BY JANET STEINBERG
RIO DE JANEIRO..."River of January"...Like a sensual woman, the mere mention of her name connotes romance and excitement. Before you even arrive you will feel her anticipatory magic under your skin.
The breathtaking city of Rio de Janeiro was so named by the Portuguese who mistook its island-dotted harbor for a river when they discovered it in January 1502. The city's name may have been a mistake, but there is no mistaking the aura of romance, adventure and youthful exuberance that leaves the city of Rio unrivaled in all the world.
Rio de Janeiro. What remains to be said about a city of fantasy and dreams? "God," say the Brazilians, "made the world in six days. On the seventh he made Rio." Rio is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Exuberant Cariocas, the name given to the10-million natives of Rio de Janeiro, will wrap their warmth around you. Exotic siren-like Guanabara Bay will wrap its beaches around you.
|EXUBERANT YOUNG CARIOCAS IN RIO DE JANEIRO|
For pleasure-loving Cariocas, the beach is their living room. In reality, Rio’s beach is a series of crescent shaped strips of white sand stretching for 30-miles along the East Coast of South America. With names like Flamingo, Botafogo, Leme, Sao Conrado and Barra da Tijuca, these lovely beaches are somewhat overshadowed by Rio’s most famous duo: Copacabana and Ipanema.
Copacabana.and Ipanema Beaches are umbrella-studded shores where beauty meets the beach. Where the bikini swimsuit of the legendary "Garota de Ipanema" ("Girl from Ipanema") was reduced to the string, and the string has given way to a minimalist swimsuit called fila dental (dental floss).
|UMBRELLA STUDDED BEACHES IN RIO|
The beaches are a living stage, choreographed by macho Cariocas on two sides of a volleyball net. They are back-dropped by Sugarloaf, the rocky mountain resembling a conical loaf of refined sugar, and by Corcovado, "The Hunchback," from whose lofty perch an immense statue of Christ the Redeemer stretches his arms above the city.
|SUGAR LOAF MOUNTAIN|
Ride a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), the vantage point from which you’ll want to photograph the100-plus foot statue of Christ the Redeemer.
Drive across town to jagged, lofty Corcovado for some incredible shots of Sugarloaf and Rio's beaches. From this lookout point you can also see Guanabara Bay, the Jockey Club, Laguna Rodrigo de Freitas and Maracana, the world's largest soccer stadium that seats 180,000 people. If you want to reach the actual base of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redento), be prepared to climb 242 steps.
|CRISTO REDENTO ATOP CORCOVADO|
From Corcovado, take a ride to Rio's largest natural park (Parque Nacional da Tijuca) for a look at Cascatinha, Rio's most famous waterfall. Also, visit the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden) with its enormous Vitoria Regia waterlilies and a carnivorous plant house.
The fashionable suburb of Ipanema, tucked between the Atlantic shoreline and the blue waters of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, is the capital of the Carioca society. This is where it all begins, where everything happens. A local expression says it best: “When Ipanema sneezes, Rio thinks it's caught cold, and the whole of Brazil takes vitamin C!”
The Carioca's Rio is one of the few remaining large, cosmopolitan cities that has managed to hold onto its soul. Its traditional customs, sport, music and festivities have managed to survive in the form of Candomble (the African religion of Bahia), futebol (the sport synonymous with Pele and Maracana Stadium), samba (the pulsating beat in which the music of Brazil reaches its zenith), and Carnival (the greatest show on earth). And, if that’s not enough, it's nice to know that Ipanema’s chic shops are a mere two blocks from the beach.
|MARACANA FUTEBOL STADIUM|
Classified somewhere between shopping and sightseeing is a mandatory visit to the world headquarters of H. Stern Jewelers on the corner of Rua Visconde de Piraja and Rua Garcia D’Avila.This tallest (17-story) structure in the world built exclusively for housing a jewelry operation, is an aesthetic, entertaining and educational experience. You can take an audio-visual guided tour (with headsets in your choice of nine languages) that covers the entire cycle of jewelry production from the raw material to the sale of the finished product.
|18-KARAT GOLD FEATHER BRACELET AT H. STERN JEWELERS|
Rio's culinary delights trace their origins to its Indian, Portuguese, African and European roots. Whether your taste runs to continental food or the native churrasco (barbecue), dining in Rio is a gourmet experience. The Caipirinha, a blend of limes, sugar, and cachaca, is the national drink of Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro...three words that say Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). Cidade Maravilhosa…It's the Rio thing.
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, and International Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio. She is the winner of 40 national Travel Writing Awards.