We have long debated whether or not to do Rio based on the current security situation. But Magnus and Elisabeth we’re going to do it anyway when they came to Brazil to visit us so we decided it was better to incorporate it into our road trip and take precautionary measures.
This was our first visit to Rio and although Peter has been here before on business trips he hasn’t “seen the sites” beyond his morning runs on Copacabana. So this was an all out tourist visit. We only allocated 3 days for Rio so we went heavy on the tourist part. Here are the highlights.
Escadaria Selarón (Wednesday)
On Tuesday night we bought tickets to take the train up to Christ the Redeemer the following day. However, Wednesday morning offered no visibility so we held on to our tickets and took Ubers to Escadaria Selarón instead.
The Selarón steps are a piece of art by artist Jorge Selaron and are his “tribute to the Brazilian people” he says. the whole thing started in 1990 when he began renovating a dilapidated part of the steps outside his house with blue, green and yellow (the Brazilian colors) fragments of tiles.
Originally he used tile and mirror fragments from construction sites. When he didn’t stop at his doorstep and the tiling became an obsession he got donations and even funded his passion with his other passion; painting. Among the shards and fragments are 2000+ whole tiles most of which are donated from visitors worldwide. Today more than 60 countries are represented on the steps. We found 2 tiles from Sweden!
Some 300 of them are hand painted by Selaron depicting a pregnant African woman. According to Selaron himself she represents a personal problem from his past.
Selaron considered the work as “never complete” and that “this crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”. Jorge Selaron was found dead on his famous Lapa steps January 10 2013.
We walked up all the way and debated whether we should take the stairs back down or continue on the other side of the stairs and go down the hill back to the main street. We chose to continue down the hill which we regretted. The area is not very nice and has questionable people peeing on the walls, sleeping on the street. So my tip is to go back the way you came; down the stairs.
Pão de Açúcar (Thursday)
Elisabeth had done the research on Rio and found out that Sugarloaf mountain was best done in the afternoon so we played on the Ipanema beach with Olivia, James and Alexander while Elisabeth and Magnus went on a helicopter tour of Rio. An early present from Elisabeth to Magnus who’s birthday is in March.
Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the most beautiful attractions in Rio twice around. Beautiful landmark from sea level and beautiful view from the top. Took Ubers to the station, bought tickets and got on the cable car up to the mountain on Thursday afternoon. Couldn’t have been easier. Once we dodged the “driving-miss-Daisy” tour groups it was a fast track.
Christ the redeemer (Friday)
Finally on Friday it was time to visit Christ up on his perch. Woke up to a beautiful day, packed the car and checked out of the apartment and got a pair of Ubers that took us (once again) to the corcovado train.
The train ride up offered beautiful views of Rio but were only a sneakpeek at the views from the feet of Christ. The views were spectacular and I think the style of the statue suits the surroundings very well with its simple and streamlined form.
James was particularly excited about seeing Jesus. The kids often ask me to tell them about “Baby Jesus” (they even call Jesus on the cross “Baby Jesus”) so I tell them stories from the bible (the ones I can remember from communion. James wanted to ask Jesus to give him 4 daughters and 4 sons and to please make them good kids. He was so matter of fact about it and was on a mission. When we got to the top he was the one who spotted Jesus first and exclaimed; There’s Jesus! We walked around a few times marvelling at the view and then felt we’d had enough of the crowds (it is very crowded).
Just as we were ready to go back down I realised that we hadn’t asked Jesus about James future children but James assured me that he “had had that talk with Jesus”. So business concluded, there was nothing more to do up there and we took the cog train back down to Copacabana level.
Can’t go to Rio without walking along Copacabana and Ipanema or doing a few pull ups on the numerous workout stations along the beach.
The waves were incredible and best enjoyed from the safety of the beach because of undertow but we had fun chasing the receding waves and avoiding (failed every time) being washed over by the oncoming ones.
Our Airbnb apartment was just a block from Ipanema so we went down with the kids and Peter and I even got a chance to go for a morning run/walk one morning. We were surprised to see so much activity so early in the morning! Everywhere there were people running, walking, doing yoga, meditating, working out, biking etc. The beach felt relatively safe but we were wearing running clothes and it was obvious we weren’t carrying valuables. I carried my phone in my sports bra and managed to sneak a picture of our silhuettes on the beach. We were very observant of other people on the beach and were very alert when we saw young men seemingly loitering without a purpose. Further on you can read more about safety in Rio.
Last fall (northern hemisphere fall), when it was decided that we were moving to Brazil, we took a family picture. The backdrop; the sidewalk outside our house in Åkarp. Little over a year later, we took another one. This time the backdrop was the sand on Copacabana beach. Makes me think of everything that has happened this past year and I am grateful for every chance we get to experience the amazing country of Brazil and the wonderful Brazilian culture. It is also symbolic of how grounded we have become here in our new home.
Rio is reportedly a very dangerous city of late. So much so that the army was called in to quell gunfights between police and drug gangs. While shoot outs mainly take place in the favelas, tourists are more likely to be victims of pickpockets, robbers or express kidnappings.
Driving into and out of Rio did not feel completely safe. The highways pass through several favelas or bad areas and we saw numerous police cars with automatic rifles aimed out the windows. Wish I had a picture of this but I was too busy subconsciously ducking.
Once in the city, on Copacabana, Ipanema etc. I felt relatively safe. But I felt safe because we followed a few simple precautionary rules:
Move around in a group. Especially after dark, do not walk the streets alone. We stayed together as a group all the time since, well, we were on vacation together.
Use Über or Taxi to get around. As opposed to subway or bus. We usually try to use the categories Über Black or Select as the cars have a higher standard.
Always be aware of your surroundings and the next terrain chapter in front of you. If there are groups of young men in your path, alter your path and avoid dark/unlit areas.
Leave your bling at home. Don’t wear nice jewellery or nice watches or even expensive looking bags. Don’t even think “I’ll just wear my fake Rolex”. The perp can’t tell the difference and you put yourself in harms way. I left my wedding rings at home and wore only Brazilian bijouteries.
Don’t carry a lot of cash around. Carry what you need and distribute it in several different places. Also carry a credit card if you need it. But avoid putting all your eggs in a beach basket.
Use ATM’s in banks or shopping malls. Avoid the streets and for gods sake not at night. I withdrew enough money before we left for Rio and distributed our daily allowance in my bra, my shoe and some in my pocket. The rest stayed hidden in the apartment.
Don’t flash your camera or phone. Avoid walking with you camera or phone in the open. Hide it. Don’t walk holding your phone navigating google maps. 1. You are showing everyone that you have a phone worth stealing and 2. You are definitely a tourist who has no idea what you are doing. i.e. a perfect victim.
Your valuables are not wanted on the beach. Well, by you that is. The perpetrator most definitely wants you to bring your valuables. I know several people who have been mugged on the beautiful beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema mainly because they have been there as it gets dark and are taking selfies holding up their phones for all to see. Don’t. Do however always carry a little cash in your pocket or lining of your swim shorts or in your bra. Because….
If you get mugged or robbed. In the unfortunate event that someone should wield a gun or knife at you in an attempt to rob you; keep your eyes down and hold up your little wad of money. Most likely or hopefully, they will be satisfied and leave. Not having anything to give them will only make them angry and put you at greater risk. (This is what we learned in Deployment Readiness Training course before deploying to Brazil. The woman who held the course lived in São Paulo and had been robbed twice.)
Remember; they will most likely target someone who looks like they are worth the risk i.e where they will actually score; fancy jewellery, big wallets in back pockets, Iphones held in the open, watches etc.
Getting around with Über
Über is by far the best way to get around in Rio or any Brazilian city. Convenient, safe and cheap. We always order a car from the categories Black or Select which guarantees a better quality ride. The worst ride I ever had with standard category ÜberX was a Fiat Punto from 97 with no seatbelts and a broken windshield. This was in Araraquara on a ride to school. There are no Black or Select categories in Araraquara.
Rio de Janeiro Centro
Elisabeth had before the trip googled Rio and what to do and one the things she really wanted to do was the center of Rio. We decided to do this after sugarloaf mountain and spent most of the time walking on the busy sidewalks in Rio Centro. It was interesting to see the architecture but it was hot, crowded and dirty. Apparently this is an area recommended during work hours and is considered dangerous at night and on weekends. Not recommended as a priority when visiting Rio. However the Lapa district in Centro has many world class samba clubs to visit so it could be worth an Über ride.
So strap on your samba shoes, put a wad of cash in your bra strap and you are ready to go to Rio.