1) The natural beauty…everywhere
It’s nicknamed the “cidade maravilhosa” (the marvelous city) for a reason. There is something truly magical about the beauty of Rio; home to lagoons, rainforest, waterfalls, mountains and white-sand beaches, Rio has it all.
I love how Rio is literally built between mountains; so whether you’re in the north or south of Rio, you can almost always spot a mountain somewhere in the distance. Many houses are actually built up against mountains, as such:
Sometimes it looks like the mountains are painted against the sky…
And when clouds mystically cover the mountains, it’s pretty incredible.
The mountaintops also offer some of the most amazing views I have ever seen.
And only in Rio does a university campus look like this…
And I have yet to see sunsets that compare…
2) Beach culture
In case you were not aware, Rio’s unique beach culture is one to be admired. I especially love how everyone is proud to flaunt their bodies here.
3) Juice bars
Juice bars are to Rio what coffee shops are to New York. There are open juice bars on nearly every street corner, always identifiable by the array of various fruits that are displayed behind the counter.
On that note, there are about a gazillion different types of fruits here. I have seen fruits and vegetables that I had never even known existed (caju, passion fruit, acai…). And they are everywhere.
The fruits are also MASSIVE. I have never seen avocados or mangos so big. I’m not quite sure how I will ever go back to the puny avocados sold in the US.
Small avocados (like the ones sold in the US) are actually called “mini abacate” (“mini avocado”). See below for proof.
The fruits are always so fresh, as well. And to top it off, they are so cheap! OK, I think I’ve made my case in the fruit department.
I need to devote an entire section to açai…because much more than just any other fruit, this superfood has enormous anti-aging and health benefits (it’s cancer fighting to name one!). It has “all the vitamins and minerals of most fruits, but also boasts a range of unique plant chemical compounds found in no other fruit on the planet.” Oh, and it’s pretty delicious as well.
6) Street partying
Carioca mentality seems to be: why be inside when you can be outside? Fortunately, the weather in Rio permits an outdoor bar culture year round.
Botecos, Brazilian pubs found everywhere in Rio, always open up to the sidewalks, which get packed with people at night (especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday). People even take over the streets. Baixo Gavea is one neighborhood of Rio that has a ton of little botecos; on certain nights of the week (especially Thursday and Sunday), young people fill the streets, drinking and mingling.
Lapa is another part of Rio that is a ton of fun for street partying; I like it because it is very carioca…but it is definitely grungier than Baixo Gavea and most areas of the Zona Sul. There are many bars in Lapa, but many people (including myself) prefer to hang out outside when the weather permits. On Friday and Saturday, the large sidewalks, squares and streets become especially lotados (packed) with people and stands selling (insanely strong and big) caipirinhas, caipiroskis (same as caipirinha but made with vodka instead of cachaca), beer and other drinks.
The stairs of Lapa are also a popular hang-out spot. They are fun but can be a bit sketchy…watch out for pickpocketers and people trying to sell illegal substances…
7) Ice cold beer
Brazilians take their beer quite seriously. “Chopp” is the Portuguese (or maybe just Brazilian?) word for draft beer – this is probably the most popular alcoholic beverages amongst cariocas. Whether you order a cerveja (beer in a bottle) or a chopp, you can rest assured that it will always be served to you gelado (ice cold). None of that luke-warm business. The bottled beer is always served in either a bucket of ice or in a container to keep it cold. I’m not even a beer person, but on a hot day, it’s pretty refreshing.
8) Caipirinhas and caipiroskis
If you are not a huge beer-drinker or want to switch it up some, the second most popular alcoholic drink here has got to be the caipirinha or caipiroski. Caipirinhi (or nicknamed as “caipi”) is made of cachaca (Brazilian spiced rum), crushed limes and sugar.
Caipiroski is the same thing but instead of lime, is substituted by another fruit. They are delicious and maybe even semi-healthy since they are always made with fresh fruit (as opposed to sugary fruit juices, which make up cocktails in the US)…but beware, as they are also incredibly strong in Brazil. Two caipirinhas (or maybe even one) and I am done for the night…at least I know I am getting my money’s worth!
9) Brazilian food
Yum. I am already slightly addicted to the food here. Where do I even begin? This list is a good place to start. Some of my favorites are the following:
Coxinhas, pretty much like fried balls stuffed with meat and cheese.
Brigadeiro, which is like a very thick and sticky (and rich!) chocolate pudding made with condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder. It’s out of this world delicious.
Feijoada has got to be my favorite Brazilian food – made with a blend of black beans, pork and dried beef, it is often topped by a specific type of flour and of course accompanied by rice.
10) Fresh coconut water
Agua de coco, or coconut water, is the typical beach drink here. The first time I tasted it, I was surprised because it didn’t taste like coconut – it is more like a subtlety flavored water. All the same, agua de coco, which is filled with electrolytes (many claim that it’s the best hangover cure), is pretty addicting. In Brazil, of course it is drunken directly from the coconut – even at many restaurants, it is served this way. Bottled coconut water will never taste the same again…when you order it at beach, be sure to request one that is ice-cold (gelada) – it will make all the difference, trust me!
11) An outdoorsey lifestyle
Hiking, surfing, rock climbing, biking, hanggliding, paddleboarding, scuba diving, kite surfing, beach volleyball…these are a just a few of the sports that you can partake in in Rio. Having the beach and mountains at your fingertips makes it easy to do pretty much any outdoor activity imaginable. I love that Rio has a city life, but it is very easy to escape that and feel like you are out of the city (even though you aren’t) by going to the beach or hiking up one of the many mountains.
I went on a hike up Dois Irmaos mountain a few weekends ago and spotted baby monkeys! Hiking up the trail, I felt like I was in the jungle. Which I kind of was…even though I hadn’t left Rio!
Not a huge hiker? Try and tough it out. Let’s just say that the views from the top will make it worth it…Even on a cloudy day…
12) Biking or jogging along Lagoa
Lagoa (which means “lagoon” in Portuguese) is a peaceful neighborhood of Rio in the Zona Sul (south zone). It’s main attraction is a large lake, where you can rent paddle boats and even go waterskiing or wake-boarding.
The lake is surrounded by a large circular path, with many people strolling, jogging and biking. It’s sort of like Rio’s version of Central Park in New York…except instead of a grass park, there is a lake…surrounded by mountains.
13) Laid-back vibe
One of the major reasons that I wanted to come to Rio was because of the relaxed lifestyle. It’s by far the most relaxed, laid back city I have ever lived in, or maybe even ever been to. Living by the beach anywhere in the world is always going to create a more laidback feel. But Rio seems to take it to a whole new level.
People don’t seem stressed out or rushed. Time just moves slower. Even though the busses are the main method of transportation, they do not abide by any sort of timetable – it arrives when it arrives.
I went to the Mac store the other week to order a replacement charger since mine had suddenly broken, and when I asked how long it would take to receive the new one, the man acted like it was no big deal and casually said “Uma semana só…” (just one week) like it was nothing. If this was New York, I’m pretty sure that sort of response would have been unacceptable (or at least a replacement charger would have been given). But this is Rio – and while it was frustrating at the time, that sort of relaxed attitude is kind of a refreshing change. No computer for the week? No problem – I think I can think of a few other ways to spend my time…
There are subtle things as well, like the fact that people (especially guys) walk around shirtless on the streets and on the busses – no matter what time of day it is. If a guy is too hot (I mean temperature wise…), he will just take off his shirt, simple as that. Flip-flops (or haivianas) are the footwear of choice.
But it’s not just the way people dress (or don’t dress) – it’s everything, from the street partying to the music and dancing everywhere to the (way) more relaxed concept of time and plans. While I have yet to witness this firsthand, it’s pretty common knowledge that business meetings in Brazil (and especially Rio) never really start on time. Running late? Blame it on the weather…In Brazil, lateness is totally acceptable.
Another example: unlike most other cities (ehem, Paris), the bus drivers will sometimes let you get on at a stop light, even if it’s not a proper bus stop and they aren’t supposed to stop. They will also sometimes stop for people after starting to drive off.
I took a taxi the other day and I realized I only had 10 reais on me and the meter was starting to go over that; so I told the taxi driver that he could drop me off sooner because I only had 10 reais. He simply said “Fica tranquila” (relax) and drove me all the way in spite of this. This seems to be everyone’s attitude here.
14) Happy, friendly people
In 2009, Forbes rated Rio the world’s happiest city. With so much year-round sunshine, warmth and beauty, it’s hard not to be happy here!
On that note, people also tend to be very friendly and helpful. If you are lost, people will often go out of their way to assist you. Just on the bus the other day, I simply asked the bus driver if he was going to Ipanema. Instead of just saying “yes,” he asked me where I was going and explained in detail to me where to get off and how to get there. And then when it was my turn to get off, he told me I should get off. All with a smile on his face!
Politeness is also a trait that is embedded in Brazilians: in Brazilian culture, it’s actually rude to say no to someone. Which means that if someone is unable to do something, instead of simply saying “no,” a Brazilian will say something less direct, like “I don’t know, let’s see” or “I’m not sure, maybe…” or “I need to think about it…” Simply saying “no” is considered rude here. One Brazilian woman told me that she threw a cocktail party and invited about 10 people, all of whom said they would come. In the end, only two people showed up – 4 hours late (one of whom was American!). And this was in Sao Paulo! It’s even worse in Rio…This type of behavior is incredibly common here.
In similar fashion, Brazilians will make plans just to be polite. “Vamos marcar algo” (Let’s do something) or “Eu te ligo” (I’ll call you) or “Vamos jantar na sexta” (Let’s get dinner on Friday) does not mean anything here. Unless an exact time and place has been picked, it’s unlikely that those plans will happen. I complained to my Brazilian friend once that I had made plans with this Brazilian girl to go out on Tuesday night and I never heard from her…and he said, “Did you pick a time and place?” And I said, “Well no, but…” and he goes “That’s normal! You never actually made plans to do anything!”
So I’ve learned that when you make plans with a carioca (or any Brazilian for that matter), you should take it with a grain of salt and not be disappointed when you never hear from him or her. One Brazilian-American girl even told me that cariocas will bail on you more than they will show up or follow through with plans. Making plans with someone is just another way for cariocas to be polite.
Several gringos have told me that this was a huge adjustment to them upon moving here. And while it can be frustrating at times, once you get used to it and not take plans seriously, it’s pretty easy to pick up this attitude. It can be kind of nice having the liberty to cancel things at the last minute…
Rio may be better known for its beaches than its architecture, but there are definitely some sights worth seeing. Some of my favorites include the architecture in Lapa, Centro and Jardim Botanico. Check it out…
16) Music – everywhere
To Brazilians, music is much more than just an art form and something to listen to; it’s a celebration and an integral part of everyday life. Let’s put it this way: for Brazilians (or at least cariocas), music provides another excuse to party and let loose.
In Rio, you won’t walk too long without hearing music blasting from somewhere. And since Brazilians love making their own music, most of the time it’s live! Who needs Britney Spears or Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring from the speakers when you can have GOOD, original, live music from talented performers?
Musical street performances are extremely common in Rio, and tend to be of very high quality. I went to a square of Rio the other week (on a Monday night), called Pedra do Sal (in Centro), where samba music was being played live – the square and the surrounding streets were packed with people (mostly Brazilians), some watching the performers and dancing along, with the majority of people just soaking up the atmosphere and music. There were stands of food and alcohol set up on the streets, along with nearby bars that opened up onto the streets. The praça (square) itself looked like this:
This type of performance and the atmosphere surrounding it is extremely typical of Rio.
Another very popular kind of music in Rio, often performed on the streets, is forro, a type of country music (and dance) from the Northeast. Take a look at some gringos dancing (surprisingly pretty well) to it:
But the streets are not the only place you can find live music; on the weekends, many of the bars throughout Rio also have live music.
While samba and forro are mostly performed live, funk carioca (or baile funk), music originating from the favelas, is often heard blasting from speakers set up on the streets or in cars. It sounds something like this:
While the lyrics are even more offensive than rap lyrics, the beat itself, derived from Miami Bass and freestyle, is admittedly quite catchy.
If there is one nationality that knows how to move, it’s Brazilians. Just check out these samba dancers in this video (skip to about 45 seconds in):
Like soccer, dancing (especially samba) is ingrained in Brazilians from an early age…
Hell, even BABIES know how to dance in Brazil…
Funk carioca (or baile funk) also has its own type of dance. I warn you that the video below, like the lyrics of this musical genre, is quite explicit and perhaps even offensive:
Offensive or not, one thing is certain: those girls can shake it.
Another very popular kind of dance is Capoeira, which is a fight/dance that is also often performed on the streets and beaches in Rio:
The different types of dance in Brazil, and the music that orchestrates them, are reflective of various types of self-expression and are perfect examples of the laid-back lifestyle here.
18) Little, awesome hole in the wall places
Like this little cachaca place that I went to last week (that serves pretty much any kind of flavored cachaca you could dream of).
19) Soccer – anytime, anywhere
Now I admit that I am not a huge soccer fan – at least not yet. But I truly admire the passion and pride that Brazilians have for this sport. It’s a huge understatement to say that soccer is big in Brazil. When the World Cup rolls around, the world pretty much stops in Brazil (classes are cancelled and people stop working) – one can only imagine what it will be like when the World Cup takes place IN Brazil next summer.
In Rio, you will see people tossing a soccer ball around anywhere – on the street, at the beach, on makeshift little fields…you name it – and at all hours. I saw a soccer game being played at 2 in the morning the other week, no joke. Pretty sure that would only happen in Brazil…
20) Being surrounded by such a beautiful, melodic language
Need I say more?
You would think that graffiti would be a negative thing. But in Rio, the majority of graffiti is much more like art…and it’s everywhere.
On that note, I always feel surrounded by color in Rio. I mean this both literally and figuratively. From the white sand beaches, crystal clear blue water, green jungles, multicolored buildings and street art, color is everywhere in Rio…
Even the clothes people wear are colorful. In Paris, whenever I wore bright colors, I was subject to strange looks from passers-by (there, grey, black and muted colors seem to be the preferred “colors”)…fortunately, people are not afraid of flaunting a lot of color in Rio.
Add the literal colorfulness to the laid-back spirit, fun-loving people, music everywhere and vibrant culture and party scene (including of course, Carnival) – and you’ve got one colorful city.
All in all, it’s pretty hard not to love Rio…