With 80km of beachfront, a dusk-till-dawn club scene and world-recognised icons such as Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro attracts more tourists than any other South American city – around 2.8 million each year. Thankfully, the city has a host of options to escape the crowds and uncover stunning Brazilian scenery beyond the beaches and skyscrapers.
Rent a bike from downtown Rio and cycle 13km south to Ipanema, an upscale beachfront neighbourhood that helped birth bossa nova music in the 1960s. With a grid layout that is easy to navigate on two wheels, Ipanema has a mix of beach and street bike lanes for easy, laid-back cruising.
From Ipanema, ride 2km west to Jardim de Ala – a park and canal that separates Ipanema from its wealthy neighbour Leblon – and follow the waterway to the paved 7km bike path around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a large lake connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the nearby canal. Stop for a bite of a Rio street food favourite, tapioca pancake filled with sweet or savoury fillings, at one of the many food carts lining the water, or rest up with a beer and bratwurst at Bar Lagoa, housed in an Art Deco building dating from 1934. For a break from biking, rent a swan pedal boat and tour the lagoon that will host the 2016 Olympic rowing events.
For a guided bike tour around Ipanema and the lake, BikeInRioTours.com runs three-hour trips for 65 Brazilian reals.
If it is people you are trying to escape, five small uninhabited islands off Rio’s southern coast definitely fit the bill. The Ilhas Cagarras feel strangely peaceful, even with Rio’s skyscrapers in full view. Locals sail around the rocky islands to scuba dive and fish, or jump in the choppy waters away from the Ipenema and Copacabana beach crowds.
Home to black and white frigate birds and blue-footed boobies, the Ilhas Cagarras are a prime spot for wildlife watching. Between May and December, dolphins, sea turtles and even the occasional humpback whale swim off-shore. Divers can explore a shipwreck below the waters near Comprida, the longest island in the chain, while less adventurous types can snorkel or swim. Some boat tours also offer fishing for a chance to catch grouper, snapper and squid.
About 240km west of Rio, the well-preserved Portuguese colonial town of Paraty is a slice of old Brazil by the sea. Founded in 1667 as a sugar cane mill, the town retains much of its colonial character in its cobblestone streets and colonial-style churches, while its lush and verdant seaside location makes for incredible contrasts between history and nature – along with equally incredible photo opportunities.
Today, cars are not allowed in the town’s centre to better preserve the old-world charm. And every June, during the Catholic Corpus Christi festival, residents cover the streets with intricate tapestries created from coloured sawdust, dried flowers and coffee. In other months, examples of the sawdust carpets and other cultural touchstones can be seen at the Casa da Cultura Paraty (Paraty’s Culture House).
A variation of the town’s name (parati) was once a common synonym for “a very good sugar cane rum” – so be sure to try some of the local cachaça from one of the town’s seven distilleries, or visit in August during the Festival da Cachaça (also called the Festival da Pinga), where local stills offer tastings and bands provide entertainment.
Avis, Localiza and other car hire companies are available from the airport. From there, take Av Brasil (BR 101) to the Rod Rio Santos that runs along the coast to Paraty. The resort town of Villa Muriqui, about 80km west of Rio, makes for a good petrol and food spot.
Only a two-hour flight from Rio, Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu Airport is the ideal landing spot to see one of the most stunning waterfalls in the world. Three times taller and four times wider than Niagara Falls, which separates Canada and the US, Iguazu Falls separates Brazil and Argentina and in 2011 was named one of the New Natural Seven Wonders of the World.
Rio de Janeiro with Lonely Planet
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Rio de Janeiro