Despite having 2 weeks here, I crammed most of the tourist experiences all into three days:
1) Mountain Day, 2) Exploring the City Day, and 3) Museum Day.
This worked for me though; I was still able to see what I wanted to see and have time for the World Cup days. And with different activity levels and companions for each, I ended up with a nice variety of experiences.
1) Mountain Day was the action-packed choice to do Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf in the same day. If you ever feel like you need to offset the unhealthy lifestyle of excessive beer drinking and late-night Brazilian meat meals, hiking Corcovado is definitely one way to do that. One intense way.
The hike up Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer was entirely vertical. It went from stairmaster level to pretty much crawling, and at one point we were just using a chain to climb up a solid rock. But it was so worth it. Seeing Christ the Redeemer is an experience in itself, but hiking up to the top made it so much more rewarding (not to brag, but we did this two and a half hour hike in an hour and 5 minutes, we were all very proud). We were lucky to pick a clear morning, so the view from the top was far reaching and beautiful, and the statute itself is impressive. It’s a bit overrun with people but for good reason; it’s definitely worth the visit. And if you feel inspired, the hike up is worth it too. Despite not wanting to hike it and being tricked into it by me and Steph (sorry I’m not sorry guys), our hiking companions Rich and Adam also agreed that this was the highlight of the day.
Sugarloaf on the otherhand was a tourist mess of lines after lines. We kept going thinking this would be worth it too, and then we got to the top and all we saw was cloud all around us. The only cloud in the sky decided it was going to get stuck at the summit at the moment we were on our way up. Once in a while there was enough of a clearing to see some of the view, I tried to get some pictures, but most of the time it was just cloud. If you removed yourself from the mindset that this was supposed to be the best view of Rio, exploring the jungle in cloud cover was kind of cool; it led to some eerie imagery. But really we were just disappointed (and starving after our hike) so Sugarloaf was fine but didn’t reach the same level of worthy tourist attraction that Christ the Redeemer did.
2) Exploring the city day was a ton of walking. First we explored Centro. We started at the Uruguaiana market, where it was just a mass of stalls selling all the same shit – from knock-off World Cup jerseys to old cell phones – except for the one thing we went looking for: a particular straw hat. Sorry we never found it Rob. Then we walked down to lunch at Confeitaria Colombo. I can see why this place was highly recommended; it was so beautiful inside with its ironwork, mirrors and intricately tiled floor. I think we probably should have skipped the lunch food and just gone straight for dessert but at this point we were happy to just get sandwiches and salads. Next time, desserts.
Then we walked down Av. Rio Branco and saw what looked like the historic core, with the Theatro Municipal, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and Fundação Biblioteca Nacional. It’s always interesting to see historic architecture in the middle of a metropolitan area. Buildings looking so classic and stately seem like they should be celebrated alone on a plaza instead of surrounded by nondescript office buildings. As cities grow though, these new buildings get built around the old ones. At least they have been saved instead of demolished for the new towers.
After Centro we walked over to Santa Theresa and the Escadaria Selaron. This beautifully colorful staircase is the work of artist Jorge Selaron, and it was a constantly evolving work from the start in 1990 to his death in 2013. Walking up the 250 steps felt like you were inside an art piece; once you got past the bottom at least. I’ve realized I don’t have the patience for tourists who all line up to take the same picture. I understand that a picture with the title of the steps in the tiles is a great keepsake, but pictures further up are beautiful too. So I blew past this crowd at the bottom to enjoy the steps at my own pace. The staircase really is beautiful and I could have spent hours looking at each of the hand-painted tiles. We had briefly visited this at night and I would have liked to spend more time there on a more active night. It seems to be a place where people hang out and enjoy some beverages, just like any other bar or park.
One thing we noticed while on our way to and walking around Centro was how many people kept telling Rob to put his phone away. On the subway and on the street, people were very concerned for our bags and our phones. Coming from San Francisco where I’ve had more phones stolen than I would like to admit, it didn’t seem like downtown Rio was any worse than anywhere else, but the locals sure do like to warn you. I suppose I prefer that they warn you instead of stealing it, so I appreciate the gesture.
3) Museum day was my alone tourist day in Rio. I set out early and saw three museums all in one rainy day. I started with the Museu De Arte Do Rio. This was probably my favorite one. The building is a combination of two buildings: modern and historic. Its architecture has been recognized with awards, so I was familiar with it before I even got there. It is an interesting solution to join the two buildings through a new roof structure and a hanging walkway, but I think it works. Inside, the museum focuses on local artists and collections about Brazil and specifically Rio. Each floor had a different exhibit or two, and they were all very different – from the top floor exhibit on favelas that was especially informative to the bottom floor graffiti that ran rampant over the walls while classic rock played and hammocks swayed in the windows. This museum was my friend’s recommendation and I will pass it along to anyone else who visits Rio.
My other two museums were the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM, the modern art museum) and Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (the fine arts museum). MAM was a disappointment. Despite being in an interesting building, they didn’t warn me when I entered that the entire top floor was closed. It was just an exhibit on food in Rio, which I would not have bothered to see.
So I went to the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (which happens to be free right now due to the museum’s 75th anniversary) and was pleasantly surprised. Even though they were installing new exhibits so it wasn’t entirely open, at least when I walked in they told me exactly what they had on display that day. MAM take note. The 19th century art is what it is, I’ve never been a fan of classic portraiture, and the sculptures all seemed to be “Anonymous based on so and so,” but the modern art was fantastic. I found a new artist whose work I loved and need to look up, Sergio Fingermann, and a sculpture by Franz Weissman that I really wish I could own; I was fascinated by it. This made me feel better about the flop of MAM.
So in three days I saw lots of tourist attractions. Each day was awesome in its own way, from outdoor activities and views to the city to art and culture. If I had to pick highlights: Christ the Redeemer, Escadario Selaron and Museu De Art Do Rio would be my recommendations.