Following my cold and rainy trip to Iguazu Falls, I was eager for the sunny beaches of Rio de Janeiro (2 hr direct flight). Unfortunately, the weather was not that much improved on the coast, but despite the overcast sky, it was still pleasantly warm. It was winter after all when I was visiting Brazil in June, but the coldest it seemed to get was still around 70 F (21C). I did manage to experience a couple sunny days there, and Rio’s sights are truly breathtaking when illuminated by the sun. On the first clear day I had in Rio, I made sure to take full advantage by going hang gliding!
When I first arrived to Rio, I found the city surprisingly quiet. I think because Rio is so closely associated with Carnaval celebrations, I was not expecting to find the city so chill. Most of the hostels I stayed at were quite empty but it was low season for tourists (which was actually great because it meant I didn’t have to wait in line for attractions or fight for photos).
But I soon realized there was another reason certain areas were empty – there were wave of protests occurring all over the country. Cariocas (people from Rio) were either in the streets participating in the demonstrations or going home early to avoid them.
The protests began in early June, and at first it was just a small protest to increased bus fares in São Paulo. Now a month later, the demonstrations have spread to more than 350 Brazilian cities. Corruption, police violence, poor public health and education systems, gay rights, and the extravagant spending on the upcoming World Cup and Olympics have all been added the list of grievances of the people. As the protests have escalated, unfortunately so has the violence. To date, there have been 6 deaths related to the protests and dozens injured.
The time I was in Rio also overlapped with the Confederations Cup Final, but even Brazil’s victory over Spain was overshadowed by the clashes and tear gas just outside the Maracanã stadium. Most locals I spoke to about the protests were generally supportive of the cause but disappointed in the violence that had occurred and the vandals that have taken advantage of the ensuing chaos.
It was certainly an interesting time to be in Brazil, and I was often told that I was witnessing history in the making. Personally, I never saw any of the protests as I stuck to the touristy beach areas and wasn’t trying to join any riots. However, I did pass the students that were camping outside the governor’s house in Leblon but these demonstrations have stayed relatively peaceful.
Beyond the protests and football fever, Rio had plenty other forms of excitement to offer and I ended up spending a whole week there. It was nice for once to stay in one place after being on the go every couple days in Peru.
With a full week devoted to Rio, I was able to explore the city at a very leisurely pace. The city is divided into 4 main districts: Centro (Central), Zona Sul (South Zone), Zona Norte (North Zone), and Zona Oeste (West Zone). Most of the tourist attractions are in Zona Sul and Centro, and that is where I spent most (ok- all) of my time.
Click on each link for more information about each district:
This is where all the famous beaches are (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon) as well as most of the main tourist attractions (Sugarloaf and Corcovado mountains).
Rio’s financial and business centre also contains many historic buildings and museums. The bohemian Lapa and artistic Santa Teresa areas are located here, and I also took my Brazilian Cooking Class in Centro.