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Why Honeymoon in Rio de Janeiro?
What's the sexiest, most glamorous, most exotic city you can think of? For many of us, the answer is Rio de Janeiro.
This Brazilian siren has symbolized carefree, swimsuit-clad life since the 1960s, when the song "The Girl from Ipanema" riveted the world.
Rio's reputation as a beach paradise goes beyond song lyrics. Anywhere in Rio, you are not far from silky white sand and gentle surf.
Yet this tempting tropical destination is also a major city (Brazil's second largest) with lively culture, dining, nightlife, and shopping.
For couples weighing a beach honeymoon against a city honeymoon, Rio fills both bills.
Rio's citizens ("Cariocas") and hospitality pros are welcoming, English is widely spoken, and the exchange rate is favorable to North Americans.
TAM, the friendly (and biggest) Brazilian airline, runs stylish nonstop flights to Rio from New York. Other North American airlines fly nonstop from their gateways. Flights are of manageable duration (under nine hours from JFK), and Rio's... New World longitude minimizes jetlag.
Toronto newlywed Liz Walker was thrilled with her Rio honeymoon. "Ian and I wanted a vibrant, romantic city to explore together," she reports. "Rio is sexy, poignant, and complex. You are always uncovering some sultry intrigue. Rio's got grown-up magnetism.
"Ian and I got sunburnt and drunk and danced all night on the beach, and slipped into faded gilt chapels to watch fervent old women pray.
"Rio is like a Madonna video."
Getting to Rio
Search for a Flight to the Rio AirportContinue to 2 of 10 below.
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Rio Hotels and Rio Beaches
Rio's natural coves and bays attracted explorers, missionaries, and traders in turn. Today's tourists are still drawn to the seaside spirit of this South Atlantic port.
Rome has seven hills, and Rio has at least seven beach neighborhoods, with over 55 miles of beaches total. The most popular Rio hotels are set along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Most months of the year, the water lapping Rio's beaches hovers around a Caribbean-like 82º. It doesn't bite you when you wade in. It caresses you.
Recommended Rio Hotels: Copacabana Beach
Anchoring one end of Copacabana's beachfront boulevard is the Belmond Copacabana Palace (check rates now) Rio's Art Deco-era grand hotel.
The JW Marriott Rio (check rates) is American-owned and -run.
Helpful staff at the Sofitel Rio (check rates) speak French, English, and Portuguese. The Sofitel is alluringly set at the far end of Copacabana, where it meets the adjoining tourist neighborhood of Ipanema.
Copacabana is traditional and "uptown" in... feeling, but Ipanema seems trendier and more "downtown," with bars and cafés on many corners.
Recommended Rio Hotels: Ipanema BeachContinue to 3 of 10 below.
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The Legend of Copacabana Beach in Rio
It's easy to see why nightclubs and restaurants everywhere dub themselves "the Copacabana." This beachfront Rio neighborhood is the essence of seaside frolics by day and sultry glamour by night.
Crescent-shaped Copacabana Beach is Rio's playground the way that Central Park is New York's backyard. The famed black-and-white-swirled sidewalk of Copacabana's shore boulevard, Avenida Atlantica, serves as a beach boardwalk, and hosts the Copacabana party.
In early morning, this two-mile stretch pulses with joggers, dog-walkers, and cyclists while tai ch'i and yoga practitioners dot the sand. During the day, the beach draws sun-worshippers who trot from their beach towels to perches at a sidewalk snack kiosk. (More than a few beach=goers are hooky-playing office workers talking business on their cell phones.) At dusk and in the starlit Rio night, Copacabana flutters with strolling lovebirds.
A walk hand-in-hand down Copacabana-on sidewalk or on sand is a must-do on a Rio honeymoon. Newlyweds... able to take their eyes off each other will be dazzled and enchanted by the richness of Rio life all around them.
Romantics will want to stop and sit side-by-side at one of the many sidewalk kiosks that sell snacks, beer, and coconuts (with straws emerging). Here twosomes will admire legions of barely swimsuited Cariocas. They will witness beach volleyball games played soccer-style, with the feet and head. They will overhear samba music and flirtatious conversations in Brazil's soft Portuguese. They will marvel at Copacabana — and their own inspired choice of a Rio honeymoon.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Scenic Rio Attractions
Rio's scenic attractions are no-doubt-about-it touristy, but at the same time unforgettable.
Almost no visitor dismisses Corcovado, the giant statue of Christ that looms a half-mile above Rio, furnishing dazzling views of city and sea. It is most memorably reached via cable car (and on a clear day).
The mound-shaped rock called Sugar Loaf is as much a symbol of Rio as Corcovado. A vertiginous two-part cable-car ride transports visitors to Sugar Loaf's panoramic peak.
The Lapa Arches, an 18th-century aqueduct, combine several adventures. Its location in the Lapa district invites visitors to explore one of Rio's oldest, most charming areas, now known for its nightlife.
The aqueduct's graceful stone arches are an architectural marvel and inspired photo op. And the trams that now run atop the aqueduct stop in thriving Santa Teresa, an artistic village well worth exploring.
Close to the center of Rio, the Botanical Gardens are a cross between an elegant, statue-lined urban park and an Amazonian... paradise. Bring your books and settle in.
Rio adventure tours via boat, Jeep, helicopter, and even hang-glider can be arranged by your hotel concierge. Ditto free walking tours of Rio's historic center, sponsored by the city's tourism organization.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Rio Cultural Attractions
The beautiful, proud metropolis of Rio was founded in 1565 and remained Brazil's capital until 1960. Visitors encounter Rio's past everywhere — in quiet corners and in these official sites.
• The National Museum, set in a onetime royal palace, explores Brazil's unparalleled natural bounty: volcanoes, gem mines, Amazonian flora and fauna.
• Sharing the National Museum property is the Rio Zoo, with habitats of Brazilian animals, including giant armadilloes and anteaters, pygmy opossums, toco toucans, tufted-ear marmosets, and black-fronted titi monkeys.
• The National Fine Arts Museum gathers historic and contemporary Brazilian and international paintings.
• The baroque Imperial Palace, built in 1743, housed Brazil's rulers until independence in 1889 abolished the monarchy.
• The Royal Portuguese Library's Reading Room is one of the world's most elegant places to crack a book.
• Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, a concrete pyramid on the outside, has spectacular modern stained-glass windows (and... natural air-conditioning) inside.
• The Church of Sao Bento Monastery invites visitors to its Sunday mass featuring millennium-old Gregorian chants.
• Casa do Pontal Museum's hand-carved Brazilian folkloric figures are wonderfully expressive, and naughty, too (don't miss the adults-only room!).
• The Grand Temple highlights the tour of Jewish sites led by Rio resident Pedro Landsberg. This Sephardic synagogue was designed by an Italian architect whose ceiling mosaics interpret the Twelve Tribes of Israel as the twelve signs of the zodiac.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Dining in Rio
When in Rio, eat as the Cariocas do to savor the flavors of this unique multicultural society.
Continue to 7 of 10 below.
- Rodizio, also called churrascaria: Brazil's bounty of beef is served on skewers at these all-you-can eats. (Also on offer: pork, chicken, fish, and extensive salad bars with good sushi.) Rio's most popular rodizio is Porcao, with several locations.
- Grllls: Garota de (Girl from) Ipanema suggests a more casual way to enjoy beef: individual table grills where you cook your steak to your liking.
- Feijoada: The components of this traditional Brazilian stew are served in separate bowls for you to mix: rice, mashed bananas, yuca potato, crunchy farofa meal, salty black beans, and a tureen of sausages and braised meats. Casa de Feijoada in Ipanema is stellar.
- Cafés: Confeitaria Colombo serves up strong "cafezinho" and pastries amidst Art Nouveau stained glass.
- Pizza: a Rio dish? Yes, as done in Ipanema by Frontera, with various thin-crust pies at one all-you-can-eat price.
- Buffet brunches... have Carioca finesse-and Rio beach settings. Real Astoria's seaside brunch includes toothsome desserts and an appropriate view of Sugar Loaf.
- Rio is the cradle of fresh-fruit juices and smoothies. Ubiquitous sidewalk stands custom-mix exotic combos including maracuja (passionfruit), guarana, açai berry, and coconut.
- Cachaça sugarcane rum powers Brazil's sweet, strong national cocktail, the caipirinha. It's Rio's cheapest yet best drink. (A cachaça section awaits in the airport duty-free shop.)
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Nightlife in RioWhatever kind of nightlife you seek on your honeymoon — outside your room, that is — Rio has it.
The back streets of Copacabana and Ipanema are chockablock with informal little restaurants and bars justly proud of their caipirinha cocktail. (Brazil's national drink, pronounced "cai-pa-reen-ya," is made with Brazilian sugarcane rum, sugar, and crushed lime.)
The Lapa district has become Rio's center for nightlife, with lively little boites beckoning from carefully restored, 200-year-old buildings. From dusk into the wee hours, Lapa's crowds of lighthearted couples and groups of friends bring to mind New Year's Eve.
The way to experience Lapa is to club-hop, relishing a caipirinha cocktail and a dance at one spot, and then moving down the block to another.
One Lapa crowd-pleaser is Rio Scenarium, a relaxed, multi-level club with Brazilian samba and bossa nova bands, a dance floor, snack menu, and righteous drinks.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Carnival, Soccer, Olympics, and other Rio Passions
Carnival, Rio's joyous Fat Tuesday celebration every February, is one of the world's most fabled parties. Expect parades, fireworks, and boozy bashes galore.
Rio pulls out the stops for New Year's Eve, too. (Hotels fill up months in advance for both.)
Cariocas are intensely proud of their national sport, soccer. Its temple in Rio is Maracanã stadium, best experienced during a game featuring one (or two) or Rio's four teams. Stadium tours on non-game days draw the devout.
Rio's 1920s-vintage horse racetrack, Gavea (also called the Jockey Club), furnishes a relaxing day at the races — except during the last seconds of a race you've bet on.
The Nelson Piquet Racetrack hosts sporadic Formula One and other auto-racing contests.
A note to couples planning a Rio honeymoon after a very long engagement: Rio has been chosen as the host city of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Plan accordingly.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Shopping in RioBrazil is the world's primary source of many precious and semi-precious stones. In fact, an entire Brazilian state just west of Rio is named Minas Gerais, or General Mines. It is famed for deeply hued emeralds, topazes, aquamarines, and other gems, all sold in Rio by dealers large and small.
Rio's internationally known jewelers include H. Stern and Amsterdam Sauer, both headquartered in Ipanema. Their styles tend toward the bold and modern.
Considerably less dear are Rio's fashion inventions: thong bikinis and the less physically demanding flip-flops. In Rio, designer shoes are overkill; all you need are plain flip-flops for day and a jeweled pair for night. The Brazilian brand Havaianas is sold everywhere in Rio for about half the U.S price.
Other Rio shopping opportunities:
Continue to 10 of 10 below.
- the chic vertical mall in Leblon
- the retail strips of Santa Clara and Nossa Senhora in Copacabana and Visconde de Piraja in Ipanema
- the nightly crafts and gift market along the far end of Copacabana beach, strong on... inexpensive bikinis, soccer jerseys, woven bracelets, and Afro-Brazilian dolls
- Sunday's "hippie market" in Ipanema, with similar goods and some higher-end items like chokers and bracelets hand-woven with polished stones
- Sao Cristovao Market for gourmet delicacies (sure to be frowned upon by U.S. Customs).
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Safety and Personal Security in Rio
If the previous pages have enticed you to consider a Brazilian honeymoon in glamorous Rio de Janeiro, you may be concerned about safety. Reports of robberies, gun violence, and homicides have made their way to media in the northern hemisphere.
Before my two visits, I was concerned about safety in Rio, too. Yet while I was there, nothing whatsoever occurred to worry me. In my experience, this city's reputation for rampant crime proved vastly exaggerated.
The truth is that Rio has two sides: the lovely one reserved for tourists and prosperous locals, and the not-so-pretty one where the destitute and desperate live.
Rio is indeed blighted by scattered favelas, or slums. But they are set far from the tourism areas. Copacabana, Ipanema, and Rio's other visitor-oriented neighborhoods are as clean and placid as a North American city.
Overwhelmingly, the "Cariocas" (Rio inhabitants) a visitor encounters are solid citizens--couples, families, students, artists, professionals, working... people. Like you, they want only to go about their day and bask in Rio's sun, surf, and sand.
Safety in Rio need not be worrisome.
As is true for any traveler anywhere, common sense--and a far-from-flashy appearance--are a Rio visitor's best protection. These pointers will help you attain safety in Rio.
Good Ideas for Your Safety:
- leaving your engagement ring and other attention-getting baubles at home
- likewise, not packing anything you will be heartbroken to lose
- locking passports and house keys in your Rio hotel safe (tourists need passports only in Customs!)
- not carrying the hotel's key-card paper folder or anything else with your room number
- knowing your passport and credit-card numbers just in case
- paying with cash and saving the credit card for trusted establishments and uniformed employees
- getting cash in banks or hotels, not from ATMs
- saving your Rio gem-buying for your last day
- in crowded places, keeping your wallet zipped close to your body
- crossing the street, turning around, or otherwise vamoosing if you smell trouble or feel uncomfortable
- purses without straps; purses slung on backs of restaurant chairs; wallets in rear pockets; dangling, multiple shopping bags
- going anywhere without a map
- going off the beaten tourist path except with a guide recommended by your hotel concierge
- wandering around deserted streets or stations
- climbing into unofficial taxis
- leaving anything of value in your hotel dresser or closet, or unguarded on a beach towel
Find Out More About Visiting Rio
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