Rio de Janeiro throbs with life. She's as full-bodied, robust and full of flavor as her coffee. Come dance with her. Come feel her warm breath. Come feel her sensuous movement. Come feel the beat of her heart — her rhythm, the samba.
It won't take long for you to discover that Rio de Janeiro is one of the world's most beautiful and sensuous cities, a beauty that comes from her natural tropical environment where mountains, forests, beaches, lagoons, and lush vegetation. Rio beachside hotels beckon you with a world of pampered splendor.
Cariocas, the people of Rio, call her Cidade Maravilhosa, the "Marvelous City" in Portuguese. And they're not far from wrong. Her name literally means the River of January, but Rio is a city for all seasons. Recognized as the cultural capital of Brazil, Rio pulses with the carioca spirit dancing to the sweet sound of the sea. She's samba and bossa nova and beautiful people swaying to their own inner rhythms along 19 organized white sand beaches covering 23 miles.
Discovered in 1502, Rio still has many vestiges of her historic past. Buildings, dating from the 16th to the 19th century, reflect her history, which blossomed with the arrival of the Portuguese court in 1808.
Though Corcovado Mountain, with its famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, dominates the Carioca skyline and Sugar Loaf Mountain, equally impressive in its own right, guards the entrance to the Guanabara Bay, they and the beaches are but small parts of the natural beauty that makes Rio the exciting resort that she is. In Rio, where the bikini or a pair of shorts is as much a part of the scene as a business suit, you can be one with nature.
Beaches and Rio are synonymous. The beach communities of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon to the south, framed on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and its tireless surfers and on the other by a signature black and white stone mosaic sidewalk of undulating waves, are a bastion of around-the clock beauty and physical fitness. Why not go cycling along the paved bikeways, and afterwards stop at one of many neat refreshment huts for a cool sip of pure coconut juice, right from the husk. And you'll find giant, numbered lifeguard towers with clean public toilets all along the way.
If you're into fitness, there's no place like Rio. Cariocas love to walk, jog, run, and play beach volleyball. Or, if you like, you can take part in soccer, gymnastics, and the more traditional Brazilian futevolei — a combination of soccer and volleyball — right on the beach. After all that exercise, sit at one of many outdoor tables and enjoy a caipirinha, a refreshing drink made of cachaca (sugarcane distilled liquor), lime, sugar and ice, but often served with fruit such as strawberries.
Rio is the ideal combination of the historical and the new, the city and the beach. Before doing anything else, take the modern cog railway up to the top of Corcovado Mountain and stand at the feet of Rio's famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. From the summit, the panorama of Rio de Janeiro spreads out before you. The morning mist rises slowly from the city in soft wispy clouds. The mountains in the distance appear soft and velvety, rising in planes to the far horizon.
Afterwards, stroll through downtown and go back in time to the Belle Epoch, an era of charm, elegance and sophistication. Visit the restored Opera House, seating over 2,200 people, built in 1909. Stop in at the Opera Cafe, a Belle Epoch eatery of marble and tile mosaics with an Egyptian motif on the ground floor. Thirty-six massive columns each topped with statues of stone rams support the ceiling of the bi-level dining room. Nearby the National Library, surrounded by Corinthian columns, stands in neo-classical splendor.
While you're downtown, stop by the Colombo Coffee House. Pause to sip a cafe espresso while you take in the Belle Epoch ambiance. This landmark coffee house located on a pedestrian thoroughfare in the old part of town features an Art Nouveau stained-glass ceiling, and a central dessert display bar. It's a great place to stop and watch the Cariocas chat and carry on with their daily routines.
Rio's musical tradition achieved worldwide acclaim in the 1950s through the late songstress Carmen Miranda who became known for her music, extravagant headdresses, and elaborate costumes. You can see these at the Carmen Miranda Museum. If you have the time, sit and watch a part of one of her movies on video.
And finally visit the Museum of the Republic, one of the most impressive buildings of the Portuguese Empire. From 1896 to 1954 it served as the official residence of Brazilian presidents. The city boasts 60 museums, including 12 devoted to local history and 13 to science.
End the day by taking the cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain where you can pause to take in the breathtaking view as the sun hovers over the mountaintops.