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Rio, the Soul of Brazil

Rio, the Soul of Brazil

As host of the two biggest sporting events on the planet, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, there is little doubt that the ensuing media coverage will inspire people to visit this fascinating city.

Rio. Three letters that, in this order, evoke a host of colours, rhythms, and sensations. Few cities boast such a concentration of charms and beauties, beginning with its incomparable site, where nature's wonders seem to have all come together. Nestled between mountains and the sea, the city reveals its full splendour when seen from above. That's why the first thing to do when you arrive in Rio is to climb to the summit of Mount Corcovado, 710 m above sea level, where the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer welcomes you. From there, you survey the whole city below: its hills, lagoons, and beaches, as well as its geographic and social diversity. Commit the view to memory so you will be able to find your way around once you descend. Another spectacular view of Rio is offered from the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, accessible by cable car. At sunset, it is simply magical!

Descending from on high, you discover a megalopolis where bold skyscrapers court gems of colonial architecture, reminding us that Rio was the capital of Brazil before being replaced by Brasilia in 1960. From downtown, you can take the subway to legendary beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema. Or you can escape the urban hustle and bustle right in the centre of the city, thanks to the Tijuca National Park, a huge natural rainforest. Finally, Rio is a city of spectacles, whose heart beats to the rhythm of its two great passions: futebol and samba.

Soccer, Samba, and the Carnival

In Rio, football (“soccer” to us) is king. Nowhere has such a cult grown up around the soccer ball. Consequently, you simply have to attend a match at the legendary Maracanã stadium to feel the passion of Brazilian soccer — not only during the World Cup!

Just as it would be unthinkable to visit New Orleans without going into a jazz club, no serious visitor leaves Rio without having experienced Samba Carnival. The famous carnival is unquestionably your best chance to do so. For a week, the city is in a frenzy that culminates with the display of samba schools on the parading avenue of the huge Sambadrome; Cariocas (as we affectionately call the inhabitants of Rio) proudly contend that this is the greatest show on earth. The carnival is truly an exceptional experience. However, make your bookings in advance and be prepared to pay, for the prices match the frenzy of the celebrations.

You don't need to be in Rio during the official holiday to experience the magic of the carnival. “From the month of October, you can sense the excitement growing,” says Michel Dupire, Rio aficionado and director of the bateria (a samba band), Bloco de Montreal. “You can attend rehearsals at samba schools where the atmosphere is amazing. Just inquire locally to find the night that the public is admitted.” Mr. Dupire also tells us that, on the Saturday following the carnival, you can watch the “Parade of Champions,” during which the best samba schools put on a benefit performance in the Sambadrome. “That way, you can experience the effervescence of the carnival at a lower cost and without the crowds,” he adds.

A City in Party Mode all Year Long

For Cariocas, any excuse is a good excuse to have fun. In the bohemian neighbourhood of Lapa, you can really amuse yourself at the rodas de samba; artists perform and sing, the audience dances, and everyone drinks caipirinha, made with cachaça, the national drink of Brazil. Now, maybe you can begin to see how samba is the soul of Rio and Rio is the soul of Brazil.

Whatever the season, cidade maravilhosa (the wonderful city) in an eyeful. The great writer Blaise Cendrars wrote that Rio is the only city in the world where just existing was enough to find happiness. The cultural capital of Brazil, Rio is in celebration mode all year long; just check the supplement Rio Show in the newspaper O Globo to find out where to go. The festival reaches its climax on December 31, when the Cariocas, all dressed in white, invade Copacabana beach to greet the New Year in the waves of the Atlantic and in the midst of a fabulous display of fireworks... to the sounds of samba, it goes without saying.

Practical Information

Travel documents

Canadian citizens must obtain a visa from the Consulate General of Brazil in Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver.

Climate

Rio has a tropical climate in which the summer (December to March) is hot and humid, and the winter (June to September) is dry and mild.

Currency

The real (symbol R$), is divided into 100 centavos. A Canadian dollar is worth about two reals.

Language

Portuguese, Brazilian dialect.

Tourist Information

The tourist office site at rioguiaoficial.com.br (available in English) is full of information: accommodations, shows, events, etc.

To Travel with Peace of Mind

Whether you're travelling to Rio or Niagara Falls, never forget that your government health insurance plan does not cover full health services received outside of your province of residence. Check with your agent to find out what Blue Cross travel insurance products allow you to fully enjoy your trip without having to worry, “What if something happens to me?”