Updated: Jul 4, 2022
Her name is Rio...I'm sure some of you know this song lyric...well it was playing in my head a majority of my flight from Miami to Rio de Janeiro. Eight hours is the longest flight I've had since India in 2020, and the first international flight I've done since Covid.
I made sure to get to the airport early, as I knew it would be busy as the Miami airport always is, plus I did not want any issues with all the Covid regulations. For Brazil, you must have a negative Covid test to enter 24 hours prior plus I had my vaccination too. With doing all of this ahead of time, I was able to go straight to the counter to check in. I nearly lost it when the agent said my test wasn't valid (I was flying American Airlines btw). Fifteen minutes later he came back and apologized for the inconvenience....supposedly the rules/regulations were changing everyday (this is back in February 2022), so I was like not a problem. I just wanted to make sure I got on the flight. From here, TSA was a breeze and I got dinner to eat to hold myself over since I would be eating snacks on the flight. The flight was a redeye that would get me into Rio at 6AM, and I just wanted to sleep. That didn't really happen as I wasn't tired...even after a full weekend at SOBEWFF.
I landed, and customs was the easiest ever. I was through everything in 15-20 minutes, grabbed my bag, and hopped in an uber to head to the hotel, Hilton Rio Copacabana right on Copacabana beach. Working for Hilton, I utilized my travel benefits to get my friends and I two rooms, and we even got upgraded (diamond status came in handy). A few of my friends were already there, and initially I was going to nap for a few hours, but I was like let's just go to the beach. We headed right across the street to the beach, and you couldn't beat that after a travel day. The waves were huge, but the water was so relaxing. The hotel even had a little umbrella and chair area for hotel guests. After a few hours, the rest of the day was spent having lunch near the hotel (I ate Moqueca) and lounging at the 40th floor rooftop pool. The views and pool were epic! I've never seen anything like it. Dinner night one was a five course tasting that could accommodate gluten free (I was the only gf one in the group), and there were so many options to choose from. Plus gluten free bread too. From a tuna amuse bouche to fish to octopus to a fruity dessert, the meal was great.
Day 2 started off early as we were going on a tour of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain. We started with breakfast at the hotel around 630AM, and the buffet was insane. Tons of fresh fruit, pao de queijo (gluten free bread), gluten free waffles, gluten free baguettes, meats and cheeses, potatoes, and even an omelette bar with new pans to prevent cross contamination. There were several more baked goods and traditional dishes on the buffet, I just didn't have them. The tour kicked off around 730 with us heading to Christ the Redeemer first. The mayor was there that day, so it was extra crowded. Once you get to the ticket office, you take a bus up and a few escalators. There are 360 views of all of Rio. From there, we headed down and off to Centro and Santa Teresa, where we stopped at the steps and I tried Bacalhau. Bacalhau is codfish balls that are fried with tapioca flour, so no gluten in site. $1 for one and it was delicious. We hopped back in our tour van and drove over to Downtown and one of the famous churches, before riding the gondola up Sugarloaf Mountain. PS there are two gondolas, and you will want to go all the way to the top to start and work your way down. At the top, I had my first Acai Bowl and it was amazing. Super refreshing on a 90 degree day and just what I needed to hold me over until lunch. The area at both stops is huge, so we walked a round a while and took lots of pics. We headed back down and off to our hotel to conclude the tour. Lunch was a quick meal right by the hotel and light because we were going to a steakhouse for dinner.
Dinner was at CT Boucherie in Leblon, and this was one of my favorite meals of the trip. We started with a bottle of wine and of course ordered pao de queijo for apps. Then, you order your cut of choice of meat and out comes the meat with over a dozen endless sides. Mushroom and Onion Gratin, roasted potatoes, chips, polenta, rice, an applesauce like dish, roasted tomatoes, chickpea salad, stewed okra; it just kept coming and so much of it was gluten free. From here, we went out to a couple bars in Leblon with it being over Carnival so the streets were packed even for a weeknight.
Day 3 started off with the breakfast buffet of course and we were supposed to go Hanggliding; however, the winds had another story. It was a bit windy, which annoyed me so we instead had a chill day by going to an early lunch. From there, my friends headed back to the hotel to chill at the pool and I did some exploring. I really wanted to go to Arpoador, which is a rock formation between Copacabana and Ipanema. It was a few mile walk from lunch, so I strolled through the streets of Rio to it. I remember this spot from The Amazing Race, and if you know me you know I love going to spots the amazing race visited. The views out into the Atlantic and of Ipanema were epic. There was a nice breeze coming from the water and it was fantastic to be one with nature. I walked a bit back to the Fairmount and hopped in a cab from there. There was no way I was making it all the way down Copacabana. Today also happened to be my friend Alper's birthday, so when I got back our room was decorated thanks to the hotel and there was even dessert. We started the night early by going to Explorer Bar in Santa Teresa for happy hour (two drinks for $7, they are strong). I tried the Tel Aviv (my love for Israel) and Saint Guiseppe (vodka and lots of fruitiness). From there, we made the mistake of walking up the hill to dinner at Aprazivel. It said 1/2 mile, but it was straight up hills lol (Mike wanted to kill the rest of us at this point). We ordered a bunch of drinks and apps to get started. Then, I ordered fish for my entrée and flourless chocolate cake for dessert. The night was young cause we were meeting up with my brother's friend Noah who was also in Brazil. We headed back to Leblon, which is one of the going out areas and all met up. It was a giant street party again this night and the night was young.
Day 4 started slow with hanggliding being pushed until Friday cause of the winds, so we opted for a behind the scenes carnival tour. This tour took us to see the making of the floats for carnival, past performances, and even got to do a little Samba dancing and try on costumes. The last two were my favorite part cause there was no AC in the factory. We then had some time to explore the city, and I found a few bakeries and cafes with Flan and gluten free truffles; y'all know by now I love to eat. Dinner was simple, headed to a burger spot near Ipanema for a burger and fries. Somedays you just want a chill night, and this spot reminded me of Hopdoddy. I guess I wasn't full cause we then went for ice cream next door and I found gluten free pizza. At this point, I'm in a food coma and kinda want to go out but we have an early day ahead of us.
Day 5 would combine the rainforest and hanggliding. We started off by going to the rainforest and hiking to the waterfalls. Rio is unique because it has a rainforest in the city, and it was only about 20-25 minutes from our hotel on the beach. We started with a little bit of a walk into the forest, and from there the hiking begun. I love to hike and be outdoors, so I took the lead behind our guide. When we got to the first waterfall I was in awe. Probably my favorite site from the whole week. We got to spend time at each of the waterfalls and swim around. After the waterfalls, we headed to a viewpoint higher up; where we could see the whole city like Christ the Redeemer. Next was lunch at the hotel because we were headed out for hanggliding in the afternoon. Hanggliding was a go and our driver picked us up. We headed west to the suburban part of Rio, where we met our guides down below at the beach. From there, we split up 2 and 2 with two of us going hanggliding and two going paragliding. We gave our weights ahead of time, and everyone was supposed to go hanggliding, but c'est la vie. I was glad I was going hanggliding, the guides were just freaking me out when they said I'm at the weight limit. Everything went off without a hitch and I have the photos and videos to prove it. We chilled at the beach for a bit, while we waited for our footage. We headed to Centro for dinner at a local spot where we ordered a ton of food to share: Yucca, Meat and Potatoes, a West African dish, and so much more...I can't even remember. We couldn't even finish the food, and it was all authentic which I loved. We headed over to Rio Scenarium after dinner which is a multi level nightclub aka lots of dancing and more casual than the US.
The final day consisted of chilling by the pool, souvenir shopping and lunch at Galete Sats. This place was recommended at our hotel and I tried Feijoada, which is a bean and meat stew served with rice, beans and farofa. The staff even came around with Linguisa to sample (Brazilian sausage), and we ordered yucca for the table. From there, back to the hotel for a few hours at the pool before heading to the airport.
Rio was a trip I will always remember, as there were highs, lows, laughs, falls ) and so much in between. I couldn't recommend going enough to see all the sites and one week was plenty of time. You have the best of both worlds with beaches and mountains, plus of all my trips this year it was the best food yet. There are plenty of Brazilian dishes I want to recreate.