Letras de mi Corazon – Part 3 : Samba

I understand it’s been a while since the earlier post….but that was intentional in view of recent events in my beloved Mexico and Cuba. But the show must go on…and nothing should stop you from making that trip there. But first, get your samba groove on and let’s go to Rio – known to locals as a city with a beautiful day.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new city is to see, enjoy and experience the place like a local. This is the selling point of the Urban Adve#ntures Tour – hash tagged ‘The Best Day Ever’. We read about this company during our research and the glowing reviews of a guide named Daniel. We were being looked on favourably and we had an epic start to our holiday with Daniel during the Total Rio Tour Combo 1 tour. It’s an eight hour tour, costs approximately USD 149 per person and covers the bohemian jewel Santa Theresa, a visit to the all-embracing Corcovado Christ the Redeemer and Santa Marta Favela, known to most as it was pictured in Michael Jackson’s video ‘They Don’t Care about Us.’

Why we loved the Urban Adventures Tour…

  • small group tours, almost like a private tour. For the morning, it was Parveen and myself and in the afternoon, we were a group of five;
  • we travelled like locals and took public transportation for most parts – the metro ride to downtown area, tram to Santa Teresa, Uber to town and the coach to Corcovado;
  • we never felt like we were part of a tour ensemble – following the pied piper. Instead, it felt like a friend was showing us his home country;
  • the tour is an excellent introduction to Rio, her beauty and people; and
  • was one of our best days ever!

Our favourites…

  • the Santa Teresa tour – Rio’s hippy, bohemian neighbourhood with decorated walls of graffiti art. Recommended for souvenier shopping as the items found at the artisan shops here are of good quality and decent price. Also, credit cards are widely accepted.
  • viewpoint from one of the art galleries at Santa Teresa – the name escapes me. Picture this in a panoramic view – Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain at either ends of the frame, and the domestic airport in the centre with airplanes taking off at regular intervals like butterflies in the sky. Wow!
  • discovering Portella Bar (we saw this place during our tour and stopped by on our free day in Rio for a delicious meal and refreshingly good passion fruit Caipirinhas).
  • our samba down the studded and framed staircase – Escadaria Selaron. It’s impossible not to stop along the tiled masterpiece and admire the words, colours and messages that decorate these stairs. But, for postcard pictures, strike a pose (recommend sitting) three to four steps above the words ‘Escadaria Selaron’.
  • a local’s reflection and stories of living in the Santa Marta Favela and wonderful moments with the kids who showed us their music and dance choreography.

For more details of the tour inclusions and itenary, please see UA Rio Total Tour Combo 1

My ultimate highlight during the tour was the visit to Corcovado – Christ the Redeemer. This is when it actually sunk in that I was in Rio. In December 2015, I visited Ho Chi Minh with my mom and we took a day trip to Vung Tao, where we made an eight hundred forty seven step climb. Taking that journey with ammah darling was amazing and at that point, it was the closest I dreamt of being next to beloved Christ of Corcovado. A year later, here I was glowing under the radiance of his embrace. Tears of happiness trickled down my eyes as I stood in awe capturing the magic of the moment. No words. Period. The trip here is smooth, hassle free and accessible to those with limited mobility too – takes less than five drops of sweat to get to the main view point. Wish we had a bit more time though to enjoy the place. The statue of Christ was chosen to be placed here as he could be viewed from most parts of the city and he has his protective arms around the people of Rio.

Some of our other highlights in beautiful Rio :

Visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain – this was my favourite view point of Rio. Spectacularly sensational and no time spent here felt enough. The trip here could be easily done on your own and getting up to the viewpoint is easy – two cable car rides and limited steps. Tickets can be purchased at the station located at Praia Vermelha (Red Beach). The cable car services run frequently between 8am and 9pm – but do check before your trip for updated information.  The first ride is to Urca Mountain and the second ride is up to Sugar Loaf where you get a phenomenal 360 view of gorgeous gorgeous Rio. Once you get off the second cable car, find a spot a short distance away and wave your selfie stick for one of the best selfies ever – a descending cable car, Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer and Guanabara Bay all captured in a single frame. If marvelous had a face, besides Iron Man, that would be it J If you can, plan a trip during sunset or if you have time, see it during the day and sunset.

‘Divido Dos Por Favor’

Whenever we said this, it was bound to raise a few eyebrows or stir giggles amongst the locals. The drinks in Rio are fabulous but super potent – hence it was tradition, that we tell the bar tender to divide the drinks to two :=) Try an original first before you say our popular phrase 😉

Chilling along the beach shacks at Copacabana

Time slips by as you soak in the view along the Copacabana beach. There’s nothing obstructing the beach and it is a playground available for all. Beach bums, exercise enthusiasts, gamers, lovers, and artists – with their creative sand art creations. Another popular group here are the peanut sellers…they pass by dropping peanut samples for you to taste. Initially, we sampled them we had our drinks but a few tastings later, we realized that if you sample, it’s polite to buy. Tip for you – do not sample if you are not keen on buying.

The people – bold and frank

They do not dress up their words and the same goes with food. If you order pork and pineapple sandwich – that’s exactly what you get – a large slice of pork, round pineapple slice in white bread. No extras, no fancy plates or swish side dishes.  Portions are quite large, especially when compared to the Asian plate sizes. Initially, all of this is an adjustment because our expectations are such that we are always looking for something else, something other than what’s presented before us. However, as time passes, the frankness is refreshing and encourages one to reframe your outlook.


I am a big fan of sunsets and chase them wherever I am. Arpoador, along the Ipanema beach is popular with the locals. A short walk up a hill or climb up a set of roughly cut stairs. Get a pina colada or caprioska from one of the vendors there and float with your thoughts as you admire natures painting.  At the end of the sunset, there’s a little applause – a lovely way to say thanks and being grateful to be present.

Nightlife @ Lapa – Lapa offers many options but as locals, our favourite was a relaxed, cosy bar called Carioca de Gema (the local’s gem). Food is not the best here, so we recommend getting a bite elsewhere. But the music and drinks are fabulous. You are definitely in for a treat with the local music scene. Split in two levels with a stage on the ground floor – this is a musician’s home.

Where to stay?

There are many options but the closer to the beach, the costlier. We chose to stay within 10-15 minutes walking distance of Copacabana. We tried two different hotels, the first called Mar Palace Copacabana along Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copabana and the second called Premier Copacabana Hotel along Rua Tonelero. Average nightly price for both places were about USD100 per night for two including breakfast.

What to buy?

Cachaca (these could be picked up from the airport but please remind the staff to seal the bags), fridge magnets (we bought so many during our trip we could open a magnet shop), swimwear, sandals and flip flops (Havaiana, Ipanema or both). If pressed for time, Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copabana is a convenient high street option to browse around.

Rio left a very special place in my heart. I had pictured the images from movies and glossy magazines but what I witnessed was real – no fuss, no flair – just confident and carefree people, who enjoyed each day, making time for life’s priorities – happiness and good health. Rio truly is a CARIOCA DA GEMA.

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