Only two days in iconic Rio: but it’s still enough to see beaches, mountains and the unmissable sights of the ‘wonderful city’ on a family trip with teens.
Who went, where and when Nancy and son, Ed, 15 travelled with friends Sheila and Max, 19, in August 2014
Nancy says: Sheila and I both had boys taking part in a school football tour to South America. We joined forces, along with our other sons, for a trip to watch a couple of matches and take in some sights. We had less than 10 days to see Buenos Aires, Iguaçu Falls and Rio de Janeiro so it was a busy holiday. Audley Travel tailor-made our itinerary to fit and organised guides to help it all run smoothly.
Itinerary For the final few days of our trip we flew with TAM from Foz d’Iguaçu airport in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. Our flight home was with BA to London Heathrow
Two Days in Rio with Teens
Rio de Janeiro is a name that instantly conjures up images. The majestic statue of Christ the Redeemer on the peak of Corcovado, watching over the city below.
The girl from Ipanema?
She’d walk like a samba right here!
We didn’t have long in Rio. There was a football match to watch across the bridge in Niteroi and an afternoon set aside to visit a children’s charity project with the school tour. This left us with a day and a half to do all our sightseeing. And this is what the weather was like when we arrived:
Grey clouds. We were staying at the Porto Bay Rio Internacional, a mid-range hotel with an ace in its hand: a full-on beachfront location with an uninterrupted view of the sweep of Copacabana. Which sadly was looking a little empty!
Copacabana and Ipanema beaches
On our first morning we woke up to grey skies so our guide suggested we delay our trip to Corcovado. We were glad to get the option to re-schedule and so decided to go for a walk instead.
We started with a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant with its panoramic view of Copacabana. Then we set out doggedly to walk the iconic sweep of the beach. We aimed for the fortress at the end of the bay which also has an adjacent branch of the historic Columbo cafe.
There were no beautiful people jogging or wearing bikinis. And no games of beach volleyball, though one or two sand sculptures by the pavement seemed resistant to drizzle. But we did still admire Rio’s iconic city beachscape. We walked along the trademark swirling mosaic walkways between the expanse of beach and the four lane highway that’s just a pebble’s throw away from the sand and palm trees.
We paid an admittance fee which gave us access to the fort and also the café. The fort, which is actually a huge bunker, was de-commissioned in the 1980s and now contains a small military museum. A guided tour would probably bring it to life but most of the explanatory material we could find was in Portuguese. We went out onto the roof to visit the large cannon, pointing directly at the beach. Later I found out that the guns really had once been trained on Rio during a revolt in the fort in 1922.
There are field guns outside, along with the cafe which isn’t big on atmosphere but was a convenient pit stop.
We walked back to the hotel to the squelching sound of wet Havianas on the feet of passers by. One or two stall keepers were half-heartedly opening up shop on the edge of the sands but there was definitely the sense that this was a no-beach day.
The following afternoon we walked along Ipanema as well. It’s considered more stylish than neighbouring Copacabana although there wasn’t much to distinguish it that day given a general lack of beachgoers.
But the pale sand was undeniably there along with the palm trees and mosaic pavements. We turned inland and hunted out the café where the Girl from Ipanema was written. It felt pleasingly unrestored and served delicious caipirinhas and coffee.
The picture changed later the following afternoon. We got back to the hotel’s sundeck after a day of sightseeing to find the clouds had lifted. The beaches were filling with people just the way we’d imagined them.
A Trip to Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer
Our guide picked us up after breakfast and took us to the little rack railway that carries visitors to the summit of Corcovado.
Having a guide definitely smoothed the way in terms of tickets, queuing and getting good seats. Even at 9.30 am the train was already busy. The track rises steeply through the Parque Nacional da Tijuca and so we were quickly surrounded by jungly vegetation and bright red hibiscus flowers that hang, half-opened like little handkerchieves.
Then we got glimpses of the sea and city below us.
It was already busy at the top of Corcovado with plenty of families photographing each other with arms spread wide.
There are vantage points on the platform around the statue that take in the huge views across the south of the city to the beaches and the Guanabara bay.
We spent a while orientating ourselves and spotting landmarks.
Then, as the sky became more overcast, we hurried back to the train. A samba band hopped into the carriage and entertained the passengers on the way back down. It’s worth waiting until the last minute to plan a trip to Corcovado as the weather and cloud cover can be changeable. The boys in the tour party had gone up the day before and consequently got wonderful photos of Christ the Redeemer in the mist but sadly no views.
From Santa Teresa to Lapa
Our next stop was the arty community of Santa Teresa high on a hill in the centre of Rio. Once a wealthy enclave its fortunes have fluctuated but it is newly fashionable again. Its winding cobbled streets are home to boutique hotels in old colonial villas and stylish bars and galleries. Nearby a favela clung to the hillside.
Santa Teresa had been well known for its tram which connected the steep streets to the city centre but after a serious accident in 2011 the service was suspended. The tram and its popular driver were memorialised in a mural near the tracks.
From here we stopped off at Lapa to see the stairway, Escaderia Selaron.
It is named after the artist who spent many years renovating the steps with multi-coloured tiles until his death in 2013. The stairs connect Lapa with Santa Teresa and were busy with tourists at the lower end in Lapa. Our guide stressed that this is not a neighbourhood to be explored without local knowledge. Lapa is famous for its nightlife but also for its crime and consequently tourists are particularly vulnerable.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
We went up the Sugar Loaf on the same day as Corcovado. At first it felt like a trip too far but in fact it was a great decision to do both. After our morning tour we said goodbye to our guide at the cable car station below the Sugar Loaf. It’s much easier to access than Christ the Redeemer with two cable cars to the top and cafes at each stage of the journey.
The views are superb of beaches, mountains and the sweep of the city. It was actually easier to enjoy them too as it was less crowded around the viewing points than at Corcovado.
There are juice and snack bars and cafe food available so it’s a good place to take a break and spend time taking in the ‘wonderful city’ from an aerial viewpoint.
Where to eat with teens in Rio
Marius, Avenida Atlantica 290, at the Leme end of Copacabana – for an up-scale fantasy pirate feast, especially with older children, this is hard to beat. We went with friends in a party of eight which worked well. There’s a huge buffet with additional plates of meat, fish and seafood that are brought to the table churrascarias-style. But it’s the decor that takes it to the next level with the entire space barnacled with marine bric a brac and a pirate crew serving at table.
The loos are a destination in their own right as sand and jewels crunched underfoot in the Ladies and ice and lemon was apparently available in the Mens. Fun – though this is not a cheap evening out so check it’s your thing before you book.
Chicken shop – we decided to eat close to the hotel one evening and stopped at the chicken shop at the end of the street. Enormous bowls of chips and half a fresh grilled chicken cost not very much at all; we perched on stools at the counter and everyone was happy.
The best bits and what went wrong:
Being there – it’s Rio after all. We weren’t very lucky with the weather but we still got some sense of the city and saw the views. August is winter in Rio but the climate is tropical so it’s usually warm and less wet and humid than in high season. If we’d stayed longer the boys would have visited the Maracanã stadium and we’d have spent some time on the beach.
Public transport – We took a bus on the way back to the hotel from the Sugar Loaf but the satisfaction of using public transport dwindled when we realized we were in for a long, meandering journey. A couple of English-speaking students chatted to us and when they got off they gave the conductor strict instructions to tell us when we reached our stop. He looked after us well and probably saved us another circuit of the bus route.
The underground system is carved epicly into the rock. We used it successfully two out of three times but on the third we’d either wrongly interpreted the timetable or a train just didn’t turn up. We raced for the taxi rank and made our appointment with the football tour in the nick of time.
General safety – Rio is without doubt an edgy city. Our guide, Carioca born and bred, confirmed that caution is definitely necessary. We kept to tourist zones, didn’t wear jewellery, carried money discreetly and were careful after dark.
Two Days in Rio with Teens
Where we stayed
Porto Bay Rio Internacional We’d prioritized a beach view so knew in advance that this hotel was a mid-range option. It wasn’t in its first youth and the rooms weren’t particularly memorable but they were clean and the beds were comfy. Service was generally cheery and there’s a little rooftop bar with sun loungers
and a plunge pool. The adjacent gym has machines that face the beach behind a wall of glass. The views from here are stunning and were a real highlight. We came up in the evenings for the mesmerising sight of Rio by night with Christ the Redeemer illuminated in the distance.
The buffet breakfast was pretty good too. It is worth getting up early in order to bag a table at the window and watch Copacabana waking up!
A Family Trip to Rio
This holiday in South America was tailor-made by Audley Travel. They recommended hotels, booked flights and arranged guides which ensured our trip ran smoothly. We had less than ten days to visit Buenos Aires, Iguacu Falls and Rio and their help maximised our time!
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