6 Best-Kept Secrets in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1. Samba schools throughout the year
Carnival isn’t the only time to experience the spectacle and beat of Rio’s samba schools. As soon as Carnival finishes many of these schools will start rehearsals for the following year.
These practice performances can be seen for cheap and will become more and more elaborate the closer it gets to Carnival, with full-dress rehearsals in the months just prior.
I’ve seen performances in October that were as professional as anything I’ve seen in the Sambadrome during Carnival. Details can be found at the Rio Carnival site.
2. The Maze
Favela Tavares Basto is like no other in Rio — peaceful with constant police protection. There are no drugs and violence is very rare. It attracts artists and creative types wanting to enjoy the city’s vibrancy while staying away from the tourist enclaves and the edgy atmosphere of many of the other favelas.
Tavares Basto lies on top of a hill next to Botafogo/Catete where The Maze — a guesthouse/club — takes center stage. The best way to enjoy it is on Jazz Night — first Friday of every month. If nothing else, the views from the terrace, where you can see Christ, Sugarloaf, and Copacabana beach, are worth the trip up.
3. Ice cream
Ice cream can be bought on almost every corner in Rio de Janeiro, where flavours like mango, passionfruit, and açai are as common to buy as fruit juice or a sandwich. There are parlours that offer more inventive flavours too, and some even offer home delivery.
One of my favourites is Mil Frutas, with shops in Ipanema, Leblon, and down the road from the Botanical Gardens. Their flavours — like white chocolate with jabuticaba or cupuaçu and combining amazonian fruits — are wild. I still dream about the Orange Ginger Delight I had on my last visit.
Keep an eye open for the frozen yoghurt stores like Yogoberry. They are extremely popular in Rio and also have a tonne of flavours to choose from. Plus, even the non-fat ones seem to taste great.
4. Rio’s Surf Bus / Rio’s surf beaches
I can’t decide which is the biggest secret, Rio’s Surf Bus or it’s amazing surf beaches. Either way, these two easily go hand in hand as something that any surfer — beginner or pro — as well as any fan of beaches should know about. Those who are thinking of heading down the coast to Ubatuba or Lopez Mendez should have a look at some of the options in Rio beforehand.
The Surf Bus, which is specially designed to transport surfboards, runs three times a day from Rio’s city centre to its more western beaches, with another three return buses to bring you back. It’s in this direction that you will find some of the most consistent beaches on this whole coastline.
The first notable beach after Ipanema (with its Arpoador surf spot the most popular in the city) is Barra da Tijuca, a 12km stretch of sand perfect for beginner and expert surfers (and kitesurfers). Next is Recreio, an untouched beach, perfect even for those with no interest in surfing. This is followed by two more beaches: Macumba and Prainha.
All four of these are great for surf, and they offer an alternative from the beaches normally associated with Rio thanks to their tropical landscape.
The hostel Rio Surf n Stay recently opened near Macumba beach, in a perfect spot for anyone wishing to learn to surf in Rio or have easy access to the beach.
5. Plano B
A good first Friday night in Rio is the Lapa street party. However, if you’re like me and are looking for something a bit different, there’s another scene in Lapa.
Plano B is one of the few places in Rio to have international DJs that bring a mixture of electronica, techno, and dub every week. Beers can be bought from the fridge inside or at any of the bars in Lapa.
There’s always a crowd of indie-types both inside and outside the shop (Plano B is a record store during the day) and even on the quieter weekday nights they show films. If you’re a skin-flint like me or want to do something outside of the mainstream this is the place to be.
6. Rock climbing
Rio is one of the best places in the world for rock climbing. I’ve met many a French climber who agrees. There are two options: urban climbing around the city, or proper rock climbing in Tijuca Forest. But it’s for the urban climbing that Rio gets its status.
The big city climb is Sugarloaf, one of the major attractions of Rio. It’s a great opportunity to climb close to your hostel and enjoy the views of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Flamengo’s beaches, especially great around sunset when the nightlife begins to buzz and lights illuminating the beaches stretch for miles.
If you’d like to see a different perspective on Rio, check out Hang Gliding Over Rio de Janeiro.
Matador Nights has Carnival covered. In planning your trip for the famous festival, don’t miss 8 Essential Tips for Carnival in Rio. Or, for a taste of Carnival in other cities, Julie Schwietert has some great photos in Brazilian Carnaval: Going Beyond Rio.