If you’re heading to Rio for the Olympics 2016 take the chance to explore the city’s surroundings, from dreamy beaches to paradisiacal islands and colonial villages.
Rio de Janeiro has always been a sought after destination: The Corcovado, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the iconic beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and simply the atmosphere one breathes while in the city, make it a truly memorable place. In the wake of the 2014 World Cup, Rio becomes the stage for yet another world sporting event this Summer with the Olympics. Sport fans from all over the globe will be flocking to the Brazilian coastal city, and while there why not take the chance to explore the surrounding beaches, colonial towns and island?
Rio is situated on the edge of the Costa do Sol and the Costa Verde (which goes down to Santos), both places of idyllic natural beauty. We have also selected some locations worth a trip further afield, and for the lovers of culture, or the clean mountain air, there’s something for you too.
Previously a prison, Ilha Grande is much prettier than Alcatraz. Many holidaymakers take the ferry to the island as its now become an oasis for relaxation and being at one with nature. It has stunning beaches, forest hikes, diving and a wide range of wildlife: miniature sagui monkeys, frogs, porcupines, tiny hummingbirds and even turtles. Here the good life is of the essence: there are no cars and no banks on the island, and the atmosphere in the bustling harbour town of Vila do Abraão is inimitable. After spending the day at one of Brazil’s best beaches, Lopes Mendes, head to town for a cool caipirinha and listening to some live music directly on the beach.
To the north and west of Rio lies the state of Minas Gerais, noted for its colonial mining towns, cowboys on horseback, dairy farming, wood-fired cuisine and distilleries making cachaça. Here you can visit the Reserva do Ibitipoca, which is privately owned, but accessible if you book a stay at the stunning Fazenda do Engenho. Also make sure to visit the Canyons de Furnas, a beautful lake sorrounded by waterfalls, and horse back ride the Milho Verde, as well as delighting in the sleeping mining towns like Ouro Preto.
Búzios is a playground for Rio de Janeiro's gente bonita (beautiful people), who come to relax on the beaches by day and socialize in the stylish bars and clubs by night. Stroll on the Rua das Pedras and along the waterfront Orla Bardot, named after Brigitte, who “discovered” Búzios with her Brazilian boyfriend in the Sixties. Though time has not been kind to the town, it still retains a charm for the jet set. If you’re more into quieter beach escapes, then en route to Búzios there is the quieter beach resort of Arraial do Cabo, an unpretentious fishing town known as the "Caribbean of Brazil" because of its crystal clear waters and white-sand beaches.
What do you think would happen if Ellis island and the Disney castle had kids? Ilha Fiscal, just outside Rio de Janeiro. The fairy-tale palace once housed the offices of the of the Guarda Fiscal in Rio, when the city was the capital of Brazil. The building was commissioned by Emperor Pedro II and as well as serving as customs offices it also boasts the rather unfortunate role as the location of the final ball held by the emperor in 1889, as just 6 days after the celebrations the empire was overthrown.
Petrópolis might be an unexpected suggestion, but its definitely worth a trip. The Imperial City of Brazil, nestled among the forested hills of the Serra dos Órgãos, in the valley of the Quitandinha and Piabanha rivers, is only 68km from Rio. A city fit for an emperor here you will find Palácio Rio Negro, the summer escape of Brazilian emperor Pedro II, as well as impressive gardens and green houses. The palace is now the Imperial Museum, specializing in Imperial history and memorabilia, and the city also hosts National Laboratory for Scientific Computing, the neo gothic Catedral Petropolis as well as the now unused centre for torture, called the House of Death.
Hotel Palácio Quitandinha
One of the favourite day trips from Rio, Paraty is a beauty to behold. The cobblestones streets and colonial architecture will delight your eyes, unexpected tropical plants emerge from the courtyards of the perfectly maintained houses, and the quaint colonial church dominates the azure waters. The verdant Bocaino Mountains behind the town contrast the array of unspoilt beaches which surround the colonial town. While there, keep an eye out for the unexpected primate residents.
In “The City of Smiles” there’s something for everyone. The romantics will enjoy a stunning view of the sunset across the Guanabara Bay onto Rio de Janeiro. The history buffs will find the colonial Santa Cruz Fortress, the beach lovers plenty of less crowded stretches of sand to soak up the rays and the surfers some of the best waves in South America. One of the biggest crowd pullers to be found in Niteroi however, is the Oscar Niemeyer designed Museum of Contemporary Art, a flying saucer like construction which dramatically seems to land just above the waves.
Vale da Lua
This location is not a day trip from Rio, but its definitely worth leaving the region and the coast for. Located in the region of Alto Paraíso de Goiás Vale da Lua is a landscape that literally looks out of this world. The roaring waters of the Rio São Miguel have carved and smoothed the grey rocks creating pots and bulbous craters, where pools and eddies collect in the spherical cut-outs. The Vale da Lua is located on private property near to national forest, however it is still open to visitors, though it is said that local guides remove all signs to the location so that it remains a difficult to access secret, just like the moon.
Vale da Lua