Rio Highlights in a Day

The most beautiful city in the world

Before my trip – all I knew about Rio de Janeiro was that the landscape looked really cool with sugarloaf mountain jetting out of the water and that there was a giant Christ the redeemer statue on top of a high mountain. Oh and there was an animated film with a Blue Macaw bird (Rio) and Fast Five was filmed there. So to me, it seemed like Rio was a very visual city with lot’s of interesting landmarks. I had friends back this up – my girl friend Tomica told me that her husband called Rio the most beautiful city in the world.

One of the most beautiful cities in the world!

So while there is clearly a lot to see in Rio, I also did my research (which I love doing 😉 )and knew that the beach experience was something you needed to allot time for and there were some pretty cool and unique activities to try like hang gliding or learning more about the community and visiting the favelas.

Hiring a private guide and driver

Given time constraints, I decided to book a private driver and guide, Luis for our first day in the Rio! I definitely recommend him to anyone who is short on time or is interested in a comprehensive, introduction to the city.


  • He is very knowledgeable and can tell you lot about the history, culture and wildlife
  • We didn’t have to wait for transportation as we using a private vehicle
  • We were able to be entirely flexible with our schedule!
  • Local knowledge and insider tips – he was born and raised there and has seen how Rio has grown and changed
  • Safety in numbers – I heard so many warnings about Rio being dangerous so being with someone who knew the place was reassuring for me too.

The itinerary

We started off the day getting picked up at the Rio Dolphin Inn. We told Luis a bit about our interests (such as photography and food!) and he helped shape our itinerary from there. I originally thought we would head to the two main attractions  – Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf but Luis was honest and said that Sugarloaf was fine to go to on your own and easy to get a ride back. I appreciated his comments and suggestions. He agreed that getting to Corcovado was a bit trickier and that it was good to get there before the crowds. So given our interest in nature, we decided to drive through the Tijuca forest and take a back road to Corcovado!

Tijuca forest


Along the way he gave us some background on Rio and the economy. Back home, a lot of the expensive real estate is on the mountains (with the view) but in Rio, the waterfront property on the Copacabana or Ipanema beaches are valued the most. The mountains on the other hand are populated with favelas – tightly packed houses that foreigners wouldn’t have considered stepping into years ago (more on that later).


Once in the forest we stopped at a waterfall and then our first view point.

The Vista Chinesa

vista chinesa

The morning was a bit hazy but one could make out the beaches and see the beauty and diversity of the city landscape ahead.

Impressive city views

view from rainforest

We also stopped to look for monkeys, birds and interesting plants. He even surprised us at one point by placing a plant that “bursts” in your hands – it was like a child’s toy 🙂

Eric got cold as we went deeper in the forest and Luis offered him a spare coat from his volunteering days – very cool!

I was excited when I saw some rock climbers in the jungle so Luis reversed his car so I could take a better look.


From there we wrapped up the jungle drive and headed onwards to Corcovado.



I noticed that prices were reduced on weekdays and felt pretty happy about that 😉

Christ the Redeemer


Once at the top, Luis shared some history on the structure and then told us to take our time and meet him when we were ready. But before leaving, he offered to take some photos for us and since he leads tours for a living, it’s no surprise that he knows all the great spots  and angles for taking photos!

Random strangers asked to take photos together (this is also happened at our previous stop at Iguazu Falls– some very friendly tourists!)

photos with strangers at christ

After this we stopped at another viewpoint to get a look at the statue from below and also view Sugarloaf Mountain.

christ from afar

sugarloaf and city

By this time, we were getting hungry and at first, Luis thought we could head to Ipanema to their market but since we wanted more than just snacks, we opted for a terraced restaurant in the bohemian district of Santa Teresa. Again, I appreciated the flexibility!

Santa Teresa

view from lunch


He told us we had an important decision to make after lunch – do we go to a local market where they sell unique goods/experience some local shopping or do we want more spectacular views from across the Bay?

We went with the views and headed over a 13 km bridge to Niteroi.

Along the way he suggested we stop at the Selaron staircase where the Chilean artist devoted the later years of his life to completing. People would send tiles from all over the world to add to the public display. It was fun trying to find tiles from Canada or places I’d been!

Selaron Staircase – Famous artists steps in Rio

selaron staris2

selaron tiles

As we headed to Niteroi, we drove past the Arches of Lapa and downtown. This is when Luis gave us a mini-history lesson on Rio and the young king Peter who’s leadership sounded really advanced and progressive for his time.

Niteroi Bridge to the other side of the harbour


On the other side, we continued to be stunned by how beautifully the water, mountains and city came together in this perfect picture.

Near the end of the day he asked if we would be able to point out a Brazilian and we were both stumped (are we supposed to know the answer to this?) and he let us in that he was joking 😉 He told us how a lot of immigrants to Brazil adopted and embraced the Brazilian culture so you have a huge diversity of people and backgrounds.

Modern Architecture


We made a stop at the Architect Oscar Neiymeyer’s Building and Luis taught us how to recognize his buildings (white, curved lines). Then we continued on to what Luis said was his favourite viewpoint in the city.



We arrived at this spot which had a take-off ramp for hang gliding, something we were considering for later, and after we had taken this in, Luis asked, “are you ready for the view I was talking about?”


And we walked over to the other side of the park to this.

Stunning, off-the-beaten-path views

view from niteroi

It was almost 4:00 pm now and the sun was starting to go down.

view from niteroi 2

We asked Luis if he could drop us off at Sugarloaf since the weather was gorgeous and we thought, “we are on a roll! why not hang out there and take in sunset”?

 He dropped us off at an ATM to take out cash (to pay him!) and then off to Sugarloaf.

Sugarloaf on our own

Sugarloaf takes credit card, unlike Corcovado, and it is broken up into 2 stops (cable care to the first peak, then another cable car to the second peak).

sugarloaf at magic hour

We hung out at the first one and walked around the viewing platforms. Then made our way to the second. The total elevation is 1,299 ft (396 m) and it’s a pretty thrilling ride.

the beaches from sugar loaf

You get stunning views at the top and many others were getting comfortable on the benches while waiting sunset.

These monkeys were everywhere!

monkey on sugarloaf

They had a food stand and both locations (along with fine gemstones haha)

christ at dusk

Seeing the city light up was a perfect end to a perfect day.

sugarloag dusk2

sugarloaf at night

rio at night

But actually, it wouldn’t end there, as our wonderful host of our B&B invited us to join him for dinner so we had a great walk and great conversation.

Now THAT is a perfect day.

To view my Rio de Janeiro Flickr Photo Gallery, please click here

Read more on how to plan your own trip to South America (my Trip Planning post)

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