Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Sights of Rio de Janeiro (Part 1)

Rio de Janeiro is a city with a rich history and a dramatic setting. Cities with hills, mountains, and water are usually some of the most beautiful around, and Rio de Janeiro does its best to capitalize on these natural features. Rio is well known for the famous hilltop perch of the Christ the Redeemer statue up on Corcovado, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the world famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. On our second day there, we set out to see the sights and be simply be tourists out to see the city. In this post, we'll visit two of the biggest tourist sights, Corcovado and Sugar Loaf, and next time we'll visit Ipanema Beach, Escadaria Selarón (Selarón's Staircase), and Jardim Botânico.

Because our first full day was on Saturday, we decided that going to the statue would be a priority. There is a chapel at the Christ the Redeemer statue and on Sundays, getting up there is crazier than usual. There are two ways up to the top of mountain. The first is to take the original Corcovado train, which is a cog-wheeled train built originally in 1884. The second is to bus/taxi it up to the top.  The train is the preferred option, but because there are so many people the wait can be hours long. When we arrived, there was a three hour wait.

At the train station, there are a bunch of people offering a bus to the top. If you visit, these guys are legit and will take you up to where you need to be to get into the park and then up to the top. As practical advice, once you get up there there will be two lines: One is for the tickets to enter the national park and take the bus to the top (yes, you have to transfer), and the second is to actually get on the bus. Have someone wait in both lines and you'll get up to the statue as fast as possible. Overall, this option is less expensive and faster than waiting for the train, especially since there can be an hour wait to go down by train as well.

Once up at the top, you are treated with some of the best views of the city possible. The statue is on a platform that covers the peak of this mountain, and extends out to a view point that gives a 270 degree view of the city. You can see everything from Centro and Santa Teresa to Ipanema Beach and Leblon. Compared with a lot of scenic view points this on retains an open and airy feeling thanks to a common sense approach to safety.

The couple standing on the railing is not following the common sense safety rules...

Other than the statue and the view, Corcovado offers a tiny chapel, tourist souvenir stands, and a small juice/food stand. The juice stand is on the backside of the statue and offers a good place to enjoy the view without having to stand. There are only a few tables, so if it is not busy swoop in and grab them.

After the break, we continue to Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) for some aerial tram and sunset photos! Keep reading!

Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) is the second biggest tourist attraction in Rio (besides the beaches). The conical mountain, seen to the right, is connected by two aerial gondolas/trams that bring tourists from the base up to the top. The lines at the bottom can be quite long and as practical advice, there are two actual lines: One for cash, which is usually shorter, and one for credit cards. The gondolas run every 20 minutes.

There is also an alternative way of getting to the top that can cut some of the cost out. It involves a 45 minute hike to the first gondola stop and we would have done this if we weren't running late and wanting to see the sunset. When you go, be sure to check when the sun is setting and be there at least an hour and half before to allow you to get through the line and up. We barely made it (no thanks to our taxi cab driver), but we were able to catch the sunset which was a magnificent pink, turning to purple, over the Corcovado.

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