There’s definitely something in the water in Brazil’s biggest party town, Rio de Janeiro, that keeps natives and visitors alike in a constant state of euphoria. Perhaps it’s the perpetually pleasant weather. Or the caipirinha, the country’s signature rum-like cocktail that will ensure you don’t go thirsty. Maybe it’s the overabundance of sand and sea that bless A Cidade Maravihlosa (Rio’s nickname, meaning the Marvelous City). Or better yet, the plethora of perfectly sculpted bodies that further embellish the beaches. Well, whatever it may be, we want a little of what they’re drinking–even if for only a day.
When to Go: Anytime of year. Temperatures rarely dip below 70s during any month. June through November see the lowest amount of rainfall, though the months that follow can be a bit damp. High season spans December through March, when those who reside in cold-weather destinations flee south for a sunny escape. Prices as much as quadruple during Carnaval, which begins midnight on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and lasts for five days, as they do during Rio’s massive New Year’s celebration, Reveillon, where millions of people all donning white descend upon Copacabana Beach for a night they’ll never forget (or quite possibly will, depending on the amount of caipirinha consumption.
Where to Stay: While Copacabana Palace is the most famous hotel in Rio, if not all of Brazil, it’s accordingly a bit hard on the wallet (rooms begin upwards of $500 a night). It might be wiser to absorb its opulence through a drink at the hotel bar and save by booking a cheaper room elsewhere. Likewise, nearby Pestana isn’t cheap, but its location is ideal and the view from the rooftop pool (open to people not staying at the hotel) is incomparable. For more affordable rooms, veer away from Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches and try Hotel Novo Mundo Rio in Flamengo or the InterContinental on Sao Conrado Beach.
Where to Eat: Something to know before you go is Brazilians eat a might hearty lunch, often at a steakhouse, and go light on the dinner, with small tapas-like plates (often fried) consumed with drinks. Marius is one of the kitschier (and more fun) establishments with its trinkets and doodads–like antique cash registers, old-school camers, bicycles and the like–hanging from the ceilings and walls. It serves up an impressive lunchtime spread and every type of meat imaginable. Santo Scenarium, sister to popular antique-store-cum-bar/nightclub Rio Scenarium, is worthy of a meal, and Espirito Santa in Santa Teresa, utilizing specialties from the Amazon, is a personal favorite and not to be missed.
What to Do: Your first stop should be Corcovado Mountain, home to Christ the Redeemer, one of the world’s most recognized landmarks. Reach the summit by way of a vertical cable car. While on the subject of mountains, Sugarloaf, shaped as it sounds, is a must-see attraction and offers even better views of the ocean and surrounding area than Corcovado. A series of aerial trams will carry you all the way to the tip-top.
Football–erm, that’s soccer if you’re American–fanatics won’t want to pass on a stop at Estádio do Maracanã, which formerly saw Brazilian legend Pele lace up his boots on a regular basis and will host the 2014 World Cup.
Beaches, beaches and more beaches. Simply put, you don’t go to Rio if you don’t like the beach, and the laid-back city has more plots of sand (and accordingly, thong-clad bikini models) than it knows what to do with. Copacabana Beach, rimmed by a wave-patterned sidewalk, is perhaps the most famous, though not nearly as packed as Ipanema, with its Posto 9 that attracts the rich, famous and beautiful by the masses. For a quieter, more relaxing experience, visit Prainha, Pepino and Sao Conrado.