Last spring when we sat down to plan out our year of travel, the first thing we had to do was decide where to go. We had gathered a list of destinations, most of which were favourite places we’d been before or new places recommended by friends, but our list was big and we knew we would have to narrow it down. We decided to favour small towns over cities and to spend about three weeks in each destination. We thought this would keep the pace a bit slower and would allow us to settle and really get to know each place.
One thing we couldn’t manage to avoid, however, was flying into some of the bigger cities and staying briefly in between available flights on either end. So when the option came up to stay in Rio for a few days before flying down to Uruguay, we took it, and we’re so happy we did.
Rio is one of the most stunning cities I’ve ever seen. Verdant green mountains jut out of tropical blue seas in every direction and skyscrapers meet lush rain forests beyond them. Rio may have its share of big city problems, but beauty is not one of them. I’m so glad the kids got to experience it too, especially after seeing shots of Rio during last year’s World Cup, and also knowing it will be the host city for next summer’s Olympic games.
We stayed three days and managed to squeeze in many highlights. Here is a recap from our time with the Cariocas:
- We were invited by i-escape to test out their Ipanema Penthouse and report back on the property as well as kid-friendly things to do in the area — a task I was excited to accept. The apartment was really spacious, in a nice building and in a perfect location, just blocks from the beach and metro. I would not, however, recommend it for families with young children. The roof terrace has some worrisome hazards and the décor is more adult than family. If you are traveling with kids there are many other Rio options on the i-escape site and I always appreciate their stylish selection and honest assessments of their properties.
- Take the Corcovado Train up to see the famous Cristo Redentor statue. You can see the statue from all sorts of different angles around the city (we first spotted it from the airplane and you should have seen/heard how excited the kids were!), but seeing it up close is really so breathtaking. And the train ride up through lush tropical forest is fun for the kids too. (The city below was obscured by heavy clouds and fog, but it made for quite a dramatic view. On a clear day I can imagine you could see for miles!)
- We signed up for a walking food tour with Eat Rio and it was the highlight of our visit. We spent the day walking around Rio’s centre, trying new foods and juices (Suco de Cupuaçú!), perusing the food markets and dropping into some its most traditional restaurants. We ate crazy fruits we’ve never heard of before (one took a hammer to open), we ate a traditional Amazonian soup called Tacacá, and finished off with a big meal of ‘Carne seca com abobora e feijão de corda’. We can’t recommend this enough for food lovers.
- We took a taxi over to the Lapa neighbourhood to start our food tour, and the Escadaria Selarón was one of the first sites we visited on the tour. We loved hearing the story of the Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón, and how he covered the 250 stairs in colourful tiles collected from more than 60 countries. It was such a site to see!
- We also loved seeing all the street art and graffiti in the Lapa neighbourhood. It was nice to have our food tour guide food explain the background on some of the graffiti artists and their work.
- On Sundays, there is an amazing ‘Feira Hippie‘ (or hippie market) just one block from the apartment. There were so many great stalls and handmade products. We bought friendship bracelets for the kids and for their friends back in London.
- The beach! We never had a perfectly sunny day, but we still made sure to experience the famous Rio beaches with all the action and bikini-clad Brazilians (the kids still talk about the shots of the crowded beaches they saw during the World Cup last year and it was fun to experience it in person).
- Juice bars! There are many different juice bars scattered around the city offering delicious juices from a choice of tropical fruits (many fruits we had never even heard of before). Did you know you can drink cacao juice? It’s made from the white pulp surrounding the individual cocoa beans inside the cacao pod. So cool!
- We ate breakfast at Cafeína, a charming cafe with delicious breakfast treats and coffee.
- On our second day we ate breakfast at Terzetto Café, which was just one block from our apartment and served good food with lots of Brazilian specialities.
- We ate feijoada on Sunday at Bar do Beto, which was super family-friendly. We aren’t feijoada experts, but we thought the food was good and the staff was super nice.
- Our kids were tired in the evenings after exploring the city, so we stayed in and ordered sushi to be delivered to our apartment. Locals had recommended the iFood app for food delivery, and it worked perfectly! Sushi is very popular in Brazil, due to the large Japanese Brazilian population (we were told that Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan!).