Hang glide, visit beaches, watch sunsets, visit the best viewpoints of the city, and samba the nights away! This itinerary packs in the best of Rio in two days.
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Hang Glide, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana, and Samba in Lapa
Start day one off by getting a bird’s eye view of Rio! Book a hang glide excursion with Just Fly Rio. It costs around USD 125 per person. They will pick you up from your lodging to transport you to the launch site. They offer the option for an add-on to buy photos of the experience as well. If you have never hang-glided before, you can’t beat the views of Rio’s beaches and mountains as you glide down. There is a pilot that flies with you and does all the work, so you can simply take in the views. The launch site is located on Pedra Bonita Mountain. During the drive and launch, you can also see a forest area of Rio. The entire excursion only took a couple of hours, with 15-20 minutes of flying time. It leaves plenty of time to fit in more activities during the rest of the day. They offer flights from sunrise to sunset every day of the week.
After hang-gliding, my friend and I took a taxi to Sugarloaf Mountain. Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the top attractions in Rio, and although it is very touristy, the views of Rio are worth it. Once at the mountain, take the cable car across to the peak of Morro da Urca. Get out at this stop to explore the shops, restaurants, and views. Then board the cable car again to go all the way to the peak of Pão de Acucar, 400 meters above the city. The car moves slowly so you can take pictures on your way up too. It runs every 30 minutes between 8 am and 10 pm.
After Sugarloaf Mountain, we walked around Copacabana Beach since it is close by.
That evening we explored the bohemian Lapa area and went to a Samba bar. When in Lapa, walk by the Roman-style Arcos de Lapa aqueduct and the Escadaria Selaron, a famous mosaic stairway. Both areas are known for occasional open Samba music and dancing. There will be street vendors selling drinks too. See Where to Eat and Drink for more details.
Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado), Ipanema and Santa Terraza
We started the day going to see the Christ the Redeemer Statue. This is another very touristy stop, but it is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world (designated in 2007). It is also the 3rd largest statue of Jesus in the world. The views from the top of Mount Corcovado are stunning as well. There are walkways around the statue for taking in the views.
In the afternoon, we went to relax at Ipanema Beach. Stay for sunset at Ipanema too. Watching the sunset from the rocks at Ipanema is a popular local activity. People will bring snacks and drinks and sit for an hour to watch the sunset show. We loved this experience because it felt very local and not touristy. The crowd clapped when the sun set!
That night we ate out in the Santa Teresa area. There are lots of boutiques, bars, and restaurants in the area. Almirante Alexandrino Street is famous for its dining options.
See Where to Eat for restaurant recommendations.
After dinner, go to Quadra Do Salgueiro for live music and Samba dancing. If you are traveling close to Carnival, you may be able to watch rehearsals for the Samba School/Carnival while you are there.
Advanced Bookings for Rio, Brazil
We booked our hang gliding excursion a couple of days out and our lodging about a month out, and that’s all we booked in advance for our Rio stop. If you plan to travel to Rio for Carnival, then plan to book lodging and activities a year in advance.
Building an Itinerary with a Stop in Rio, Brazil
We visited Rio as part of a 2.5-week trip to S. America. We started in Buenos Aires, then went to Patagonia, then Mendoza, up to Iguazu Falls, and then ended with our trip to Rio. Iguazu Falls would be an easy add-on to this trip, as many flights to and from the falls go out of Rio.
What to Eat in Rio
Açaí- Açaí is a berry from a palm tree, known for its antioxidants that are good for your immune system. Rio is known for its Açaí bowls and juices. You can find them at quick grab-and-go stands all over Ipanema and Copacabana as well as in fast-casual restaurants. Açaí bowls are trending internationally, but it is still worth trying one where they came from. I ate them daily while in Rio; they were amazing.
Guayaba- This is a fruit that Brazil is known for, though it is available in other parts of the world, try it when you are there! We bought it at a local outdoor produce market.
Pão de Queijo- A fantastic cheese bread ball made with tapioca flour. It has a light, airy, chewy texture. We found it both in restaurants and in grab-and-go Asai and juice stands.
Fried Beach Cheese- Also called queijo coalho, it is a grilled cheese skewer dusted with oregano. Vendors will be selling it on the beaches.
Caipirinha-Brazil’s most famous cocktail, made with cachaca (sugarcane-based alcohol), lime juice, sugar, and crushed ice
Feijoada- A traditional Brazilian dish that is a black bean stew that often includes sausage
Arroz de Forno Misto- Look out for this dish at restaurants; it is a ham and cheese rice casserole.
Where to Eat in Rio, Brazil
Confeitaria Colombo- A Coffeehouse and tea room in downtown Rio. The coffeehouse was founded in 1894. The interior of it is stunning Art Nouveau architecture and decor.
Rio Scenarium- A well-known Samba bar located in Centro that also serves food. It has a low-key vibe. They only serve beer and caipirinhas to drink. The live samba music and the dance floor are fantastic but it does attract a touristy crowd.
Carioca Da Gema- A Samba bar in Lapa with live music. It is located in an old mansion and has a fun mix of locals and tourists. They serve pizza as well.
Térèze- A more expensive option with contemporary Latin Cuisine. The restaurant is located in a boutique hotel and offers views of Guanabara Bay.
Churrasqueria RJ- A Churrascaria is a restaurant where meat is cooked in churrasco style, which is similar to barbequing. The meat is served by waiters walking around the dining room and offering meat directly off of skewers onto diners’ plates. Go when you are hungry! This particular restaurant is Ipanema and has been around for more than 20 years.
My friend and I rented an Airbnb in the Ipanema area. We loved the area because of the proximity to the beach and most of the attractions we were seeing. It felt very safe and had lots of cute stands selling Açaí bowls and Pão de Queijo. We had friends recommend staying in either Copacabana or Ipanema as both are considered relatively safe areas. There are numerous hotel and short-term apartment rentals available in both areas.
Getting around Rio, Brazil
We used taxis to get around Rio when we went somewhere that wasn’t walkable. Note that you don’t need to tip cab drivers in Rio.
When to Go to Rio, Brazil
December through March (their summer) are the best months to visit Rio to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities. February also has the Carnival Festival, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it also brings crowds all over the city. Spring (April and May) and fall (October and November) are also good times to visit with milder temperatures and fewer crowds at the beaches.
As we were planning this trip we received a lot of warnings and advice about Rio being very dangerous. We were told to avoid taking buses, avoid the beach areas at night, not to keep anything in our pockets, etc. I recommend taking precautions, like only carrying the cash you need for the day, leaving a spare credit card at your lodging, taking taxis, and staying in safer neighborhoods. Following this itinerary and visiting the areas I mentioned in this article, I never felt unsafe. I thought a lot of the warnings were blown out of proportion.
As in many foreign countries, do not drink the water, brush your teeth with it or eat fresh fruits or vegetables washed in it.
Trip Dates: March 2016
Article Updated: December 2022
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