After a wonderful stay in Santa Teresa, I spent Sunday/Monday with my Egyptian friends seeing the rest of Rio in 2 days. There were previously in Salvador for a work award/team building experience with Orange Telecom, and extended to visit Chapadas and then onward to Rio where I would meet them. They were arriving around 930AM Sunday morning, and the plan was for me to meet them in Ipanema at the Everest Hotel, where they would be staying 1 night. I booked an Air BnB nearby. As I was still in Santa Teresa Saturday morning, I grabbed an Uber to take me to Ipanema for around R35.
I found Uber to be generally the same percentage cheaper than a taxi as in the US. My Uber driver, however, had a problem finding my Santa Teresa apartment, and he also had a problem finding the Everest Hotel in Ipanema. He was an older guy that apparently didn’t know how to use Google Maps. We stopped every few blocks to ask for directions so the ride took about 30 minutes longer than it should have. ON a good day, it would have taken 30 minutes by car to get from Santa Teresa to the Ipananema/Copacabana area. I watched his go in circles for about 15 minutes on the Uber app through the Wi-Fi at my Sugar Loft apartment before he actually arrived. He greeted me I’m sure with a few choice phrases of frustration in Portuguese. As this was the second time in two days that this happened with a driver, I started to wonder how reliable the Google Maps were and also how well-versed the general population was in map technology and also in just finding their way around in general.
In Ipanema, since it was Sunday, the promenade along the beach was closed to street traffic, which also created an obstacle for my Uber driver and he had to find alternate one-way routes to reach the hotel. Eventually we made it, and my friends Tarek and Ramy were waiting in the lobby. I arrived around 1130AM. Our final companion, Amir, unfortunately got delayed in Rome and would not be joining us until 6PM that evening. Tarek and Ramy were already in Brazil for the company function. We caught up briefly and then made a plan for the day. We decided to take a walk to the main square (Praça General Osório) and see if we could catch the hop on hop off Rio Sightseeing bus, and then try to see Corcovado and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. This is an outstanding way to see Rio in 2 days.
It was a good plan, and it worked. For 80 Reais each, we got a wristband for the bus that started at the main square in Ipanema and looped all the way to the City Center (downtown) and back, taking us by all the major tourist attractions. We had an amazing guide for the first leg and were the only folks on the bus. He was an older Brazilian man with perfect English and unending enthusiasm. He advised us to get off at the third stop (Copacabana) and book a government van to Corcovado to avoid the delays and unpredictability of taking the tram to the top. So that’s what we did. For another R68, we found ourselves on a van headed to the top of the Corcovado Mountain, which means hunchback in Portuguese (it does look like this, actually). The weather was not good, with fog rolling on and off, and the visibility at the top was uncertain. But, we really only had today to do this since we only had a half day the following day and had already decided to go to Sugar Loaf mountain in Urca and do the cable cars to the top.
At the top of Corcovado, there was a large tourist center, museum, and of course gift shop. We had to change vans and queues endlessly to finally get to the actually statue area, and then ascended several flights of stairs to the viewing area. It was foggy and overcast with zero visibility, and we were disheartened.
One other odd thing we started to catch on to – every time we entered into a new area of the park, we had to re-scan the ticket we bought to enter. Each of us made the mistake of misplacing it several times, and this proved to become a major hassle as we continually had to relocate it. We had clue as to why this a necessary part of the process, and seemed completely redundant and time-consuming. Through Rio at the tourist attractions and monuments, it was done this way, though. The ongoing joke thereafter was to have random inspections of one another’s ticket to ensure we didn’t inadvertently misplace them.
At the top of the mountain, the fog finally cleared and the statue came in to view. It was definitely not as towering and tall as we had originally thought (only about 38 meters), but I suppose it didn’t need to be – as long as it could be viewed from most places in the city (which it could). It was commissioned by the Catholic Church in the 1930s and built here in Brazil. Since we did not spend any time learning about the construction of the monument in the museum, that’s about all we know.
Here and there we were able to snap some good pictures of the statue itself, as well as the view of various angles of the city.
We got a select few views of Guanabara (although it never really cleared enough for that perfect shot), as well as the surrounding areas of Rio, such as the Urca/Sugar Loaf area. It was definitely worth the trip up and the intermittent clouds led to some ethereal and unique photos.
That excursion took about 2 hours and cost somewhere around 78 Reais (plus the taxis back and forth for about R20 each). It is a must if you want to see Rio in 2 days.
When we finished we got back to our Copacabana Rio Sightseeing bus stop and hopped on the bus to complete the loop and get a smattering of information about the rest of the city. We continued on to Urca where we would be going the following day for the cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf, and got out and took some pictures. We thought about doing it that day, but Amir, our friend who hadn’t arrived yet, really wanted to join us for it so we left that activity for Monday (ironically, he didn’t end up going with us the following day).
We finished the tour going through Botafogo, Lapa, and the City Center, where most shops and restaurants were closed because it was a Sunday (apparently, like Los Angeles, nobody lived downtown). The guide this time around on the bus wasn’t as awesome as the guide before Corcovado – she didn’t know very much and seemed to just know her script, unable to go off it. She didn’t understand most of our questions. One interesting thing I noticed on our drive was that the city seemed quite affluent, from three key signs:
- Lots of people out walking their dogs, with a “pet” culture made apparent by the number of pet spas and stores, as well as dog parks.
- Parks galore and lots of public green space
- Farmer’s markets, gastro markets, and street fairs.
These are all, to me, signs of being squarely first world. I described this to my friend Brice later and he said that 10 years ago when he visited, it was not this way at all and at least #1 and #3 didn’t exist.
Side note also about Brazil in general – besides both the ticket on-demand being annoying, the other nuisance was the yellow rumble strip dividing seemingly all sidewalks in to two areas, and preventing anyone from walking in the middle. It wasted about 25% of all sidewalks in the city and paths in the airports as well.
Back in Ipanema, we were famished, and had a recommendation from the first guide for a reasonably churrascaria, called Carretão, where the bus dropped us off (Praça General Osório, aka the Hippie Farmer’s Market). We had a nice dinner there and one probably the best churrascaria we had on the trip. The meat was not overcooked (like in some of the other places) and was well-seasoned. The price was reasonable and the salad bar fresh, generous, varied, and delicious. A churrascaria is also a must-do for a Rio in 2 days plan.
Afterwards I checked in to my Air BnB and had a chat with the manager, Ricardo. Ricardo was an artist and the owner of a Rio Bike Tour company, where he gave private guided bike tours of the city. He explained that for non-Brazilians, it was actually impossible to rent the Rio Bikes from the kiosks without a Brazilian national identity card, so guided tours were the only real option. We verified this independently later in the evening after walking with Rami and Amir back to their hotel and browsing internet/email for a bit. The room was Spartan but clean, safe, in a great location, and cheap $32. I said goodnight to Tarek who walked me back around 9PM, showered, and went to bed.
I slept horribly because of the heat but I was too lazy to turn on the AC. Totally my fault. I woke up around 8AM, checked out, and met the guys at their hotel around 930AM. Their checkout was at 1PM so we left our bags in the room and did our thing. Tarek and I took a long walk on the Copacabana beach towards Urca, and witnessed some young men on the beach playing soccer volleyball. Here’s the lay of the land in case you’re wondering – Urca/Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açucar) is on the East.
We were supposed to meet the rest of the group at 11AM to do Sugar Loaf. However, they decided to pass and go shopping in Botafoga instead so we were on our own. For a hefty entrance fee, we went up to the top of both mountains and enjoyed the (again cloudy/foggy) views. The viewing would have been superior the previous day, but oh well! We also noticed again the phenomenon of needing to scan our tickets every move we made, and the turnstiles we had to pass through after scanning being particularly aggressive (kind of kicking us in the butts/hamstrings to push us through).
The view itself was impressive, possibly not worth the entrance fee, but one of those things that you just have to do once, especially if you are in seeing Rio in 2 days. We could barely make out the Christ the Redeemer statue in the fog.
We avoided the tourist trap of shop and restaurants on the top (even though some of them seemed actually quite upscale) and met the guys back at the hotel via taxi for our checkout and journey to the airport to make our 4PM flights to Foz do Iguazu on LATAM.
Back at GIG we went through the check-in process in the “efficient” express back drop (since we had already checked in online). I use the word efficient loosely of course because it took 30 minutes due to a combined line of bag droppers and non-self checkers (full-service check-in). On the other side we boarded our flight, took off on time, and pretty soon were in Foz do Iguaçu (Brazilian side of course). We had a pretty packed visit to Rio in 2 days. What are you able to fit in?