Holidaying in Rio De Janeiro

I was fortunate to be invited to keynote Agile Brazil this year, and thought it would terrible if I didn’t actually visit other parts of the country and take a bit of a holiday at the same time. This year’s conference is being held in Brasilia (Australia’s equivalent of Canberra) and I had a pretty much unanimous vote from everyone who is either from Brazil or had been to Brazil not to spend too much time there. So, to Rio as my first stop it was going to be. My plans changed a bit after an ex-colleague working for a asked for me to do another talk I am giving in São Paulo tonight so with a bit of adjustment, ended up a day earlier in Rio De Janeiro.

Doing this talk in Rio also meant that I saw a part of the town I probably wouldn’t have been able to see – Barra (pronounced Baha) and is the more newly developed part of the city. It’s pretty obvious the commericalisation of shopping was complete with a “American Mall” complete with their own mini Statue of Liberty and all of the Americans labels to go with.

Before visiting the customer for the day, I had the morning free to check out the beaches of Barra. The hotel gave me a pass that allowed me to use a small ferry that crossed a small channel that blocked walking access direct to the beach. I’m sure I could have found a pedestrian bridge further down the road but this was a much nicer way to cross. Barra’s beaches are famous for both being cleaner and better for surfing than those at Copacabana or Ipanema.

I walked up and down the beach for a few hours, and you start to realise why the locals (known as Carioca’s) are as beautiful as they are with so many people out and and about exercising either running along the golden sands, or the pedestrian or cycle ways that line the entire beach up or down.

For those less inclined to exercise, there are plenty of cafes and beach stalls to rest your weary legs, grab a water, or a fresh coconut juice, or even something a bit stronger if you want. I stopped for an espresso where I saw a group of old men decide that it was time to crack open a beer at 9:30.

I even stayed mesmerised as I watched a game of very athletic volleyball played with feet instead of hands. There is probably a very good reason if they can be as dexterous and athletic to play this type of volleyball no wonder they are football champions.

Another really popular sport to do is to ride one of these wide surfboards. Each rider is given a massive paddle to which they can use to push themselves around whilst standing atop the board. I didn’t give it a go, but it certainly looked like fun from the distance.

Here’s a picture of a guy way out at sea (relative to the other beach go-oers)

After only a single night in Barra, I moved back to a hotel nestled in the corner point between Copacabana and Ipanema. Apparently Ipanema is the place to be now with better beaches, better restaurants and a classier set of options with Copacabana limited to the tourist spots. Staying in the Atlantis Copacabana Hotel gave me the option to play either one, as well as being very close to Arpoador, or a the corner cliffs complete with glamorous sunsets of both beaches.

I seemed to have odd luck with weather with two of the four days very rainy and overcast. Even then, the beach doesn’t look too bad right?

One of the other spots to check out when you’re near Arpoador is the outdoor gym area complete with barbells with blocks of concrete on either end and a whole assortment of bars and outdoor equipment. They had everything from single dumbbells to more complete chest presses although not exactly in all of the precise weight selection you’d expect at the gym.

I even went there one morning to hang out with the locals for a light workout before lazing on the beach for most of the rest of the day.

Do be careful when using all of the equipment though. More than one I scraped myself with the concrete blocks and pulled a bit of skin from my hands and my arms.

One of the common things in Rio to do is settle down in one of of the small shacks along the beach. They give you pretty much a full service treatment including beach chair, umbrella rental if you want and drinks on demand. Don’t worry if you get hungry though as lots of beach vendors will wander up and down selling everything from grilled prawns on a stick, freshly grilled cheese (queso), “globo” or what I could guess as fried onion snacks, acai (the magical amazonian berry) and everything else you might think you need such as suncream, or hats. The stands also often set up a makeshift shower for you to wash off the salt from the ocean.

On Sundays they close down one of the roads by the ocean where even more people come out to play. I can only imagine how busy this gets in summer – it was busy and it’s really the off season right now.

Compare the one above the one taken during the week.

One of the other fantastic things to do in Rio is take a trip up to the Sugarloaf mountain. Rather than take a tour, I opted for a morning in the sun on the beach (getting very well close to sunburnt – but not quite!) and then took a taxi over to the mountain. For the sugarloaf mountain, I read that it was much better to do it at your own pace as with a tour group you will be on a schedule and you get much better views and options with two different vantage points.

From up high, and on a clear day, you can even see the famous Christ statute from a distance. Yes, this was taken with a mega-zoom lens 🙂

If you’re lucky, you might even spot some local wildlife. Apparently these animals are quite common near the food court although I still don’t think it’s a good idea to feed them anything as it trains them out of their normal eating patterns.

There are two cable cars, and I think it’s definitely while heading straight for the second lift and coming back for the sunset to be cast against the sugar loaf mountain.

If you’re staying down near Copacabana or Ipanema, I do recommend an afternoon tour of the city and the famous statue of Christ. Partly because taxi fees can grow pretty quickly with the traffic in the afternoon and the Christ statue doesn’t really need that much time hanging around. You pretty much only have a few vantage points to the see the surrounding areas and I think the Sugarloaf mountain is much better.

The tour I did also took a trip down town so you can see some of the weird architectural government buildings as well as the famous open air Church.

I had a great time in Rio and although I could have hoped for a little bit of better weather, I think the rainy days definitely prevented me from frying myself too much.

There are a couple of other things worth doing when you run out of things to do at the beach. First is to visit the Hippie Market fair (Sundays) where you have lots of knick-knacks and the central park becomes a hub of artists. The other are the moving farmers markets that are awesome for spotting some of the great local fruit and vegetables you might see or eat around town.

Things that I didn’t get a chance to do but heard good things include a visit to Santa Theresa (would prefer to do that with a bigger group) and also a night time visit to Lapa.