Carioca Spirit in Rio de Janeiro
Featured destinations: Brazil, Rio de Janeiro
Published 09 January 2017
An urban jungle, Rio is home to city, forest and beach. But what makes this city stand head and shoulders above the rest, aside from the majestic Christ the Redeemer, is the carioca spirit of the Brazilians. It’s the natives of Rio that make this city so alluring.
The spirited vibe of Rio hits you as soon as you touch down. Whether it’s during a taxi ride from the airport, a warm welcome from the staff as you arrive at your hotel or on a favela tour with a local who is passionate to show you every nook and cranny of their city. The bronzed Brazilians are vivacious, charismatic and naturally radiant, and you can feel their enthusiasm for their city.
Complexo do Alemão cable car image: Sophie Cole
A favela tour is the best way to get a “real” feel for the city and to experience the carioca spirit of Brazil. In Rio there are over 1,000 favelas housing almost one quarter of the population.
Complexo do Alemão (the Complex of the German) is home to 13 of Rio’s favelas. It is interlinked by a six-station cable car that silently soars over the colourful town below, and is used by the locals and tourists. My sister and I ventured into this vast favela with our tour guide Evandro, who had grown up in the favelas and retained his ties with the locals. He took us to meet a mother of ten, who was throwing a party to celebrate her 40th birthday. She welcomed us with open arms and invited us to join the party. The family could barely afford the beer they drunk, yet they were the most hospitable hosts, kindly offering us their food and drinks.
Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro image: Sophie Cole
Another popular favela to visit is Santa Marta. It is here that Michael Jackson’s 1996 hit “They don’t care about us” was filmed. As a tribute there is a bronze statue of Jackson standing on the edge of one of the streets, in front of a mosaic paying homage to the legendary pop star. Venture all the way to the top of the favela, and you’ll find a football pitch. When we reached the top, a game of football was in full swing; a crowd of supporters cheered on the players and music blasted from speakers in the background. It was a joyous sight to see, the favela community radiant and full of joie de vivre.
Live music, Rio de Janeiro image: Sophie Cole
Rio is synonymous with samba. And boy do the Brazilians know how to samba! Make your way to Lapa for a boogie at one of the legendary samba dance clubs. Our favourite was Carioca de Gema, an intimate live music venue where the locals hung out. It was here that the natives, who were so natural and graceful on the dance floor, twirled us around to some classic samba beats.
Caipirinha image: Sophie Cole
Caipirinha and Churrasco
Another perk of Rio life is sipping delicious caipirinhas; a classic cocktail in Brazil made from cachaça, sugar, lime and crushed ice. It was inside the local bars that we found the most amazing caipirinhas. From climbing up Escadaria Selarón and stumbling upon a small roadside café in Santa Theresa, to a street side local bar in Lapa away from the party-going crowd. It’s the hidden gems separate from the more popular streets where caipirinhas are served strong, jam-packed with zesty limes, and sweet with a hint of sugar.
Meat lovers will adore churrasco; a Brazilian barbecued meat. Be warned though: avoid piling your plates high at churrascaria buffets at all costs! You want to save as much room as possible for the all the mouth-watering, succulent meat. Carved at your table, and showcasing some of Brazils finest cuts, the meat is free flowing. In our experience, our waiters circled our table roughly every five minutes with a different delicious cut. After about ten rounds of the juiciest meat I have ever tasted, we had to sadly admit defeat.
Tijuca forest waterfall image: Sophie Cole
Urban jungle tour
See another side of Rio as you venture into the tropical forest of Tijuca. This urban paradise surprisingly fits perfectly in place in Rio, away from the concrete jungle below. It’s here that Evandro, our Brazilian guide, took us deep into the forest, pointing out plunging waterfalls, cascading rocks, and streams racing through the jungle down deep ravines. After our jungle explorations we ventured up to Vista Chinesa (the Chinese viewpoint) to catch the sunset. It was an incredible sight to behold, looking out onto the concrete jungle below.Rio city view image: Sophie Cole
Rio city views
For another vantage overlooking Rio head to Christ the Redeemer, but go super early or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. Looking down on Rio below is phenomenal and looking up at the Christ is somewhat humbling; he quietly sits there watching over the city like a noble protector. Another interesting ascent is climbing up the 215 steps of Escadaria Selarón in the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Theresa. Created by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, the beautiful steps are covered in intricate tiles collected from around the world. Selarón dedicated his life to decorating the steps, paying homage to the people of Brazil.
So there you have it, a few reasons why Rio de Janeiro is a fun-loving, vibrant city with so many draws. It is no wonder Rio was the latest place to host the Olympics – it really does have everything, including a carioca spirit that’s hard to find in any other of the world’s greatest cities.
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