Rio de Janeiro really is an amazing city.
Stunning beaches surrounded by dramatic landscape, crazy parties and beautiful people, make for a cocktail of good times.
Arriving by bus the urban sprawl looked like many other cities, but as our taxi drove us up the winding streets behind Copacabana beach, we realised that our hostel was inside a favela. We were a little apprehensive at first, especially after reading the list of risks in the Lonely Planet, and hearing other traveller's stories of violence and crime by gun-toting drug-trafficking gangs.
Despite all the negative hype, our experience of the 'City of God' was fantastic, and we definately want to go back!
Christ the Redeemer
We did the usual touristy things: we wandered along Copacapabana and Ipanema beaches, stopping for fresh coconut juice and caiparinhas; saw Sugarlaof mountain; made the pilgrimage to the statue of Christ the Redeemer, enjoying the magnificent views overlooking the city; and got to experience the nightlife with a bunch of Brazilians (and a couple of crazy Slovakians). Overall, we had a great time!
It is an exciting time to be in Rio, and in Brazil more generally. Brazilians have a lot to look forward to. The Brazilian economy is booming, and people have money. A lot of money. The football World Cup is being held in venues all over the country next year, followed by the Olympics in 2016, which will bring much needed development and tourist dollars to regional centres.
One of Rio's favelas, which sits next to one of the most expensive suburbs in town.
Change is especially evident in the favelas, where a new police presence is working hard to clean up the image of crime and violence, and make Brazil a safe place for tourists. Major operations
have been undertaken in favelas across the city, as police try to take back control of the neighbourhoods which were previously held by organised criminal gangs.
The result is that it is now possible to walk safely (even as a camera-carrying tourist) through the favelas, and for the local people to live more peacefully.
We spent one day on a Favela Tour
, which was a fantastic insight into what life must be like there. The tour was quite personal, taking us through the winding alleys and doorways of people's houses, which are literally built on top of each other. The issues of water and sanitation were not lost on Mark, whose development brain was working overtime for the rest of the afternoon/week. We wandered through a market, and got to visit a school to see how helpful NGOs and local investment can be in the development of extra-curricular activities to help the children have every chance of being able to do whatever they want to do with their lives. Despite everything, the people in the favelas seem happy and as vibrant as ever.
Inside the favela market
Rio is an exciting place to be right now. If anyone has the opportunity to get here for the World Cup, I would highly recommend it as a fun and safe place to be. The atmosphere would be electric, and totally worth the ridiculous amounts of money it would cost to experience Brazilian passion at its best!
The view of Sugarloaf and Copacabana beach from Christ the Redeemer statue