10 Things You Must Do in Rio De Janeiro

Rio De Janeiro is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Beaches, forest and mountains give the city a picturesque backdrop that can be enjoyed from practically anywhere in the city. If you are headed to Rio for the first time for vacation, here are the top 10 places you must cross off your checklist…

1. Christ The Redeemer

The 30 metres (98 ft) tall status of Jesus Christ, stretch 28 metres (92 ft) wide overlooks the city of Rio from Corcovado mountain. Built in 1931, it has become the single most famous icon of Rio and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

A 30-minute helicopter sightseeing tour over Rio offers some of the most spectacular views of the cities scenery and landmarks.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

2. Sugar Loaf Mountain

Located at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, this 396 m (1,299 ft) tall peak resembles the conical shape of a loaf of sugar. The reference originated during the 16th century sugar boom in Brazil. Take a cable car to the top to see panoramic views of the city.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

3. Niteroi

Drive over the 13 kilometers long bridge across Guanabara Bay that connects Rio to Niteroi. There are two reasons to go here – one is for the best views of Rio skyline and second is to see the architecture of famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. You can go inside the Contemporary Art Museum and take photos from the hang gliding takeoff spot at the Niteroi Municipal City Park. Also, get a good look at the range of mountain made of granite and quart that surround Rio.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

Luis Darin, is an English speaking Brazil tour guide who offers private and group cultural and sightseeing tours in Rio. Luis took me to Niteroi, Tijuca Forest, Barra and a farmers market during our day long tour. Luis customized our tour and conversations to center on my interest and had a lot to share about his hometown. 

4. Tijuca Forest

Tijuca is the world’s largest urban rainforest, and easily accessible from residential and commercial areas in Rio. Many locals go to the park for a daily jog, bike, or to picnic and swim in the waterfall on the weekends. Inside the park, there is  Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain, the Cascatinha Waterfall, the Mayrink Chapel, a pagoda-style gazebo at Vista Chinesa outlook, and the giant granite picnic table called the Mesa do Imperador.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

5. Beaches

Most people who come to Rio, enjoy the sun and sand at Copacabana and Ipanema. While these two areas have some of the best known beaches, they are also quite crowded and touristy. There are more pristine and secluded beaches within an hour drive from Rio, where the locals prefer to hang out. Perigoso, Meio, Funda and Inferno beaches are reachable only by boat. Piranha Beach, located inside an environmentally protected area is great for surfing.

6. Hang Gliding

Extreme sporting opportunities are available in many beautiful locations these days. But hang gliding is extremely popular in the Barra side of Rio. There are certified instructors, an official ticket site, and designated jumping area. Flying over Rio offers aerial views of the beaches, mountains, rainforests and favela – stark contrasts that makes this city unique!

After a flight, gliders and guides are often found at the beach, sipping on fresh  coconut water and downloading photos and videos taken during the flight.

Photo by Beto Rotor

I went tandem hang gliding with Beto Rotor from Hang Gliding Brazil, a friendly and excited instructor with over 30 years of experience. We rode in his open air jeep up the mountain, where the glider was already laid out for us. After some instructions and security harnesses, we are up in the air in no time! We took a lot of cool shots with the 3 Go Pro cameras he attached to our glider.

7. Farmers Markets

There are about 50 farmers markets held around the city every morning. The open air markets are good places to see daily life of Cariocas as they are shopping for groceries, sample tropical fruits and vegetables and also try local street foods, such as  fried empanadas, tapioca pancakes, and sugarcane juice. Download an app that allows you to locate farmer’s markets in your area in Rio.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

8. Northeast Traditions Center

If you don’t have a chance to visit the north of Brazil, you can still experience its food, culture and crafts at the Luiz Gonzaga Northeast Traditions Centre, the location for São Cristovão Fair. There are 700 permanent vendors offering food from Bahia, ice creams made with local fruits, crafts of wood, linen and more, as well as exhibitions of folk singers and dancers. You can easily spend an entire day here.

9. Barra da Tijuca

Built only 30 years ago, this new urban suburb of Rio has become one of the most developed places in Brazil. People from Rio head to Barra to enjoy its white sandy beaches, backwater restaurants located around its many lakes and rivers, quiet gardens and large shopping malls selling international brands. Barra da Tijuca neighborhood is known for having homes of celebrities and soccer stars. It is also where the summer 2016 Olympics took place.

Photo by Amanda Villa-Lobos

10. Favela

As a contrast to Barra, Rio also has the most number of favelas (shanty towns) in South America and many tourists show interest in visiting them. I personally went with a friend to Santa Marta favela, who works there to gain an insider perspective of how people live and what facilities they lack. It is definitely interesting to experience this real side of the city that makes Rio what it is. Read about my trip to the favela in Rio…

Do you have a favorite spot in Rio? Do share in the comments section below…

The Biggest Party in The World – Photos From Rio Carnival 2017

The Carnival in Rio De Janeiro is bigger than all of the carnivals around the world put together! I couldn’t fathom the scale of this statement until I experienced it for myself this February. While Carnival parties take place for 3 weeks across neighborhoods in Brazil, the grandest event is held at Rio Sambadrome on Carnival Sunday and Monday.

Never Ending Parade

The stadium is bustling with 75,000 spectators spread out over a little less than half-a mile. The parade begins at 10pm and ends at 6am. 6 samba-schools parade each night with a total of about twenty-four thousand participants. Each samba school has 45 minutes to make it across the stadium with their floats and dancers. Each samba school has to parade with a minimum of 2,000 members and a maximum of 4,500 merry makers.

Elaborate Floats

Every samba school has at least 10 floats that tell a story and are elaborately decorated with lights, motion and dancers. Some of them are as high as 3 stories! The floats I saw had ice cream, super heroes, toys, farmer, turtle, and music themes.

Outrageous Costumes

The Brazilian women who dance samba in front of the floats are some of the most talented dancers in the country. Their scantily designed costumes are embodies with lots of feathers, as they shake their bodies to the rhythm across the stadium in high heels. Samba girls have to be in excellent shape. They diet, exercise and practice for at least two months leading up to the event.

Tickets and Logistics

There are five types of tickets available for the Samba Parade in Rio: Boxes, Dress Circle, Grandstands Seats, Back Stall Seats, and Specially Handicapped. Children under 5 do not require tickets. Tickets can be purchased in Sectors 1-11, sector 5 and 9 being the most central ones.

Sambodromo Grandstand ticket prices start are $115-400 USD. This area has uncovered stadium style seating, but offers panoramic views of the entire parade. Sambadrome Special Boxes carnival tickets costs at an average range of $600 – 2,200 which includes food, drinks and company of celebrity guests. Carnival tickets go on sale in December and the earlier you buy, the cheaper they will be.

I went to see the Access Group performance on Friday night which consisted of 7 of the best samba schools as part of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival Gold Group. The performances are pretty close to those in the Special Group that perform in the Grand Parade on Monday, and the winners are chosen to participate in next year’s Special Group. Tickets for the Access events are much cheaper. I bought my ticket in Section 5 Grandstand for $20 online. Note: tickets at travel agencies are generally much more expensive.

It is advisable to take a nap on the day of the event so you can stay up all night. The facility sells snack foods and beer, but I saw many people bring coolers full of snacks and to-go cocktail jars. It is ok to take photos and videos. Unlike other crowded places in Rio, it is actually quite safe at the Sambadrome so you can bring your expensive camera. Carry some cash for snacks and taxi back. Many roads are blocked during carnival so transportation can take longer and be a bit more expensive.

~ Photos by Amanda Villa-Lobos, a native of Rio de Janeiro and official Go Eat Give photographer.

Reminiscing about Brazil with Go Eat Give volunteer, Amanda Villa Lobos

Meet Amanda Villa Lobos, a 26 years old energetic and passionate lady currently volunteering at Go Eat Give. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with her for the last few weeks as we worked side by side on Destination Brazil. Since our initial encounter, I have been drawn to her perceptions of the world, largely because it’s very evident that she has travelled vastly. The experiences she has picked up along the way make her a wholesome individual. She tells me a little bit about Brazil and the memories she has of her beloved home country.

Amanda 2

When and where were you born?

I was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1988, and thereafter my family moved to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Most of my time in Brazil was spent there. My parents are diplomats so I lived in many countries across the world. However, I spent a total of about 8 years in Brazil, traveling back and forth.

What is your fondest memory about Brazil?

My favorite childhood memory is climbing mango trees and snacking on juicy yellow mangoes. I enjoyed that so much. I would look forward to the weekends just so I could climb mango trees. I would be the only one climbing, and I think it’s my love for nature that prompted me to do so. Despite living in Brasilia, I was very much in touch with nature. I remember making teas with different herbs that I picked up, and making juices out of fresh fruit that I would find.

You’ve travelled vastly around the world. What do you think sets Brazil apart from other countries?

The people! Brazilian people are very hospitable. They invite you to their homes and share their personal space with ease. Sharing a meal, amidst laughter and great music, with friends and family is the order of the day. The relations amongst people are deeper and there’s a deeper sense of belonging. Everybody is welcoming and friendly.

What’s your favourite Brazilian food?

Meat tastes way better in Brazil because the livestock is grass-fed. Brazil is a huge country and every region has something special to offer. Our food is also highly influenced by different cultures from Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia, because we are a nation of diversity. This is evident in the huge variety of food that we have. For example, while making Feijoada, a Portuguese black bean stew, the locals would mix the beans with water/broth with some pork ribs. But the best Feijoada was made by the African slaves, because they added the ears and tails, typically parts of the pig that were thrown away, to the stew that made it a richer, thicker sauce. Today this is one of the most popular dishes in Brazil that gets friends and family together over the weekends.

Coxhinia is my favourite pastry. It’s a little piece of dough that fits perfectly in your mouth, and it’s stuffed with chicken and cheese. It’s crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. It literally melts in your mouth. Cuscuz Paulista could also easily be one of my favourite dishes. It’s made out of different flours and delicately finished in the shape of a round cake. It has tomatoes, green peas and shrimps around it, and looks like a beautiful cake.

What do you miss the most about Brazil?

I miss the beaches. If I could wake up every day in Rio, looking at the sand and beautiful water with the waves breaking, then I would be the happiest person alive. There’s nothing more healing than being close to water for me. And people who live by the ocean are so peaceful, especially in the mornings, because they pass by the ocean before work and this gives them energy and Zen to face the day.

Amanda 4

~ By Christine Okwaro, event planning and fundraising intern at Go Eat Give. Christine grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and has lived in China and Switzerland. Her personal blog is www.thetravellers.de

Five Tips for having a positive travel experience

Traveling abroad to a foreign country where you don’t know the language or the culture can be quite daunting. You are probably going to ask your friends or read a few travel books before you hop on the plane. But no matter where you go, here are five tips I recommend you follow and keep for life. Continue reading “Five Tips for having a positive travel experience”

An insider look at a favela in Rio

Today I will take you on a tour through Rio de Janeiro’s infamous favelas. A favela is basically a slum in Brazil, commonly recognizable by hundreds of illegally constructed, brightly painted dwellings on the slope of a hillside. You can spot these favela from everywhere in the city, driving through a highway, from a posh residential area, or even from the statue of Cristo Redentor. There are 950 favelas in Rio and home to 20% of the population. Continue reading “An insider look at a favela in Rio”

The best national parks in Brazil

Natural landscapes, beautiful cascades, majestic waterfalls, diverse vegetation and fauna of various species are some of the charms that tourists can find in the national parks of Brazil. Here are the best ones as claimed by Brazil Ministry of Tourism. Continue reading “The best national parks in Brazil”

Myths and facts of Rio

They say you never truly know a place till you actually go there yourself and experience it first hand. People warn you, advise you, paint a picture of a destination for you. But everyone has their own lens of looking at things so where one finds danger, another may feel safe, where one sees chaos, another may find beauty. Continue reading “Myths and facts of Rio”

Types of Brazilian restaurants

Rio de Janeiro has taken concept restaurants to a whole new level. Outside of Brazil, we associate Brazilian cuisine with all you can eat steakhouses but that is only one of the offering you find here in Rio. In fact, the locals love to eat out and cannot afford the high end steakhouses every day. Neither is it healthy for you. There are actually many types of foods and restaurants in Rio, each differentiated by price, quality and dishes. Some of these include… Continue reading “Types of Brazilian restaurants”

Brazilian shrimp soup

This past weekend I taught a cooking class on how to make hearty soups and salads that can be eaten as full meals. They are nutritious, filling and make wholesome entrees. Out of all the dishes we prepared, the class unanimously voted for the Brazilian shrimp soup as the most delicious and their favorite. I have not been to Brazil yet, but have been making this recipe for over 10 years. It’s something I found (don’t even remember where) or I could give credit to it’s original creator.

If you want to make it healthier, use brown rice instead of white and lite coconut milk instead of regular. I don’t recommend substituting the coconut milk as it imparts a nice sweet flavor to the soup. To further enhance the flavor, use shrimp stock instead of water. Boil raw shrimp with shells in water for 10 minutes or until cooked. Remove shrimp, peel and keep aside. Strain and reserve stock to use in recipe.

Brazilian Shrimp Soup

  • 2 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 8 oz. large cooked shrimp
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 6oz. can tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large shallow pot. Add bell pepper & onion to the pot & cook till tender (about 10 minutes) over medium heat. Add the tomato puree & cook for 2 more minutes. Then, add the next 3 ingredients & mix well. Add water & bring to a boil. Cover & simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, mix well to make sauce even in color. Add salt & pepper according to taste. Let the sauce heat thoroughly. Slice each shrimp into half, lengthwise, and drop in the sauce. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.