IT’S that time once again, when the torch is lit, the athletes are ready and the stadiums are awaiting thronging crowds. And since the Olympics is in Rio, we expect very little sleep on most itineraries because there is a lot to take in besides the games. “There is considerable interest among Indians to travel to Brazil to watch the sporting spectacle. While some are going to see either the opening or the closing ceremony, many are keen to attend hockey and athletics at the Olympic Stadium,” says Thomas Thottathil, head of Corporate Communications at Cox & Kings. “We are also getting inquiries for visits post the Olympics, when hotels rooms are available at a discount,” he adds. While it’s not the season for festivals, the city has something to offer tourists all year—from adventure sports to heritage walks and, of course, fantastic cuisine. Read on.
Find some structure
Rio is not all about beaches and bikinis. The cityscape includes some amazing architecture. A half-day Rio de Janeiro Historical Architecture Sightseeing Tour will help you get up close to some beautiful workmanship. Walk through the National Library, visit St Benedict Monastery (founded in 1590), admire the baroque, neoclassical and neo-Renaissance architectural influences of the Church of Our Lady of Candelária, and stock up on selfies at the Imperial Palace (built in 1743). The four-hour tour includes hotel pick up and drop off. `6,500 approx. Details: viator.com
The best way to know a culture is to get out and be where the locals are. And a food tour gets you right to the heart of things. Eat Rio conducts daily tours, each lasting approximately six hours, where they will take you to bustling street markets, little bars and small restaurants that only the locals know about. Get to try staples like moqueca (fish stew) and brigadeiros (truffles) to exotic fruits (jabuticaba or the cupuaçu), Amazonian dishes, Brazilian beers and more. Rs 6,600 approx.. Details: eatrio.net
Meet the locals
To sample the real vibe of Rio, get out of your plush hotel and experience how the majority of the citizens live. Rio Adventures organises Favela (ghetto) Tours, where you get to meet families and break bread with them in their homes. All at Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favela, which also boasts many historical and cultural icons. Rs 2,000 per person. Details: rioadventures.com
Rio’s Afro-Brazilian heritage is an essential part of the culture. A five-hour walking tour will give you a better understanding of the history of the descendants of slaves who were brought to Brazil during European rule. Besides visiting the Afro-Brazilian museum, you will walk through ethnic neighbourhoods and visit local sites. Rs 7,800 approx. Details: getyourguide.com
Rio is home to some amazing art, and quite a bit of it is urban art in public spaces. Take for instance Rio artist Adriana Varejao’s colossal seascape mural at the Olympic Park’s aquatics stadium.
A four-hour tour will take you on a tour of all the major sites—from the colourful murals and surreal stencils at Santa Teresa, to Escadaria Selarón (the famous steps covered with tiles, ceramics and mirrors by Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selarón).Rs 1,500 onwards. Details: likealocalguide.com
You may have learnt some of the moves at your local dance school, but there is nothing like getting lessons in the birth place of samba. Rio Samba Dancer School will give you a quick one-hour crash course, with English-speaking instructors. Designed for single men, women and couples, the school is also a great place to meet other travellers. Lessons from `3,700 onwards. Details: riosambadancer.com
Crosses and aisles
Irrespective of your faith, if you are in Rio, you must go church hopping. A pinnacle of Catholicism brought by the Portuguese, experience up to
11 historical churches from
the 17th century onwards.
Also do not miss the Metropolitan Cathedral located at the centre of Rio, which is built based on Mayan
architecture. Rs 5,000.
Rio is home to the largest urban forest in the world, the Tijuca rainforest. With an area of 32 square kilometres, hike to the highest point in Rio, Guanabara Bay, from where you can get a view of the entire city. Take a dip in the waterfalls and also visit the Mayrink Chapel, a monument built in 1860, deep in the woods. Opt for a one-day jeep tour of the forest for Rs 5,600. Details: viator.com
—P Peter & Surya Praphulla Kumar