Between the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics, Rio is somewhat of a buzzword these days with the focus of the world's media on the sixth largest city in the Americas.
A booming economy in the early 2000's has catapulted Brazil onto the world stage, and where Brasilia is the brains, Sao Paulo the hard working heart, Rio is undoubtedly the soul of this great country. I stayed here for just under a week during my trip to South America and I felt like I had barely scratched the surface.
The city retains a portion of its Portuguese heritage and combines it with West African and indigenous culture to create the distinct Brazilian feel that has given the world Carnival and Samba.
The Maracana was closed on my arrival but here are my top 5 favourite things about Rio.
5. Catedral de Sao Sebastiao
Located in the downtown area, work on this famous Cathedral began in 1964, but it wasn't until 1979 that it was finally completed.
I hadn't read too much about the Cathedral before my visit so I didn't know what to expect and from first view, externally, although a unique design, it doesn't look overtly impressive. However, as soon as I walked in I was taken aback. This is genuinely jaw dropping levels of beautiful. From the tall stained glass windows, to the perfectly symmetrical design, you can't help but be impressed. It's no surprise then that this has been visited by two different Popes on a number of occasions.
The Copacabana is the soul of Rio, and it lives up to its reputation. The beach is clean, large and lively at all hours of the day. After the early morning joggers have left the strip, the area becomes home to thousands of sun bathers who all pitch up their deckchairs and umbrellas. As night falls, the floodlights turn on and the beach is transformed into a large outdoor gym, with locals doing bodyweight exercises, playing football and volleyball and also doing circuit training. In fact, there wasn't a time of the day, or night, that this area was empty.
On the back of the beach you have the Copacabana area, a notoriously vibrant area of Rio, perfect to go out and have fun. Watch out for the crazies though, they tend to come out at night.
3. Sugarloaf Mountain
This is the best way to see all that Rio has to offer as Sugarloaf mountain boasts spectacular views over the city. As I wrote in my entry for Rio de Janeiro, some of the sights from up here are simply breathtaking.
A system of cable cars takes you up to two different peaks. Surprisingly, its the lower peak that I found most impressive as you are directly in front of a flight path for planes landing into the city. What this means is you are actually level with, and in some cases higher than planes that fly directly in front of the mountain. Its all very surreal.
2. Rocinha Favela
There's no doubt that an element of danger exists when you step into the favela as I found out during my trip to Rio, however there is no where else in the city quite like it.
Unofficial estimates have the population of the favela at almost a quarter of a million people, making this the largest favela not only in Brazil, but in the Americas and walking through the cramped housing and narrow alleyways, its a very believable figure. Looking up there are spider web like electrical wires criss crossing all over the favela, giving it somewhat of a claustrophobic feel.
If you want your City of God experience, this is well worth the trip, although during my visit, I was given a bitter liquid that I still don't know to this day what I drank and there was just the small case of hearing gunshots in the distance.
1. Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
One of the 7 Wonders of the World, and its not hard to see why. Cristo Redentor is one of those sights that not only lives up to, but exceeds expectations.
There is no getting away from the sheer size of the statue and standing next to it makes you realise the wonderful feat of engineering that was needed in order to build something so spectacular.
The statue has its very own chapel that is used for religious ceremonies, although the presence of stalls selling everything from golden pendents, to statues to bumper stickers takes away from the religious element a little bit.
Cristo Redentor is built on Mount Corcovado, and the mountain offers fantastic views of the city, including the famous Maracana stadium which stands out like a jewel in the distance. The famous site can get quite busy, but the general buzz about the place actually adds to the enjoyment.
Unfortunately, the Maracana was closed during my trip due to refurbishment taking place for the Olympics. I have no doubt that should it have been open, it would have made my top 5. Lapa is another area, famous for its arts and bohemian culture that I really enjoyed and the Selaron Steps are a must see if you visit Rio.
Is there anything on the list you didn't enjoy or anything that I have left out? Have you been to the Maracana? Leave me a comment or Tweet me @travellingsingh
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.