class there, and paint right there in the garden – if so,sign me up!
There are walking trails through a subtropical forest.. and it’s just a nice place to relax and feel like you are in a different place totally. I took a cab ride here from Ipanema.
Side note: if the mansion looks familiar to you – it was featured in the 2003 music video for Snoop Dog’s song “Beautiful.”
5) Santa Teresa
Ok so you might not see a lot of this neighborhood, but I wanted to include it because it’s a charming area.
Santa Teresa is the name of a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is located on top of the Santa Teresa hill, by the center of Rio, and is famous for its winding, narrow streets which are a favorite spot for artists and travelers.
Traditionally Santa Teresa is a renowned gathering place for intellectuals, academics, artists, and politicians, who are inspired by its historic character, and doses of culture.
I am sure the beauty shots on television the next couple of weeks will seduce you, and will contribute to the magic of the games. I love that we can learn about places and people around the world through the games..and last night’s exhibition was just the beginning.
Go Team USA!