I decided to write this review with my memoirs of Rio still burnt fresh into my memory. I just got back from this wonderful city yesterday, after a very pleasing 5 day stay in one of Copacabano's 4 star hotels. My original intent was to go lie down at the beach and get a nice tan, forgetting the chaos of NYC for a short period of time as I enjoyed tropical weather. I got some of that, but also ended up spending much energy walking around town and going to see some wonderful natural sites.
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First of all, let me tell you why you should visit Rio at least once in your life time. Americans have been flocking Europe lately, and you can go to South America just to be original, but that can't possibly be your main goal. In my opinion, Rio does not have the best monuments and historical sights, the most beautiful women, nor the wildest night life. Traveling is my hobby, and I have been to Europe, Mid-East, and Asia. Churches in Paris are better then the ones in Rio, masques of Istanbul more exotic, and the night life and women in Amsterdam a whole lot more beautiful (tall, slim and blonde. What else can you ask for?) The best of Rio I think is its natural sights observed from Corcovado and Sugarloaf. From both mountains, you get an incredible perspective of what I call 'the city meets the ocean'. I suggest that you go to Sugarloaf at around 4PM, look around and have a short lunch-dinner. By the time you are done, darkness will have coated the city, which will start to glitter under you. I didn't have a chance to take the Helicopter tour, but I seriously recommend this as well.
The most famous beach of Rio is Copacabano, which I believe stretches over 3 miles. Here I enjoyed the burning sun and rejuvenating taste of Coconut Juice (Coco Gelato) in the mornings. Unfortunately, the sea is not enjoyable at all unless you are body surfing. In fact, its terrible to go for a swim as the waves are way too high, the currents too strong. Just dip into the water and get refreshed, but don't go for a long swim. The locals themselves told me that it is a deathtrap unless you are an excellent swimmer. Well, I am actually a licensed diver, but I don't enjoy struggling through strong currents so I avoided going too far deep. The girls of Ipanema beach are a mix of brunette and black. Their skin color is honey brown, some with dark colored hair burnt towards blondeness. Some of them are incredible to look at and very friendly towards English speaking tourists. I suppose they want to practice their academy-level English, and are very interested in people from other countries.
Rio has also a lot of exotic restaurants. You can go to a 5 star restaurant in Rio and get the same quality you would get from the best NYC joint at half the price. Around 40$ per person will get you a nice dinner, couple of drinks, and desserts at Rio's best restaurant, leaving enough money to even tip for the service. A Brazilian BBQ in Manhattan costs 40$ without the drinks or the dessert. Unfortunately, the attendants are only semi-ready for Tourists and their habits. They might do something about the price that you will find highly offensive. An example to this was my visit to Marius (possibly the best BBQ restaurant in Rio). The manager kept walking in circles around our table, hands joined behind him, glancing at us every 5 seconds to make sure we paid. Maybe he thought we didn't have enough money? I don't know, but I was offended. Another example to this idiocity was the table attendant who stood by me until I gave him a tip -- my intention was to leave the tip on the table, but I wanted him to walk away so I could sort through my money. He practically snatched the money from my hand; and again, I was offended. But these are really minor insults, and only caused by the ignorance of the attendants. Anyway, here are my restaurant recommendations in Rio: BBQ, Marius in Copacabano; seafood, Satyricus in Ipanema; traditional Brazilian: Casa de Fejuado in Ipanema; exotic seafood: Yemanci in Ipanema. Oh yeah, be prepared to eat a lot of meat, as I don't believe there is any Brazilian food that doesn't contain it, but I may be wrong about this.
The people of Rio vary from part to part. Your tour guides, and other reviews written by people from Rio will claim that 98% of the people are good, and the 2% bad. Well, let me give you a more realistic opinion -- its more like 75% good 25% bad. The 75% good you will meet in Copacabano and Ipanema. The friendliest women were around the Ipanema area. In two separate occasions, I met a girl while buying a Coco Gelato. They asked me simple questions, like if I was enjoying my stay in Rio, where I was from, etc. This is something that undoubtedly surprised me, as I have been living in NYC for about 10 years. Here, women on the street are too busy having nightmares about you, while in Rio they greet you for no reason whatsoever.
Nightlife in Rio offers some excitement, but if you expect anything out of the ordinary you will be disappointed. I went to a couple of clubs and found nothing too wild or exhilarating. This is not to say that I didn't have fun, but I suppose I expected more from this city. Possibly things get a bit crazy during the Carnival. Hmm, let me just give you a couple of lines about the Fallen Angels, as I have no other euphemisms for them. I saw quite a bunch of them while going in and out of the club Help in Copacabano. I could not believe my eyes. Some of them are just incredibly gorgeous -- I am talking about model quality here.
I stayed in a 4 star hotel in Copacabano, called Luxur Cabano. The place is good, with air conditioned but very tiny rooms and decent service. Its right in the middle of Copacabano, with access to open markets, nice restaurants and clubs. My overall impression was good, but don't expect the best of a lot of things in Rio. Possibly the best natural views of the ocean and the islands, but monuments and buildings aren't as impressive as some I have already seen. Also, read reviews from people that have actually lived there or are from there. They are kind of sugar-coated, but they do offer great insight into the culture of Brazil. I personally recommend Coroecakesurfer's 5 day guide to Rio that is listed here. His instructions aren't for everyone(for example, I don't mind paying 2 bucks for a cab instead of hiking 3 miles under the hot sun), but he goes into detail about some of the most popular sights and the people. Take his guide and personalize it to your own liking, and avoid Tours offered to you by Hotels at all costs. They are way overpriced than if you take a cab to the place and buy the ticket yourself. For example, the Samba show from your hotel will cost about 100R$ per person. If you take a cab to there, the ticket is only 60R$. The cab to get there from Copacabano is about 10$. So you end up saving 60R$ for the whole trip, and get driven in a taxi rather than a bus.
So be original, go to Rio instead of Europe. The people are friendly, the women beautiful. It has absolutely stunning natural sights, and pleasant beaches as well as many exotic tastes.
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