Rio de Janeiro natives — Cariocas, por favor — think their city is the center of the universe. Arrogance? More like honesty. Where else are you going to find huge green mountains inches from crystal beaches, a vibrant urban culture that’s uniquely happy and inviting, and throngs of would-be models at every turn?
After leaving Antonio Carlos Jobim Airport (you know you’re in for a good time in a town that names its hub after a bossa nova superstar), head to one of the main beaches: trendy Ipanema (great for walking and shopping), slightly tamer Leblon (quieter and more family oriented), and always-hopping Copacabana (commercial but classic). Don’t turn your nose up at everything touristy: Take a cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain overlooking the bay and a train to Christ the Redeemer, a new wonder of the world. If you’re curious about the favelas, the notorious hilltop slums, be warned that they’re best observed from your passing car.
If you like it lavish, hole up at iconic seaside Copacabana Palace, where royalty (and Madonna) have stayed since 1923. Otherwise, head to Ipanema’s Fasano, a ritzy, Philippe Starck-designed high-rise with an orgasmic rooftop infinity pool. Stay off the beaten path at newly refurbished Hotel Santa Teresa in charming Santa Teresa, a cobblestone hilltop district with tons of colonial-era mansions and stellar views of Guanabara Bay.
Wanna watch tan, nearly naked hard bodies frolic in the surf? Put your towel down at lifeguard post No. 9 in Ipanema. Should you venture to Copacabana, tell the men in your party to watch out: The beautiful women hitting on them are probably pros (and we’re not saying that ’cause we’re jealous). For less scene, perch around post No. 12 in Leblon. Juice vendors are everywhere (sugar cane, acai, and tangerine are the tastiest), as are athletic cariocas playing futevôlei, a volleyball/soccer mix invented in Rio during the ’60s.
Before dinner (or, hell, instead of), botequins are Brazil’s answer to pubs, only friendlier and more relaxed. Chainlet Devassa is our favorite — its microbrew is ridic, especially when consumed al fresco at the Jardim Botânico outpost. Of course, you can’t leave Rio without hitting a churrascaria (barbecue): Porcão serves every kind of meat (and fruit) you can imagine. Don’t be afraid to try the chicken hearts and do ask for a window table for Sugar Loaf views. Academia de Cachaça is the place for caipirinhas and feijoada, the legendary black bean and salted pork stew. (If you don’t eat some, you will get wasted.) For hipster dining, Zuka’s Italian/Brazilian fusion is as impressive as its hey-look-at-me patrons.
All You Can Carry
If names like Alexandre Herchcovitch, Carlos Miele, Tufi Duek, and Rosa Chá appeal to you, you’re in the right spot: They’re all Brazilian designers. But for goods you can’t get anywhere else, head to Feira Hippie de Ipanema, a weekly craft fair with tons of handmade lace, leather goods, porcelain, and other randomness. And don’t even try to escape the ubiquitous Havaianas; you’ll get more styles at cheaper prices.
Sound good? Muito bom.
Whose towel do you want next to yours on the beach? Send ’em this e-mail.