DEEP BLUE SEA, GOLDEN SAND, GREEN BIRDS, BEACHES FILLED WITH COLORFUL PARASOLS, AND GRAFFITI ON THE WALLS… RIO DE JANEIRO WELCOMES YOU WITH A MYRIAD COLORS.

 

The first South American city to host the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro has undergone a hectic preparation period and is now ready for the 2016 Summer Olympics which will be held from August 5 to 21. Let’s go on a tour of this colorful and vibrant city, which mesmerizes visitors with its new sports centers and natural beauties.

The centers of Rio de Janeiro (meaning “River of January”), which dates back to the 16th century, are the districts of Centro, Santa Teresa, and Lapa. The newest and most popular venues, as well as the city's  historic landmarks are located in these areas. I begin exploring in Centro.

The Municipality Theater is a must-see place here. Opened in 1909, the museum is decorated with paintings by Visconti and Amoedo. Even if you cannot catch a performance, make sure you visit this theater hall famous for its wonderful interior design. The nearby Museum of National History is regarded as one of the most important museums in Brazil. Built in the mid-19th century, this structure was used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until the capital was moved to Brasilia. Adjacent to the history museum is the Museu da Imagem e do Som, which organizes audiovisual events, and about 30-minute walk is the Museum of Tomorrow.  Focusing on ideas rather than on objects, the ecological Museum of Tomorrow is admired by visitors due to its snow-white façade and skeleton-like architecture.

The bohemian center of the city, Lapa, is to the south of Centro. Selaron Steps, covered with colorful mosaics, is one of the most popular landmarks in the district. A local living in this street tells me about the story of the steps: the Chilean painter and ceramic artist Jorge Selaron visited Rio in the 1980 and he immediately fell in love with the city and its people, and decided to build these steps named after him. With an intention to color up the place he lived, the artist started to cover the steps with ceramic pieces brought from all across the world and left this beautiful artwork as a gift to the Brazilian folk.

As I walk from Lapa to Santa Teresa, I come across monkeys jumping from one tree to another. I hesitated at first but got used to them as they were all around the city, roaming the gardens and parks. Located at the junction of Lapa and Santa Teresa, Carioca Aqueduct was built in the 18th century to bring clean water to the city. Since the 1800s, Santa Teresa Tram, famous for its yellow color, passes through this aqueduct; it is one of the finest examples of Brazilian colonial architecture. This train, of which almost all visitors take a photograph, is a remainder of the oldest electrical rail system in Latin America.

Samba is one of the first things that come to mind when talking about Rio de Janeiro. All across town, you can hear different samba tunes. I’m surprised to learn that there are various types of samba. The locals take pride in samba and are very eager to teach you about it, to explain its different variations and introduce you to famous samba musicians. Organized every february, Rio Carnival is  one of the world’s largest festivals and takes place in Sambadrome. Designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, this structure will host archery and athletics games in the Olympics. Another activity associated with Rio is of course football. Any time of the day, you can find people playing football on the beach, in parks or in the streets. The Iconic Mara-

cana Stadium proves how important football is for Rio de Janeiro. Built for the FIFA World Cup in 1950, the stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as football games throughout the Olympics.

Lined side by side, the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon are filled with colorful parasols on weekends are among the world’s most popular vacation spots. Inviting visitors to relax under the sun on fine, 

golden sand, these beaches offer various water sports such as surfing, snorkeling and hand paddling. Built for the Olympics, the Beach Volleyball Arena is at the beginning of Copacabana. After a 25-minute walk, I reach Ipanema, where I see the bronze statue of Antônio Carlos Jobim, the composer of the song “The Girl from Ipanema.” Those who seek calm relaxation head towards Leblon.

It’s said Rio is best seen from above. You’ll see how true this is when you climb one of the imposing mountains around the city and admire the view. Named Sugarloaf Mountain due to its shape, Pro de Acucar, and Corcovado Mountain, where Christ the Redeemer statue is located, are the two most popular of Rio's mountains. You can ride the cable car to the top but if you’re confident, you can follow the challenging but safe climbing routes as well. The view is really breath-taking at the top.

 If you start climbing in the late afternoon, the verdant parks with the setting sun in the background make for a priceless experience. Another place you can enjoy the sunset is the harbor where dozens of yachts and boats are docked side by side. The shoreline is a meeting place, especially popular among teenagers during after-school hours.

Like every coastal city, Rio’s cuisine is dominated by seafood. Usually served with fries, vegetables or rice, the delicious seafood dishes are an essential part of the locals' daily eating habits. But I strongly recommend that you stop by the Sunday markets, found on every corner, to try fruits you’ve never even heard of. They’re all very delicious but I especially liked the lasting taste of mango. Tapioca, a sweet or salty dish sold by street vendors wandering around the city, is a healthy snack. Made from the Yucca tree, tapioca may resemble a white crepe but it tastes much different. Don’t forget to try the mouth-watering coconut juice; it can be found almost everywhere in Rio. When you finish the juice, ask the seller to crack the shell so that you can taste the coconut meat. It’s hard to find coconuts them this tasty!

Rio has many parks and forests you can visit when you’d like a break from the city’s hustle. Flamengo Park has cycling and skating routes and is especially preferred by families with kids. You can explore endemic plants at Jardim Botanica. Located at the foot of Corcovado Mountain, Park Lage is home to an old mansion used as a visual arts school and café. Tijuca Forest is a great place to try hand gliding. If you visit these parks on the weekends, you’ll see people of all ages jamming with their instruments. Find a place in the shade and take part in this hours-long musical performance.

Blending nature with urban life, Rio is not only a great host for the Summer Olympics. With its natural beauties and surprises, it promises its visitors much more.

 

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