Rio de Janeiro – beaches, football, Christ, Sugar Loaf Mountain, dental-floss bikinis. And juice
It isn’t hard to get your five a day in Brazil. On practically every street corner in Rio there’s a juice bar where, for around £2/$3 you can get a freshly-squeezed glass of something that you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce.
Sucos are juices straight up; Vitaminas are blended with milk. My favourite was Fruta do Conde (custard apple), which really did have a sweet custardy flavour. Abacate (avocado) is another goody too, blended with milk and a bit of sugar. Maracuja is passionfruit, and abacaxi (pineapple) is worth it just for the pronunciation alone (ah-bah-cash-eee).
Then there’s superfruit acai, which is beetroot-purple and served as a sort of frozen sherbert/ice cream, with a bit of guarana juice, and perhaps some granola – great for when you’ve been for a jog along Copacabana beach (…..like I’d know!)
If you are heading for the beach there are ways you can minimize standing out like a tourist, even if you aren’t quite prepared to wear a dental-floss bikini (ladies) or a pair of sungas (gentlemen), the thicker-sided speedos that most locals sport. For a start, never take a towel, especially not to lie down on; locals either stand or sit on a folding chair. And they don’t take much with them at all – a mobile, a wrap (kanga), sunglasses and a bit of cash for snacks.
If you want to escape from the crowds, you can go hiking in Tijuca, the world’s largest urban rain forest and just a 15 minute drive from the main tourist hang outs. I had Gabriel Morand as my guide (who you can book through local Brit-run tour operator Dehouche), who’s also a biologist so was easily able to point out monkeys, snakes, humming birds and toucans as well as a dizzying variety of plants and trees. It’s a fun and rewarding, if sweaty, way to see a very different side of the city, and you get great views.
As for staying, I was in the Copacabana Palace Hotel which is certainly the place to be if your budget will stretch to it and you fancy a bit of old-world glamour. But if you want to live like a Carioca, hire a local apartment through Rodrigo Harold, whose company Rio Luxury Boutique rents out chic flats and houses from around £100 a night to £1,500+ (and for the latter you are getting seriously swanky, with pads in lush suburbs like Joatinga with views to match – see below).
And if you’re looking elsewhere in the country for accommodation with heaps of individual character, try Hidden Pousadas run by expat Brazilophile Alison McGowan.
A really good local blog with tons of practical info about the city is Gringo Rio