Rio De Janeiro: Samba South of the Border

copacabana rio de janeiro 1
At the Copacabana beach in Rio, always wear sunglasses, in fact, the author recommends wearing them all of the time in Brazil.

The Charms, Beaches, and Excitement of Rio de Janiero!

By Kent E St. John
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor

GoNOMAD counts on Kent to keep up with everything cool in travel. Here he's parasailing in Rio.
GoNOMAD counts on Kent to keep up with everything cool in travel. Here he’s parasailing in Rio.

The music drifts to the outdoor table cooled by the mist of the Atlantic. It’s sensual and moving, as is the sway of the people passing by. “Beautiful People,” South Beach Miami? No. Rio de Janeiro, on the come back.

Pack a fake Rolex or plated necklace and head where this side of the world learned to enjoy life. Your money goes far and you can too. It’s not carnival and that’s important; prices are great and the atmosphere is also. Bad reputations lead to tomorrow’s travel dream.

One sure sign was the travel industry people I ran into at the well-appointed bar at the Rio Atlantico Hotel. Richard Lewis, Managing Director of Summit Hotels, was checking the Atlantico as a new member.

Al Merscen, the managing partner of Myriad Travel, gave the best explanation of Rio’s regeneration; “Rio wanted to straighten out its problems before crowing, now it can”.

Rio De Janeiro.
Rio De Janeiro.

I am happy to report that since my last visit in 1996, Rio is alive and well in 2003.

Like a Fish in Water

The biggest unifying feature for Cariocas (as Rio’s residents are known) is wide sandy beaches. In fact, a 60-mile stretch of hedonistic pleasure is yours for the asking. Sunning, swimming, flirting or just plain relaxing is a daily event oceanside.

There is a beach in Rio that caters to everyone. Copacabana and Ipanema are just two that are world-famous. Some of the others such as Praia do Diabo (Devil’s Beach) or the far-flung Grumari offer solitude and specialized activities. For more on Rio’s beaches, log on to

This site is packed with beach descriptions and pictures; in fact, it is one of the most comprehensive places to plan your trip to Rio.

I ended up staying in Copacabana. Its wide swath and endless people-watching suited me perfectly. With its kiosks and beach soccer arenas, the area was busy. It is also a base for many good restaurants and hotels.

Walking to Ipanema

Walking to Ipanema is easy and worthwhile. It is also where the “Girl From” was found. A large black and white tile walkway (calcadoa) provides a great place to people watch. Ipanema is also remarkable for restaurants and bars.

It is, in fact, the spot where Jobim wrote the Girl song is at Garota de Ipanema. Still a great place to lift a cool one. The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are lit at night making them much safer than in years past. Needless to say if the seaside is your Rio goal, it’s easily found.

After The Lotion

Even the hardest core sun worshipper will agree that Rio is more than sand and sea. It has culture, spirit, and even camp. Rich or poor, gay or straight, Cariocas have their own style. Love, lust, romance, energy and music ooze from their very pores. The best display can be found at Rio’s Baixos (By-shows) South Side streets.

These are areas where cafes, restaurants and dance clubs all center. In Ipanema, Baixo Quiteria on Rua Maria, between Visconde de Piraja and Prudente de Morias is a good bet. For another Baixos click on

Pre-dinner and apre beach usually center around chope (beer) or Caiparianha (a drink made of cachaca sugar cane rum and lemon juice). My favorite choice for that was Academia De Cachaca There are over 500 varieties of the poison (er, potion) served. Careful, they are all potent!

Dining, whether fancy or at a botequin (street bar), usually provides an eclectic culinary treat. Surprisingly meat (all you can eat rodizos, Brazilian Barbecue) is offered more than fish but the choice of fruits and vegetables is astounding. Just remember that eating is far later than in the U.S. and an early bird dinner unthinkable! Read a comprehensive dining guide.

If you find yourself still standing and even craving more, Rio has one more bullet in its arsenal besides the countless sidewalk bars and cafes. The gafiera or samba parlors are a great place to meet locals and test your dance skills. Be forewarned–Brazilians move like no others. Salsa, lambada and other ballroom beats are all part of the scene. Visit dance website.

All too soon the sun rises and Cariocas (Rio residents) slowly head home after stopping for coffee and sweets (usually beachside). Fresh coconut milk is available, and I was told that it gives one energy. God knows that it’s needed because the whole routine will soon begin again!

Back to work

Save your sympathy for the Cariocas heading off to work. You too will have a very busy day. Rio’s got great things to see and places to explore. In the hopes that fresh coconut milk gives you energy, I have compiled my top 10 Rio places.

Head up to Corcovado and see what lies ahead. This is the mountain with the big Christ statue. Take the small train up and double your pleasure. It is truly one of the world’s best city views. In fact its only rival is next!

Sugarloaf is reached by two cable cars and not for those with fear of heights. From the top the beach views are perfect. As with Corcovado try to time your visit with clear skies.

Tijuca Forest has the distinction of being one of the world’s largest urban parks. It was also named a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1995.The area was originally used for coffee plantations and is very diverse. It is filled with rain forest, waterfalls and tropical trees bearing fruits.

Rio’s Museum of Modern Art (MAM) was founded in 1948 and houses collections by artists such as Rodin and Brancusi. It stands in the heart of Flamengo Park with gardens designed by Burle Marx.

Jardim Batanico is home to 2,600 species of plant life. Yes, Rio has abundant natural endowments. Toucans, Tanagers, and Marmosets can be found just hanging out. Prince Regent D. Joao of Portugal created the gardens in 1808.

Santa Teresa District is just south of the city center and is a neighborhood that best exemplifies past Rio. It is craft shops and old trolleys. Have lunch in a small café. You deserve it! Afterward, go to the Museum Chacera de Coy (Farm in the Sky). Once home to an eccentric art patron, it is now home to pieces by Matisse, Monet, and Modigliani.

The National Museum of Fine Arts is located in downtowi Rio and housed in an impressive French Renaissance style building. If Dali isn’t your style, check the amazing African collection.

A Place for a Break

You are downtown and deserve a break. The Confeitaria Colombo is perfect. Since 1894 it has served the well heeled with food, tea, and coffee. The Belgian crystal mirrors and old style service is a step back into the past.

Praca Quinze has everything; historic landmarks such as Tiradentes Palace, Candido Mendes and the Church of Nossa Senhora. There is also an antique fair on Saturdays.”

Best site overall is the old coffee plantation owned by Burle Marx, Brazil’s Renaissance man. A lion of the arts community. He truly painted Rio with plants. His residence was an ex banana plantation and is open for scheduled visits. The artwork and agriculture is sublime. The home is south of Rio and can be reached by mini bus from Copacabana Beach. Scheduled visits only call 011-55-21-2410-1412

More Please

Rio’s offerings are endless. That thought came to me as I was dangling from a paraglider high above the city. The scenery below alternated from the rainforest, skyscraper, favela (sidebar) to ocean and beach. After the soft landing on Pepino Beach I was already thinking about doing it again. Rio is just that kind of place. A place where anything can happen.

Best Bars

Brazilian food

The Favellas are Rio’s equivalent to slums in other cities. There are over three hundred communities that fall under that designation. They are a world under their own. Under no circumstance should you enter them on your own. Rio’s Tourism Authority can recommend several tour companies at 011-55-21217-7575 or

Rio de Janeiro tourism site

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