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Breathtaking Rio and Carnival

Updated: Apr 18


We had been preparing this visit for quite some time and we were very excited when we arrived at the Carlos Jobim Airport.  The hotel had arranged for a driver to pick us up and it took us less than an hour to reach the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort in Leblon, a beach neighborhood located north of Copacabana and Ipanema. It is the only hotel in Rio located directly on the beach. We were upgraded to a beautiful room, which had an amazing view of the beach below us. We had dinner at Bene, the hotel’s Italian restaurant.   It was just OK and we would not recommend it.

 

Each morning, we had a great buffet breakfast at L’Etoile, their rooftop French restaurant. We took a taxi for a 40-minute drive to the north of the city and started our visit by taking photos of the Museu de Amanha, designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

 


Our second stop was the Mosteiro de São Bento, a Benedictine abbey, which is just stunning. Definitely a must-see in Rio. From there we took a taxi to the Mercado Sahara (Saara).  This outdoor market sells about everything, including affordable costumes and props during the Carnival. We walked to our next location, the Real Gabinete Português da Leitura, the Royal Portuguese Reading Room. There is no admission charge, allowing the public to see one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

 


After lunch we took photos of the Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, an opera house built in the early twentieth century. The building is designed in an eclectic style, inspired by the Garnier Paris Opéra. Unfortunately, they do not have English tours. A few minutes away stands the Catedral Metropolitana. This modern and distinctive cathedral has a cone-shaped design and is a notable landmark in downtown Rio. We passed by the Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Arches) on our way to the Escadaria Selarón (Selarón Steps). This vibrant staircase, created by artist Jorge Selarón, is a mosaic masterpiece that connects the neighborhoods of Santa Teresa and Montserrat. It was getting very busy as we got closer to the Convento de Santa Teresa, where one of the most famous “blocos”, the Bloco das Carmelitas, was taking place the day of our visit. These “blocos” parades fall under the term "street carnival", and happen during the Carnival season. Today’s bloco passed by the historical Carmelite Convent, which set the inspiration for the costumes.

We had dinner at Nam Thai, a very good and affordable Thai restaurant in Leblon. It’s a small place and they had a great staff.

 


The weather was beautiful again the next day and we decided to visit some of the major attractions that Rio had to offer. We took a taxi to Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer. The iconic Christ the Redeemer statue is a must-see attraction in Rio de Janeiro. You take a train to the summit for panoramic views of the city. I suggest that you book your tickets in advance online as this attraction requires you to choose a time slot.  It was still early in the morning when we reached the top. The visibility was great and it was not yet too crowded. It was breathtaking.

 

After our visit we took a taxi to the north of Copacabana where the Sugarloaf Mountain is located. No train there, you have to take two cable cars to reach the top.  You can purchase VIP tickets in advance, which gives you access to preferential queues at all stations and reception in a VIP lounge at the first station. The view was spectacular. We ended up having breakfast at Classico Beach Club Terrace . The view was even better and it was less crowded so we took amazing photos (see top photo). On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in Copacabana and walked for a while between the beaches, hotels and restaurants. We had dinner at Mr. Lam, a beautiful Chinese restaurant located in a mansion overlooking the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon. Mr. Lam used to oversee the kitchen at Mr. Chow restaurants in London and in New York.  We had a very good experience. 

We took it easy the next day as we had our Carnival reservations at the Sambadrome that night. We booked our seats through the hotel’s concierge several months in advance and we were not disappointed. There are a lot of different seating options as the Sambadrome seats 90,000 people, and it can take a while to decide what will suit your preferences. The Sambadrome features six different Samba schools each night for four consecutive nights. The best schools perform the last two nights and the top six schools (selected by the judges) perform an encore the Saturday following Fat Tuesday. The first samba school starts at 10:00pm each night and has one hour to perform, which means that with the delays, the last school will end their show at around 6:00am. We were seated in a front box section named “Frisas”. It holds eight people, but the seats are not numbered, so you must show up early if you do not want the absolute best seat next to the action. We had a great time. It is hard to explain the magnitude of the event. You just have to experience it! The venue has plenty of amenities and you can buy food and drinks at a very good price. Shuttle buses pick people up at their hotels, but if you are two or more it’s almost cheaper to get a private driver (which we did).

 


We had lunch at the Leblon Shopping mall the next day. We did not know that most of the days leading to Ash Wednesday were holidays in Rio, so the shops inside the mall were all closed. We walked around the beach after lunch and went back to the hotel to enjoy the pool. We had dinner reservations at Satyricon in Ipanema. The food is Mediterranean and they specialize in seafood. It was very busy, but the food and service were excellent.

 

On our last day we went back to Ipanema and had lunch at the famous Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema) restaurant. where Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote their song inspired by a beautiful girl passing by the window. The staff is very friendly, the food is good and cheap. After lunch we took a taxi to Palacio at Parque Lage located at the bottom of the Corcovado in the Jardim Botânico neighborhood. We went inside the building and took photos of the patio and pool. This is where two music videos for Pharell/Snoop Dogg and the Black-Eyed Peas were filmed. The Botanical Garden is just a few minutes away. It was an extremely hot day, so we took the drive-thru golf cart tour, which allowed us to visit the 350 acres property in an hour. One of the great tropical botanical gardens in the world, it was founded in 1808 by John, prince regent of the United Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal. The garden has a collection of more than 7,000 species of tropical plants.


We really enjoyed our week in Rio. The weather was wonderful and the people very friendly and festive during the Carnival. Our experience at the Sambadrome will never be forgotten.


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