Rio de Janeiro, from soccer to favelas (Collaboration with @iexploretheplanet)

Today @iexploretheplanet talks about his trip to Rio de Janeiro. Check out the interview below:


Welcome to the community!

Tell us about yourself, about where you come from and about how and when did your passion for traveling start?

IMG_9050Let me introduce myself. My name is Gavin and I’m originally from the United Kingdom. I grew up there and received my education in the British system. However, once I had graduated University in the UK, I moved to Hong Kong. This was back in 2001 and I have been here ever since then.

My passion for traveling started from a very young age, as far back as I can recall in fact. My family would often take me to West Germany to visit relatives who lived there. I can remember the anticipation and excitement that would greet such a vacation. The night before we were due to travel was like Christmas Eve to me. From that young age, one of my main life ambitions was to travel the world. I wanted to live outside the UK too. Hence, both ambitions have been realized.

Today you are going to share your recent trip to Rio, Brazil. A city of contrasts between the touristic places and the local alleys.  How did you decide on this location?

One of my trips that I would like to share with yourself for your readers is my adventure to Rio de Janeiro during the Chinese New Year in 2017. In Hong Kong, we have quite a bit of time for vacation leave during this period, so I decided to spend the best part of 10 days in Rio. Of course, it took well over a day to get there and back alone. I needed to fly from Hong Kong via New York, which presented a nightmare with US immigration requesting Visas even if you are in transit. This was a first for me on my travels.

How did you travel to the location? Where did you stay? Is there/how is the transportation there? Did you use an agency, a guide or you did it all yourself?

In Rio itself, I stayed at the Miramar Hotel by Windsor which I had researched through Tripadvisor and Booking. The main advantage of this hotel is that it’s located on the Copacabana Beach which is something you dream of seeing and walking along. The main highlight of staying there though was the stunning sunrises which I could watch in awe from the roof top pool. Literally, nobody else was up at that early hour so I had it all to myself. It was simply breathtaking. The best part of any day is always the early morning, you can beat the crowds and have the whole place to yourself, something which is important to take into consideration when visiting popular sites around the world.


Could you explore on your own? How was the language barrier?

For my tours of Rio, I purchased the Explore Rio de Janeiro guidebook from Insight Guides. I often use this series for my travel excursions. It provides brilliant walking routes and useful information about the sights as well as hotels and restaurant choices. In order to watch the Brazilian soccer match and visit the favelas, I needed to arrange a tour through the hotel. With the guided tours, you had transportation and a guide to stay with you during the visits. The favelas, in particular, should not be visited alone by travelers. During my stay, I was woken by the shots of gunfire coming from the favelas behind my hotel in Copacabana. However, it just added to the experience of this magical adventure. The favelas are well worth visiting on a tour in order to gain an insight into how the local people live there. We had the opportunity to see their craftsmanship, visit their homes for talks and snacks/drinks and some special photoshoots.

In terms of the language barrier, I would say that some Portuguese would be beneficial, but since the Olympics and the Soccer World Cup were recently held in Brazil, their English communication skills have improved to accommodate tourists. However, I did tend to notice that most visitors in Rio were from South American countries and most people on the street will not speak much English. in fact, I hardly saw any European or Asian tourists. Like most destinations, the locals will always appreciate a visitor trying to communicate in the local language and Portuguese is quite easy to pick up and use for English/Spanish/French speakers I feel. So download the Duolingo App like I did and get some practice in before traveling to Rio as well as when you’re there to brush up on your skills.

What surprised you there in a good way? And, did you have any strange/unpleasant experience?

Whilst I was there, it became very evident the contrasts in lifestyle and culture between Rio and other popular tourist destinations. Along the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana people were not glued to their smartphones nor using their cameras to take pictures. Rio has a bit of a reputation for crime, so it pays to take caution. However, at the uber-popular tourist sites like the Christ the Redeemer Statue and Sugarloaf Mountain, it was taken as many pictures as you can though. Both sites are very popular. Be sure to head to Sugarloaf early to beat the crowds and catch the amazing views. Christ the Redeemer should be seen later in the day. It’s pretty busy at all times up there, so you’ll have to deal with some jostling.

What did you learn from the culture and/or the locals?

Brazilian people are very passionate and friendly and welcoming I discovered, they love to soak in the sun at the beach and enjoy being with friends and family. Soccer is an important part of life as you’ll find out. Obviously, they have had to endure some issues economically and politically. Due to this, there were protests when I was there and it just happened to be in the Downtown area when I was visiting which isn’t where many tourists ventured around. However, the protests can and did turn violent that day with riots in the street and buses ransacked and torched. It’s always worth monitoring the situation, but don’t let this deter you from visiting this vibrant city.

What was your favorite sight/thing in Rio? / Any tips for future visitors? 

My favorite things in Rio were without a doubt taking the cable cars up to the top of the Sugarloaf for the view early in the morning. I picked the best day by far as it was as clear as a whistle. My jaw was on the floor and it goes down as my all-time favourite view in the world. Even surpassing my former favorite, my very own city’s Victoria Peak. Secondly, going up to see the Christ the Redeemer Statue, it is one of the 7 wonders of the world. I would actually say that the main draw here is the staggering views of Rio from the statue rather than the statute itself since you are so close to it, you can’t truly appreciate it’s colossal size. Other mentions have to go to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema which were a pleasure to walk all the way along. There is some very attractive folk at the beaches too, so it’s the perfect place to do some people watching.

Some other highlights which are off the well-beaten tourist paths would be excursions to Paqueta Island (hop on a buggy to quickly get around the island, your driver will stop at the areas of interest), the walk around Niteroi allows wonderful views of Rio and plenty of beaches along the way, head into the Centro (Downtown) area of Rio with it’s office buildings to check out the Municipal Theatre (be sure to head inside for the guided tour) as well as going to the Museu do Amanhua which is located on the water’s edge in a futuristic looking building. Also, check out Lapa where there are the famous Selaron Steps. Visitors will love these as they are all individually tiled and it was all done by one person over a long period of time. Along Copacabana is the famous hotel of the same name. For one of Rio’s best restaurants, book a table at Ciprani, you won’t be disappointed.
 Whilst Rio de Janeiro is probably a place many people would love to visit, I’m sure that the distance is an issue for some. If you have limited time to visit there, the flights alone are going to eat into your time available. I would suggest a minimum of 4 nights for any holiday to experience a destination and Rio is no different. Actually, 6/7 is optimum, but anymore never hurts and in my 10 days I managed to see everything I wanted to. Unfortunately, the Maracana, the famous soccer stadium, was not open for any games or tours and this was a disappointment as was the lack of a truly gorgeous sunset from Aproador, which is the rocky headland between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Especially in light of the wonderful sunrises, I was experiencing, but I guess you can’t be too greedy and have everything perfect.

Anything you would have love to know/ be prepared for before arriving?

The only thing I wished I had known would have been about the US immigration policy of requiring visas for travelers even if they are in transit in the US. This would have saved a lot of headache and sweaty palms at the airport, but thank goodness for online Visas even though there are some bogus websites out there, so be warned. Also, during January to February is Brazil’s summer season. It is very hot and humid, so visitors will need to ensure they stay hydrated and bring extra summer clothing to wear. Be sure to apply your sun lotion frequently.

Was is your next adventure? Anything planned yet? Do you have a bucket list?

My summer trip in July and August will take me to Scandinavia. I’ve already been to Copenhagen in Denmark and had a lovely time there in the Danish capital. Now, I will visit the other countries; Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland and I’m very much looking forward to exploring them all. My bucket list is to visit every country on the planet. Although my main places to see would be to complete the 7 Wonders of the World, which means I need to visit Petra, Machu Picchu, and Chichen Itza. I’ve seen the other four and they were truly amazing. I also want to visit Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam, Moscow, Budapest, Vienna, Almafi Coast in Italy, go on an African safari, traveling around New Zealand’s South Island, go to Antarctica and travel from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp.

How can we see more about you and your trips? what is your website or/and social media

If you would like to follow my journey around the world as I look to visit every country on the planet. I’m currently at 34 out of 197 countries visited, then please follow me at @iexploretheplanet on Instagram and you can check out more photos of my travels up till now as well as those to come.
Thank you so much again for this collaboration!

Hope you liked this post. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate in commenting below or contact me.  If you want to collaborate in the blog, with your experiences or your trip’s photos, get in touch!

Be wise!

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