I’ve just completed my first year as a freelance travel writer for TravelPulse, and it’s been one of the most exciting years of my life. Though I would still consider myself a novice, and am not nearly as experienced or qualified as journalists who travel for a living, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to combine two of my biggest passions: writing and traveling.
I got the chance to go on my first real press trip for TravelPulse in August of this year (2018), and it was to RIO DE JANEIRO. Yes, my very first press trip was to one of my bucket list destinations. Did I almost cry when I found out? Yes. Was it everything I dreamed it would be and more? Yes.
Now, to experienced travel writers and bloggers who get to go on press trips all the time this may not seem like a big deal. In fact, I can even see how press trips can get kind of routine. They are exhausting with packed schedules - every moment is planned out for you. You’re working the entire time you are there, included while you are at your hotel because you will have to write about that, too. And probably take pictures. So you’re never truly relaxed. It’s not a vacation.
BUT, you’re still getting to experience something that so many other people only dream about so that you can tell them what’s out there! What a privilege.
Anyway, the group I was with in Rio was incredible, and I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience. I’ve already written my article for TravelPulse, but I wanted to share some personal photos and stories here on the blog, too! Keep in mind, we packed as much as we could in, so my experiences were more surface level, but I think I can give you a good overview of what to check out when you’re in Rio.
RIO DE JANEIRO TRAVEL GUIDE
WHAT TO DO IN RIO DE JANEIRO
CHRIST THE REDEEMER STATUE
Cristo Redentor is one of the most iconic destinations in Rio. Because my flight out of Orlando was cancelled and I missed the entire first day of the trip, I went straight from the Rio Galleo airport to Christ the Redeemer and met the rest of the group there.
I would highly recommend taking the Corcovado Train to the monument at the top of the mountain. The views are incredible as the train winds through Tijuca National Forest, and the trip takes about 20 minutes. Bring some water - the train can get pretty warm.
Buy your tickets ahead of time, as I’ve read that you can’t buy tickets the same day. Plan to visit early in the morning for fewer crowds and cooler weather at the top. By the afternoon the sun is behind the statue making pictures difficult.
You’ll find some cafés with coffee and snacks at the top. After admiring the views and taking tons of pictures it was really nice to enjoy a cappuccino before taking the train back down.
MUSEUM OF TOMORROW
If you’re an admirer of great architecture you’ll want to add the Museum of Tomorrow to your itinerary. It’s designed by the great Santiago Calatrava, and I loved the look of the white futuristic building jutting into the sky against the port area of Rio de Janeiro. A reflecting pool completes the serene setting of this environmentally-friendly building.
Inside you’ll learn about the effects of humanity on the environment and how we can work together to be part of a solution. How we can work together for a better tomorrow. (Hence the name of the museum).
So funny story. When I arrived at the Orlando airport, my flight from Orlando to Miami ended up getting cancelled due to weather, which means I missed my flight from Miami to Rio. I had to wait 24 hours for the next flight, so I missed everything that was scheduled for Day 1 of the trip.
Because I missed the first day of the trip, that meant I missed out on seeing Sugarloaf. I was devastated!
To see Sugarloaf Mountain, take the cable car from Praia Vermelha to Urca Hill then finally to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. From here you’ll have a great view of Rio with the Christ statue in view. If I had the chance to go back to Rio this would be my first stop!
Tijuca is one of the world’s largest urban rainforests located in the Tijuca and Barra de Tijuca neighborhoods of Rio. We took a Jeep Tour through the forest, and it makes stops at Chinese View, Emperor’s Table, Cascatinha waterfalls, and an easy walking trail. During the tour you’ll likely see some wildlife such as monkeys and birds and learn a lot about the history of the forest.
You sit in the back of an open-air Jeep, but there are seat belts. You could definitely bring children on the tour, and I actually think they would love it! It’s a little long - about 4 hours - but it goes by so quickly since you’re constantly getting in and out of the Jeep to explore.
Copacabana is one of the most renowned districts in Rio thanks to the popular beach by the same name. Stroll the beachside promenade or do sip some coconut water on the famous beach. We stayed at the Hilton Copacabana which was right across the street from all the action. I could see locals and tourists biking, walking, and buying food and souvenirs at the stands along the path.
Of course, the beach is only a small part of this neighborhood, but an essential part of the Rio de Janeiro experience.
I love this spot in Rio because it doesn’t cost anything to do and it tells a story. Located in the New Port area, Olympic Boulevard is a series of murals painted by street artist Eduardo Kobra. He completed the series of murals right before the Rio Games in 2016 to show indigenous people from all around the world. It’s a beautiful message of unity which I think really captures the spirit of the Olympics in the first place - the whole world coming together to share in friendly competition.
Fun fact - it’s also the world’s largest spray painted mural (he had a team to help him), so if you’ve got a bucket list of Guinness World Records, you can check this one off.
Ok, I’ll admit it. Before I went to Rio I did the requisite Instagram “research” to find the most Instagrammable spots in the city. Naturally, I was very excited when our guide told us we were making a stop at the Selaron Steps, and intrigued when she told us the story of how she personally knew the man, Jorge Selarón, who singlehandedly created the beautiful painted tile stairs.
He was a Chilean artist who ended up living in Rio, and loved the Brazilian people and culture so much he dedicated his life to beautifying his neighborhood in Lapa with painted tiles he collected. He died right in his own neighborhood, and suspicion still clouds the circumstances of his death.
Anyway, I loved that our guide shared the history of the Escadaria Selarón with us, giving it so much more meaning than just a colorful place to Instagram (although there’s nothing wrong with that!).
It’s not a great neighborhood, so go during daylight hours and be aware of your surroundings. It’s very crowded at the bottom of the steps, but if you walk up a few flights you’ll have a lot more space to get a good picture!
BARRA DE TIJUCA BEACH
It’s not as famous as Copacabana or Ipanema, but I found Barra de Tijuca beach to be much more relaxing. It was far less crowded and there were some chill tiki bars and kiosks along the beach where you could grab food or drink. We stopped at K08 Bungalow and enjoyed lounging in the shade while eating an açai bowl and feeling the breeze come off the ocean. This was probably one of the most relaxing moments of the entire trip for me. I would definitely recommend this spot if you want to plan a “down day” into your itinerary.
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN RIO DE JANEIRO
I wouldn’t presume to know all of the best restaurants in the city after only a few days there, but I’ll give you some of the highlights, along with recommendations for what to try while you’re there.
Not only is the buffet at Confeitaria Colombo incredible, but the restaurant is part of Rio’s history. It was founded in 1894 and is one of the oldest restaurants in the city. Head to Rio Antigo to find this gem, and don’t sleep on the pastries. So so good.
Rio Scenarium was one of the most unique spots we visited during our time in Rio. It’s a multilevel bar where people come to dance the Samba. If you’re there on a weekend, apparently it will be crowded with people dancing from wall to wall. Enjoy the lively scene and this cornerstone of Carioca culture! If you’re there on a weeknight when it’s quiet and far less crowded, take a walk around and check out the eclectic decor.
We got a few appetizers to share and, of course, some caipirinhas. The food and drinks were great, but you’re definitely coming here for the atmosphere. It’s located in the Lapa neighborhood.
PAO DE QUEIJO
If you only take one of my recommendations from this blog post, let it be this: try the pao de queijo while you are in Brazil. I will not recommend a specific place, because basically every restaurant sells them. Pao de queijo is Brazilian cheese bread made with tapioca flour instead of wheat. So. Dang. Good. Our whole group couldn’t stop snacking on them throughout our trip. I’m so sorry I don’t have a picture. I guess I was too busy eating it to think about photographing it.
These sweet alcoholic beverages are delicious and strong - the best and most dangerous combination in a cocktail. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, and it is made with cachaça, lime, and sugar (super easy to make at home, by the way, but not the same). We had a few tasty variations on the theme, and I think the mango caipirinha we had was my favorite.
A churrascaria is one of those amazing Brazilian barbecue restaurants where the waiters go from table to table carrying various cuts of meat on a sword. Every cut of meat I ate was delicious while in Brazil, and I don’t typically eat tons of meat. (I needed the protein to balance out all the pao de queijo I was eating). We ate at Fogo de Chao in Rio, as well as a few buffet-type restaurants that also offered churrasco-style meat.
WHERE TO STAY IN RIO
As I mentioned above, we had the pleasure of staying at the Hilton Copacabana for the first part of our stay in Rio. The view of Copacabana beach was amazing, and it truly felt like a safe haven at the end of a day of exploring. It had all the typical amenities such as a pool, fitness center, and even breakfast served daily.
The location is great - it’s within walking distance of the beach and some nightlife (although I would probably still recommend taking a cab), as well as the metro.
HILTON BARRA DE TIJUCA
Hilton Barra is a little bit farther away from the action of Rio, but that can be part of its charm. It’s a beautiful hotel you notice right away how natural elements are included in the decor. The rooms were at once cozy and chic, and one big draw was the rooftop pool and bar along with the up-to-date fitness center.
There is a free shuttle to the beach for Hilton Barra guests, so if hitting up the beach in Rio is high on your list, this might be the hotel for you.
Rio was truly a dream destination for me, and I’m so glad I had the chance to experience it. If you’ve been and have anything you loved doing or seeing that I didn’t include in this travel guide, please leave your suggestion in a comment below!