By Randee Dawn
If you’re heading to Rio di Janerio this August, you’re almost certainly going for one specific reason: the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. And with organizers expecting over 10,000 athletes and more than 500,000 foreign toursts expected to descend on one of Brazil’s most legendary cities, there’s no question that if you go you’ll be very, very busy.
But what if you want a brief break from the games? You could be like every other tourist and check out one of the Seven Wonders of the World by visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado mountain or spend your time lounging on one of the country’s legendary beaches (Ipanema, anyone?) … or you could decide to step off the beaten path and try one of these four other fabulous, not-to-be-missed spots!
Covering over 340 acres of the South Zone of Rio, the botanical wonderland known as Jardim Botânico will thrill you, whether you want to spend two hours or half of a day. More than 6,000 indigenous and exotic species of flora (including 900 different kinds of palm trees) and 140 species of friendly birds, monkeys and marmosets cover the expansive acreage, which was set up in 1808 to help bring spice plants to the country. It opened to the public in 1822 and now features both guided and self-driven thematic tours. Note: There is no public parking, but you can get there using various bus lines.
Anyone looking into what Rio’s really like will quickly hear about its famous favelas, or slums. Originally homes for poor soldiers, then former slaves, they’ve become both revered as Rio’s heart and shunned as centers for crime. But wait – don’t stop reading yet: The highly-touted “Don’t Be a Gringo, Be a Local” company runs tours in one of the safer favelas for visitors who want to see the real Rio. In addition to exploring the twisty lanes and unique architecture of the favela, visitors (who are very welcome in the neighborhoods the company visits) have opportunities to buy art, jewelry, clothing and baked products – as well as visit the local orphanage. As the company’s website notes, “If you really want to understand Brazilian society, do not leave Rio without having done the Favela Tour.”
Feira de São Cristóvão
If you’re hearing “market” and thinking a quaint little farmer’s market, think again: There’s enough space to accommodate 250,000 people in the open-roofed shopping hub (which will probably remind you of a sports stadium) known as the Centro Luiz Gonzaga de Tradições Nordestinas, in the São Cristóvão neighborhood. While you can visit Tuesday and Thursday for lunch, the party really gets started beginning at 10am on Friday – and it runs for 24 hours a day through Sunday. Inside you’ll delight to dancing, food (note that if a menu says 2p or 3p, that means how many people the dish will serve), improvised musical poetry known as repente – it’s half improv, half karaoke, and highly audience participatory – and of course lots of shopping. Restaurant recommendation: Maria & Getulio, which features traditional northeastern Brazilian dishes.
Mount Kilimanjaro at Águas Quentes Country Club
Feeling the heat? Want to pretend you’re an Olympic swimmer? Then don’t miss out on Mount Kilimanjaro at Águas Quentes Country Club: 50 tons of steel, 20 tons of fiberglass – the tallest body slide in the world outside the US. At just under 164 feet high, people have been clocked at going 57 mph down the slide – assuming they’re brave enough to take the plunge. The Aldeia das Águas Park Resort features all kinds of bodies of water for visitors, including tubing opportunities, 17 pools, ziplines, restaurants and saunas – so you can get away while getting away from it all.