How to Spend 10 Days Around Rio de Janeiro
I’m recently back home in Canada, after travelling around Europe and South America for the past 6 months.
This was my second long-term trip in the past two years, and I really can’t wait to hit the road again. I have a passion for travel that probably exceeds that of the average joe, and my ultimate goal is to convince people like you to just go for it. There’s no time like the present to achieve your life or travel dreams. If you’ve been dreaming about it, take a tip from Nike and JUST DO IT.
In my first two articles for Smaller Earth, I shared the best ways I discovered how to travel on a budget. I gave you everything I learned, both before leaving and during my travels. If you haven’t already, check them out.
In this article, I’m reminiscing about a country I fell in love with immediately upon arrival. Brazil is one of a kind, in an absolutely positive way. I easily could’ve stayed in Brazil for months. After only 3.5 weeks, it became one of my favourite countries I’ve visited (and trust me, I’ve visited my fair share). Here, I’ll share my suggestions for the ultimate 10 day trip to Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding area. I feel that Brazil is still under the radar for most people, especially my fellow Canadians.
So, I’m here to encourage you to add Brazil to your travel list A.S.A.P. I promise, you won't regret it!
Welcome to Rio
The sprawling city of Rio de Janeiro can be a bit overwhelming. I've helped break down the ideal time to spend here, as well as what to expect upon arrival.
If you're going to Rio, plan to stay for a while.
I'd built a rough itinerary before leaving for my trip, which had me staying there for only three days. That quickly turned into 6 days after extending my stay multiple times. 5-7 days is an ideal amount of time to spend in Rio, although closer to 10 days will allow you to truly see it all. I've written an itinerary based on a 6-day stay in Rio, and added on a 3 day stay on one of my new favourite islands, and a day in a great little colonial town called Paraty.
Arrival in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo
No matter where in the world you're coming from, you'll likely arrive in either Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. Most international flights to Brazil will have you start your journey in one of these two places. Beginning my journey, I planned to travel into Argentina after Brazil. That meant that starting in Rio and continuing my way south made the most sense.
If you're planning a short trip to Rio, take a lesson from me - stay longer. Rio was mind-blowing. This city has it all. Stunning beaches, exhausting but rewarding hikes, and outstanding nightlife. Best of all, Rio has some of the most delightful people you will ever meet - but this last point is true for all of Brazil.
It's hard to decide what neighbourhood to base yourself in during your stay. I did my research before leaving, and knew that I wanted to stay close to one of the famous beaches.
The neighbourhoods of Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon are great options, close to everything. They're also some of Rio's safest communities. With the metro system and Uber being extremely efficient, it is easy to get around to the other areas of Rio. There are tons of hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s, so you've got lots of options. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find it in these neighbourhoods.
Day 1 & 2: Ipanema and Copacabana
If you’ve only got 48 hours in Rio de Janeiro, there are a few things you shouldn’t miss. Top on my list: the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and hiking Morro Dois Irmãos. Yes, the beaches are crowded, but there’s a reason for that. Trust me, you won't want to miss them.
As for Dois Irmãos, it's probably the best of the many popular treks around the area. It provides you with breathtaking 360-degree views overlooking the city and ocean. You’ll also have the opportunity to experience the Vidigal favela, before and after your hike. For sunset, make sure to check out the rocky peninsula of Pedro do Arpoador. The dividing point between the two beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema is a nice stroll from either of these neighbourhoods. Make your way east along the beach in Ipanema, or south along the beach if you're staying in Copacabana.
Day 3 & 4: Flowers and Futebol
If you want to escape the city within the city, I've got just the thing for you. Take a few hours to explore the beautiful and peaceful botanical gardens and the varied plantlife. I didn’t think I had an interest in this sort of thing, but I was amazed by the beauty and quaint feeling within. For the rest of my time in South America, I found myself visiting the various botanical gardens in each city.
Next, if you happen to be in Rio at the right time, I highly recommend taking in a “futebol” match at the iconic Maracanã stadium. The atmosphere before, during, and after the match was incredible. It's something I definitely want to experience again when I make my return to Brazil.
Day 5 & 6: Dance the Samba
If, like me, you’re lucky enough to stay for almost a week, here are a couple more things you should catch if you have time.
Before leaving this fun and sun-filled city, do yourself a favour. Spend a day, followed by an eventful night out, in the Santa Teresa/Lapa neighbourhoods. The area is Rio’s well-known bohemian district. It's home to the famous Escadaria Selaron, a large, colourful set of stairs that are handmade from various painted tiles. Lapa has some of the best nightlife in the city. It's a great place to experience what true Brazilian culture has to offer. Do your best to learn how to dance to the famous samba or reggaeton!
Moving on from Rio
Well, I hope it’s clear by now that Rio is a city that deserves AT LEAST one week. You probably noticed that I didn’t even talk about the most famous landmark attractions, Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain. Unfortunately, my time in this spectacular city came too quickly to an end. I had to move on before being able to visit these places. Oh, well - another excuse to make my way back there, sooner rather than later!
Next up, head south to the Island of Ilha Grande, and then to the small colonial town of Paraty. If you've got time, both of these destinations are very much worth seeing.
Days 7-10: Ilha Grande and Paraty
I won't lie, I didn't have much knowledge of this “big island” before arriving in Brazil. I didn’t know what to expect of Ilha Grande, located a little more than 150 kilometers from Rio. But all it took was the slow boat ride from the mainland to know that I was going to love it. The crystal clear waters, stunning beaches, and lack of vehicular commotion are a few of the things that make this destination a true oasis. Even though it's an island, there are still plenty of options in regards to accommodation. The majority are in the Abraão area, and I personally would recommend Holandês Hostel. This hostel is an oasis within the oasis of Ilha Grande itself. It's ideally located, offers a delicious free breakfast, and has incredible staff.
Dedicate one full day of hiking to Lopes Mendes, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Brazil. Make sure to hit the trails early in the morning, to avoid both the heat and the crowds at the beach. It was truly a sight to see, gazing out over such a vast beach that was nearly empty when we first arrived. It’s very popular to hire a boat and tour around the island. If you're unsure of where to go, do your best to communicate with your local guide. Have them take you to their favourite spots! Due to the weather, I didn’t have the chance to do it while I was there - I hope you have better luck!
Enjoy the rest of your time on the island - you'll have lots of activities to do. Make the most of it - go on an island trek, go scuba diving, and dance with the locals. Most importantly, eat as much of the island's delicious seafood as you can.
Next up, and the final stop on this itinerary, is the small colonial town of Paraty. To no one's surprise, Paraty is on the rise as a tourist hotspot in Brazil. The captivating architecture and the surrounding natural beauty make this place a must-see. When you're there, make sure to spend a morning strolling through the historic city centre. You’ll be able to enjoy the white-washed buildings and cobblestone streets.
There are plenty of activities outside of the town to help you fill your afternoon or following days. I embarked on a tour with a couple friends to visit the collection of waterfalls close by. Before heading into the jungle to see the first waterfall, stop at the local Cachaça distillery. Cachaça is Brazil’s national beverage, and the main ingredient in the famous Caipirinha cocktail. Spend your day chasing waterfalls and seeing monkeys along the way (I was lucky enough to feed them). Afterward, return to the quaint town of Paraty to catch the sunset by the water.
The End of Your Journey
Time flies - just like that, your 10 days in Rio de Janeiro has come to an end. If this is your last stop, hop on a bus and make your way back to the city to catch your flight. If, like me, you're at the very beginning of your journey, you've got a few options of where to continue after Paraty. If you want to stay on the coast and enjoy the beach bum life, make your way to the coastal town of Ubatuba. You can also continue even further south, and take in another majestic island, Ilha Bela. The other logical route from Paraty is to venture to a different type of jungle; the concrete jungle that is São Paulo.
So, that’s a wrap. An eventful, adventurous, and much too brief time in the Brazil state of Rio de Janeiro has come to an end. (For those who aren't aware, Rio de Janeiro is the name of the state, as well as the city). I hope you'll add this incredible country to your list of upcoming travels, or at least do some research on it. There’s a reason why it’s now my new favourite country in the world!
For now, take care of yourself - and remember, adventure is out there.