I finally married Nicola on the 13th April 2019. A couple of days after the wedding, we boarded a plane to Rio de Janeiro, to start our three-week honeymoon in Brazil and Argentina.
For the first couple of days in Rio we were staying in Santa Teresa, an area in the north of Rio, before we headed down to the beaches for the full Rio de Janeiro experience.
Santa Teresa & Lapa
Santa Teresa is a beautiful ramshackle neighbourhood flanked by favelas to the south and west. A labyrinth of cobbled streets and jungle-encrusted buildings, quirky bars, artist studios and pop-up restaurants, it was the perfect place to start our week in Rio.
Our hotel, the Sofitel MGallery Santa Teresa, was a haven of calm and solitude away from the hustle and bustle of Rio, so we could relax and talk at length about every detail of our wedding day. Our bedroom had a view of Christ the Redeemer from one window, and a view of Guanabara Bay from the other. Parrots swooped around outside, and rickety old trams clattered past the hotel entrance. The swimming pool, tiled with Portuguese azulejos, sat in a corner of the lush garden of palms and fountains, surrounded with hardwood sun loungers with crisp linen cushions. It felt like a proper honeymoon hotel.
But we were in Rio de Janeiro, and didn’t want to waste any time relaxing. Within about ten minutes of arriving at the poolside, I had my Lonely Planet book open, marking down all the things to see, and all the restaurants to eat at. I worked out we’d need to spend roughly 33 days in Rio to make the most of it. We had just five; it was time to head out into town.
Our first stop was the Escadaria Selarón, where a chap called Jorge Selarón started making a mosaic on some stairs in the 1980s. No-one stopped him and he soon got a bit carried away, covering the entire staircase in bits of broken pottery. I wasn’t massively impressed, but fair play to the chap for his perseverance. Apparently he was found dead on the same steps a couple years ago, which everyone seems to treat as completely normal. Such is the way of life in Brazil.
You can’t visit Rio without experiencing samba, and we headed to the party district of Lapa, a short hop from Santa Teresa. One of the most famous samba clubs is Rio Scenarium, its high walls adorned with hundreds of musical instruments, clocks, and a mish-mash of antiques. The lights were low, the caipirinhas were strong and the samba band was a-playing. We sat for a couple of hours, watching the dancing and listening to the band over multiple drinks. The music is certainly infectious; at one point I did a weird double-step-tap on the way to the toilet, and realised it was probably time for a glass of water.
Crime is a bit of a problem in Rio, and you’re advised not to walk around Santa Teresa or carry too much cash. We opted to take taxis wherever possible, as they all accept cards. At least, in theory they do. In one particular taxi every one of our credit and debit cards failed to work on the card reader, so we asked the driver to take us to the nearest cash machine. Through his broken English and our broken Portuguese, we discovered that Santa Teresa has no cash machines, and the nearest was in a metro station a 20 minute drive away.
I rifled through my wallet and found a crisp £5 note, which I offered to the driver as a last-ditch attempt to pay. He looked suspiciously at the note for a few seconds, then the security chap at our hotel leaned into the car window and let him know that it was worth well over three times the actual fare. The driver happily took the note, Nicola and I sheepishly went into the hotel, and we agreed that the reputation of Brits abroad is thoroughly deserved.
The next morning we packed up and travelled thirty minutes to Ipanema, an area that’s described by Lonely Planet as where “Rio’s beautiful people flock to the beaches”. We knew we would blend in perfectly. Our hotel in Ipanema had a beautiful panoramic beach view, but only if if you leaned out of the window at a precarious angle and clung onto the handle. So in order to get a proper view we headed to the 23rd floor of the nearby Sofitel Rio de Janeiro Ipanema for cocktails by the rooftop pool. From there, we could see all along the beach to the iconic mountains, and we watched the sunset over the sea while massive, slightly foreboding frigate birds soared overhead.
The next day we took the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. The view over the city was magnificent; it’s from this height that you appreciate just how big Rio is. It’s a massive, sprawling city. Brightly painted favelas nestle on hillsides, teetering tower blocks line the sandy shores of Ipanema and Copacabana, and the Christ the Redeemer statue surveys the whole scene from a distant mountain.
That evening we headed to Churrascaria Palace, a restaurant was recommended by several sources. The general idea is that waiters come around with food on swords, which they serve to you in unlimited quantities until you plead with them in broken Portuguese to stop bringing meat. Some of the food was delicious, and some was not. I think they knew the good cuts of meat, as these came around a lot less frequently. One thing you could guarantee was that every two minutes the waiter would emerge with another glistening skewer of picanha steak which he’d then brandish at all the protesting diners. After we’d eaten our fill, we kept eating for another hour or so, then rolled ourselves back to our hotel.
Continuing our theme of ‘going up high stuff in Rio’, we rose early on Good Friday and headed to Corcovado, the mountain that’s home to Christ the Redeemer. A little cog railway takes you up the slopes through the largest urban forest in the world. At the top, monkeys leap around and occasionally try to pinch people’s bags. We took one of the first trains, as we’d been told this was the best way to avoid the crowds. Sure enough, when we arrived at the foot of the statue, we were among the first people there. But the people who were there were already taking photos of themselves posing as the statue, which we watched mockingly for a few minutes before doing exactly the same thing ourselves.
Over the Easter weekend, many cariocas (that’s the Rio word for locals) took to the beach, so we joined them. We sat on Ipanema Beach people-watching for the morning, as families set up camp on the sand. A surprising number of beach sellers walked up and down, offering everything from sunglasses and bikinis to ice creams and drinks. A few carried mini barbecue grills, ready to cook you some prawns from their cool box. And all of them accepted chip and pin payments, which still amuses me.
We wandered along the coast towards one of Rio’s most well-known spots, Copacabana Beach. With the famous pavement mosaic under our feet, the high rises on our left, the sweeping sandy beach to our right, and Sugarloaf Mountain up ahead, this really felt like we were in the Rio from postcards. We stopped at a beach kiosk, accidentally ordered a vast platter of onion rings and sat soaking up the sights, sounds and sea air of this marvellous city.
After a wonderful, exhausting and relaxing week in Rio, it was soon time to move to the next stage of our honeymoon. Next stop, Ilha Grande.
We stayed at: Hotel Santa Teresa Rio Collection MGallery (santateresahotelrio.com)
We also stayed at: Ipanema Inn (ipanemainn.com.br)
We ate picanha at: Churrascaria Palace (churrascariapalace.com.br)