I recently spent almost a month in Rio de Janeiro this past summer during the World Cup, and after doing so I want to publicly declare that this is the best city in the world. There’s a lot of places I haven’t been, so take my opinion with a grain of salt if you may, but I simply do not see how any other city could offer so much. Sure European cities may have more history or better architecture, and New York may have the Village & Time Square, but the variety of everything you can find in Rio cannot be equaled. Without further adieu, here are my reasons why the city of Cariocas (people from Rio de Janeiro) is the best in the world:
Ipanema – My personal favorite beach in Rio de Janeiro because of it’s surreal natural beauty & variety of activities. On the western end of the beach rise the Dois Irmãos (2 Brothers), and there’s plenty of soccer & volleyball games, and huge waves to surf. On the other end of the beach is the Arpoador, & huge rock to climb & sit on to watch one of the best sunsets in the world.
Leblon – the most affluent neighborhood & beach in Rio, adjacent to Ipanema. There are plenty of ritzy restaurants, nightclubs, & bars around, and the beach offers great view of the Dos Irmãos as well.
Copacabana – the grandaddy & most famous of all Brazilian beaches. Copacabana is one of those words that has become so synonymous with tropical paradise, that people just like to say it even if they don’t know where Copacabana is. Plus, it was the stage for all of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Fan Zone madness.
Tijuca Forest – a National Park, and the world’s largest urban forest, all right in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. The park has over 90 km of trails through the rainforest, multiple waterfalls, & daunting mountain peaks including:
Pedra da Gávea – a massive, exposed granite dome in the Tijuca Forest that is a rock climbing mecca, & one of the highest mountains in the world that ends directly in the ocean.
Pico da Tijuca – the highest peak in the National Park at 1022m (3353 feet). The hike to the peak will take a few-hours round trip, and leave you feeling like you are the emperor of Rio de Janeiro.
Sugarloaf – needs no introduction, this 396m (1,299ft) sticks out on a peninsula overlooking the harbor. There is a cable car that goes to the top, and offers spectacular views of the city.
Dos Irmãos – meaning “Two Brothers” in English, these granite rock mountains form the famous backdrop of Ipanema & Leblon beach (pictured earlier). You can take a motorbike taxi to the top of a favela, & hike the rest of the way up the mountain for great views of the Zona Sul – truly one of the best activities in Rio.
The Carioca people
They’re friendly – Brazilians the friendliest people that I’ve ever met. A Brazilian family let us stay with them for 2 weeks during the World Cup, because we were friends of a friend. They gave us a place to stay, showed us around the city, & even took us to a barbecue in a favela! Now we call them our Brazilian family. We will be lifelong friends, & have invited them back to the States to hopefully return the favor one day!
They’re beautiful – I’m not the first to say it, and I certainly won’t be the last, but Brazilian people are physically beautiful. It’s not just their looks, but their confidence. You’ll can see an overweight lady walking down the beach rocking a thong in complete confidence. That type of confidence is attractive.
They’re happy – maybe it’s the beach, maybe it’s the weather (averages between 70-80F, 21-25C year round), maybe it’s the water, I don’t know, but it seems like Cariocas are always happy. Whether it’s someone you know, or a complete stranger – more than likely they’ll be smiling & laughing.
Their language – Portuguese is a romance language, and in my opinion, the most beautiful. And even if you don’t speak it, you will hear it all the time, because Brazilian people talk to you like you speak Portuguese. All day, every day. You will sit there looking completely lost, not being able to speak one word of Portuguese, but they’ll keep firing off the most beautiful jibberish you’ve ever heard. Take a listen to the video below and try to tell me Brazilian Portuguese isn’t beautiful…
The Carioca Culture
Carnival – another part of Rio de Janeiro that needs no intro. Although, I’ve never been, I couldn’t make a post of what makes Rio great without listing what many consider to be the biggest party on Earth, and an undying image of Brazilian culture.
Beach life – The beaches aren’t just beaches in Rio de Janeiro, they’re a lifestyle and form the center of many Brazilian ways of life. Brazilians don’t just go to the beach – they eat, sleep, play, love, & LIVE at the beach.
Health – Besides that random, overweight, overconfident lady on the beach, you will be hard-pressed to find many out-of-shape Cariocas. What you will find is tons of people doing healthy activities all over town. Besides all the hiking, rock-climbing, & surfing I’ve already mentioned, there are bike/running paths all over the city, and plenty of workout stations on the beaches.
Samba – recognized as a symbol of Brazil, Samba is both a Brazilian musical genre & dance, that has its roots in West Africa. Listen for the drums & look for the dance circles, then go bust out some moves. **WARNING: GRINGOS IN LAPA BELOW**
Street art – I’ve never seen so much street art in a city in my life. I later found out that in 2009, the city of Rio de Janeiro legalized street art, its very apparent that the graffiti community has blossomed since. Every corner you turn there is another colorful expression or urban art project and it makes for endless entertainment that other cities just don’t have.
Santa Teresa – Santa Teresa wins the award for prettiest neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. It is located at the top of a hill with great views of the rest of the city, and is characterized for it’s old architecture, and narrow, winding streets named after famous artists.
Escadaria Selarón – this world-famous staircase can be found straddling the hill between Santa Teresa & Lapa, and was built with over 2,000 tiles collected from over 60 countries. The 250-step staircase has been seen in countless videos (Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” anyone?), and the artist who built it, Jorge Selarón, was found dead at the bottom of the steps in 2013 after burning himself alive.
Favelas – You may think I’m crazy for listing favelas, or Brazilian slums, as one of the reasons why Rio de Janeiro is the best city of the world, but don’t knock them till you try them. Besides being visually intriguing (multiple layers of housing built on top of each other, climbing up & stretching over the mountains), favelas are close-knit, happy communities built on sharing & teamwork. The few favelas that are dangerous give all of them a bad rep unfortunately.
Cristo Redentor – One of the New 7 Wonders of the World, this “Christ the Redeemer” statue is one of the most recognizable structures on Earth. Although the actual statue is only 30m (98ft) tall, it sits on top of Corcovado, a 710m (2,329ft) tall granite mountain and offers perhaps the best view of an urban skyline that there is.
Lapa – Lapa is a hip, artsy, & musical district, and the undisputed capital of Rio nightlife. I couldn’t even tell you what the clubs & bars are like there though (supposedly the best), because every time I went I never made it inside. The party in the street was always too crazy & fun to warrant spending any type of cover charge. Plus, there is nothing cooler than befriending a huge group of Brazilians & having them show you how it’s done, Lapa block party style.
Zona Sul (South Zone) – Copacabana, Ipanema, & Leblon don’t just have the beautiful beaches, but also a raging nightlife scene. This is the ritzy area, so you can expect to pay much more & enter the nicest clubs & hang out with richer people.
Caiprinhas – The sweetest, sourest, most delicious drink around. Made with more limes than you can believe, more sugar than you want to believe, & local liquor Cachaca, you’ll find these drinks everywhere around the city, and are usually the cheapest option on the menu.
Funky music – born in the favelas during the 1980’s, funk carioca, or favela funk, is a hugely popular and catchy musical genre from Rio. You’ll hear it throughout the city, from the clubs to the streets, & it’s nearly impossible not to like. There are favela funk parties all the time throughout the city – just ask around and you’ll find them.
So what makes Rio de Janeiro the best city in the world? The beautiful, easily accessible beaches, the stunning geographic landscape with challenging hikes & towering mountains, the forever friendly, beautiful, & happy people, the hip-shaking, health-driven, worry-free culture, the diverse, world-class architecture, the pumping nightlife, and much more. Go to Rio de Janeiro and experience it all for yourself – you won’t be disappointed!