It’s practically guaranteed that any Brazilian vacation will be a hit. From beautiful beaches to thriving urban scenes to some of the most photographed attractions in the world, you have your pick of literally thousands upon thousands of places to visit in Rio de Janeiro alone. When it comes to planning a vacation, you’ll want to do plenty of research and choose those activities that you simply can’t miss during your visit. Here are my recommendations for just 6 of the top tourist activities in Rio de Janeiro, including a few you’ve most definitely heard of and a few that are a bit further off the beaten path:
1. Ride a cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Visitors of all ages enjoy riding a cable car up to the massive Sugar Loaf Mountain, locally known as Pão de Açucar, which looks over Rio. With views to the ocean, mountains, and city itself, you’ll likely be tempted to make the journey more than once. Give yourself at least a few hours to enjoy the few stops that the cable cars make, including walking around to see monkeys and other local wildlife on the side of the mountain. Try going first thing in the morning for an incredible sunrise or late in the afternoon for an unforgettable sunset up above.
2. Go hang gliding.
Granted, this tour only lasts about 20 minutes and isn’t cheap, but you will never forget that time you went hang gliding in Rio. If you’re not sure what a hang glider is, here’s a refresher. Essentially, it looks like a huge kite to which you and an experienced pilot are attached. You run and jump off a mountainside–yes, really–and soar through the air. With no motor, it is an engineering feat that anyone can appreciate and a natural high unlike anything else.
3. Take a cooking class.
Spend an afternoon learning a few local recipes so you can remember the flavors of Brazil long after you head home. This is a great activity for just about everyone from teens to senior citizens. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit half the fun is learning how to make a real caipirinha and a few other tasty Brazilian cocktails.
4. Walk through a favela.
Take a guided tour through one of Rio’s more than 750 slums and you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the reality of Rio’s poor. Fortunately, after seeing the child care facilities, street performers, and growing number of small businesses, you’ll feel a sense of hope for the future of these communities. The Santa Marta favela is an excellent one to visit, though there are numerous, reputable tour operators in the area who have established connections with the local communities. This is a great place to practice your Portuguese listening skills and get a good feel for the rhythm and energy of the language.
5. Ride a bike around the Lagoa.
The Lagoa neighborhood is always bustling with activity, with tourists, expats, and locals all congregating here, especially on the weekends. Whether alone or with your family, it’s easy to make a day out exploring the trails around the iconic, centrally located lagoon. Rent or borrow a bike from your hotel and be sure to treat yourself to an ice cream cone and some hearty street food throughout the day!
6. Visit the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Finally, no vacation in Brazil is complete without a trip to one of the most well known attractions in the world–the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city from its perch on Corcovado. Yes, there will probably be crowds, you’ll be hot, and you may need to be patient with the weather in order to get that perfect picture, but it will all be worth it when you enjoy unbeatable views of the city and get the chance to see this impressive piece of artwork up close.
Besides planning all your activities for a trip to Brazil, there’s something else you’ll want to invest plenty of time in before you travel: learning or brushing up on your Portuguese skills. If you’d like to learn more about classes we offer near you, make sure to contact us. And if you’ve traveled to Brazil recently and have a not-to-be-missed tourist activity that our readers should pursue while in Rio de Janeiro, please share your insights in the comments section below.