Rio de Janeiro (August 15- 18, 2016)
If you know of a city in Brazil, most likely the city is Rio de Janeiro, Rio for short. The former capital of Brazil still holds the status of Brazil’s tourist magnet. Brazilians say that if you are looking for lifestyle in Brazil, live in Rio. Though we could have spent more days here with activities to do, we kept our visit brief because the 2016 Olympic games in Rio were going on during our visit, causing the hostel price to triple.
Before we got to Rio, we did a lot of research. We were lucky to find an average 10 dorm room for $18 a night. Most prices started at $25 and the hostels sometimes had depressingly low ratings. High demand and low supply can be painful for the wallet. Our hostel even ended up overselling and had a girl sleep on a mattress placed on our already tiny hostel floor (had 2 feet space around the mattress to walk in the room) and then had 3 people sleeping in the common area. Snuggle party! And because they ran out of pillows, I had to snatch one from couch in the common room.
At least the hostel had a good location of Botafogo. On our first day, we meandered 2 hours along the waterfront to downtown Rio. Took longer than expected, but we were able to spot various landmarks, people, Olympic stadiums, and random occurrences. My favorite was seeing the military scattered all over the place (extra security due to the games), looking like they were trying to protect items like a street lamp. “Sergeant, the streetlamp is secured. Over.” The most disgusting thing I saw was the dirty river water. Filthy, reeking river water is found in many of the cities we visited and has given Brazil a bad rep, which got extra attention in media because of the games. We saw a small wastewater treatment plant, nicely camouflaged. I was already grossed out by the last stage of the filtration, but when I got to the beginning of the cycle, I felt repulsed. The river has so much filth on top that I couldn’t even see the smallest hint of water. During this walk along the ocean front, I probably saw more than I wanted to.
Downtown, we went to the main plaza, ogling longstanding architecture. (Sorry, my architecture familiarity is so low where I can’t even satisfy the mildly knowledgeable with sufficient facts about the era. You’ll have to go see for yourself.) Besides viewing old buildings facades, which history I’m oblivious about, we also toured the national museum. Reading all kinds of juicy history information, I left the museum with more understanding of Brazil’s history and how the country was shaped into its current form.
Another museum we went to was the Earth Sciences Museum (Museu de Ciências da Terra), containing minerals, meteorites, soils, and fossils. One room has dinosaur bones, another describes the big bang theory and evolution process, and the last room we went to displayed every major rock and mineral type found in Brazil. An impressive collection. Awesomely there is no entry fee and they even provide a free tour; the downside is that tour and labels are all in Portuguese. We stumbled upon this overlooked gem by accident as we walked by. If you are walking to Sugarloaf Mountain, keep your eyes pierced for the museum sign on the right side of the main street, and pop in for a quick visit since the museum is on the way.
Sugarloaf Mountain is one of the most popular attractions in Rio. Taking a cable car to the top, the 360-degree view from there is marvelous. We saw entire Rio, stretching from Copacabana beach to Rio downtown. Also spotted navy ships in the ocean patrolling the shores. There are a lot of Marmosets, tiny monkeys, on the mountain as well. Be careful while munching food around them. 5 monkeys circled me while I was eating bread and I was worried that they were planning a sneak attack. When I discovered one on a branch directly on top of me, I had to move to a safer place with no branches above me and stuffed the remaining bread into my mouth. Outside food is not allowed and the staff will check through bags, but we “accidentally” forgot bread in our pant pockets, which I was happy about in the end since the restaurants there are pricy. Overall we spent 2 hours on Sugarloaf, from daytime, to watching the sunset, until nighttime with the city lights. I would recommend visiting this mountain during this time of day.
Sugarloaf Mountain or Christ the Redeemer? We didn’t want to spend money visiting both mountains and had to decide which one we wanted to go to. Christ the Redeemer, a 125-foot (38 meters) statue on mountain, belongs to the new 7 wonders of the world. We could see the impressive statue down below in the city. We pretty much saw it from every angle besides up close. Tourist reported that during the Olympics the wait time to get on the transportation up can be 2 hours, even if they arrived even before opening. Potential 2 hours wait, plus the slow transportation up and down, plus unknown wait time to come back down, would have made this excursion a full day event. We didn’t want to spend an entire day on one sight, especially not when the time would be spent dillydallying in a line. So we count our losses and found satisfaction from the view afar.
We could even see the Redeemer from the Olympic stadium, which is the most memorable event we attended in Rio. I will play many sports, but find sport watching dull. Even so, I’ve always longed to see an Olympic game. To our advantage, bad publicity and fear of the Zika virus kept many sports fans away from Brazil, leaving stadiums half empty, and driving the ticket prices down. For a mere $13 we saw the semifinals for canoe sprint. We brought more excitement to the game by betting. 2 points if your country wins the race, 1 point if your country crosses the finish line before the other person’s country, and -1 point if your country comes in dead last. The two of us had a blast.
At first I was upset that the games happened to be commencing during our visit, driving up prices. Now I’m glad I’m able to cross ‘watching an Olympic game’ off of my bucket list. Looking at my budget, please keep in mind that your hostel price will probably be more around $7 during your visit. Also, the metro cost should be lower since one ride costs $1.25 (R.410), but we were forced to buy a metro pass for $7.65 (R.25) because one of the metro lines blocked passengers and only allowed Olympic game viewers on with the special pass they were selling. If we would have known this ahead of time, we would have taken the bus. Oh well…. Live and learn. I had a great time in Rio overall.
Brazil had many awesome cities and sights to offer. I enjoyed every place for its own unique reason. The only place I would skip on my list for sure would be Punta Grossa, nothing special there. In a time crunch I would only go to one of these two: colonial Paraty or colorful Angra dos Reis. Surprisingly, relative to other South American countries we’ve been to, as we were traveling around Brazil, we detected less obvious poverty, just foul smelling rivers in cities.
The most frustrating part is the language barrier. Knowing basic Spanish, I feel like I should be able to communicate simple topics, but oftentimes that’s not how the cookie crumbled. Over time I was able to identify some small alterations between the languages. For example: Egg is ‘huevo’ in Spanish and “ovo” in Portuguese. At least the majority of Brazilians are friendly and exert patience when we try to get our point across.
We were lucky that we were able to spend more time with locals while in Brazil and get to know more of local views, traditions, history, and politics. We were hosted by various locals in Sao Paulo, which gave me a feeling of being connected. Being able to attend an Olympic game gave the country an extra flair. Overall the visit to Brazil was fantastic and I’m happy that I went. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this vast country. I might just have to return one day.
Cost breakdown of Rio de Janeiro (3 days with total cost of $136.50. Average daily cost is $45.50.)
- Hostel: $45.87 (3 nights which incl. breakfast)
- Transportation: $28.78
- Bus: $17.37 ($16.21 for initial bus to the city)
- Metro: $11.41
- Food: $23.77
- Meals: $17.74 (5 meals)
- Groceries: $4.50
- Snacks: $1.53
- Activities: $38.08
- Olympic tickets: $12.39
- Sugarloaf Mountain: $23.24
- National Museum: $2.45