Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
South America’s sultriest city more than lives up to its nickname: Cidade Maravilhosa, or "the Marvelous City." Coastline and sunshine, beautiful and gregarious people, and the constant backbeats of samba and bossa nova — Brazil’s most beloved port city has a way of making everyone feel like, or at least long for, the girl from Ipanema.
What We Love
Project Morrinho: Slum tourism has taken hold in many troubled cities, but some struggle with how to maintain sensitivity. Rio’s answer is Project Morrinho, a 320-square-meter model of a favela (slum) made of brightly painted bricks and recycled materials meant to show the positive sides of life. The project represented Rio in the 2007 Venice Biennale and can be toured, by appointment, with one of its founders, now in his 20s.
Salsa: Upscale Rio Scenarium draws locals and visitors with its terrific live bands and impressive, well-dressed dancers. Less polished, and more fun, is the Monday night street party in Pedra do Sal, a dockyard neighborhood natives vow is the birthplace of the music.
Best Known For
Sugarloaf Mountain: That iconic slab of granite is everywhere in Rio. A ride up in the glass-walled cable car is perfectly nice, but if you’re feeling intrepid, put on your hiking shoes. ClimbInRio leads expeditions up some 50 routes (some beginner-friendly), or you can hike partway on easy forest trail, then get the cable car at its first stop to ascend over the steepest bits.
Beaches, Obviously: Copacabana is the most famous; Ipanema and Leblon are classier and prettier. Various stretches draw different crowds: Around lifeguard tower 8 are serious surfers and working-class locals from a nearby favela. The most affluent and beautiful congregate near tower 10. Want pristine surf and sand? Go farther afield, to Prainha Beach.
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Who It's Best For
Body-Confident Sun Worshipers: Skin is everywhere here. Everyone wears teeny bikinis and short shorts, and so should you. Embrace the Brazilian way ... and head home with a little of their confidence.
Futbol Fans: The beautiful game is a major strand of the fabric of life here, even more so since flashy new stadiums were built for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. But you don’t need professional athletes in big stadiums; beach pickup games make for exciting spectating.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Keep Safety First: Leave your jewelry in your safe, and be mindful of protecting your wallet and cellphone.
Advance Visas Are Required: Unlike its neighbors, which grant visas on arrival, Brazil makes you take your passport to a consulate before your trip. Plan accordingly.
Ann Abel is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Departures.