I stood in front of the iconic figure I had only ever seen in pictures; the gigantic white Art Deco statue towering high above me. I had to pinch myself. Was I really here? In one of the most photographed spots in the world?
As I stepped over bodies laying horizontal on the floor, all armed with their phones and determined looks on their faces to get the perfect shot of this cultural icon, I made my way to photograph another one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the harbour of Rio de Janeiro. Its majestic karsts and formations dancing out to sea.
Can there honestly be anywhere as stunning as Rio?
Rio de Janiero is one of the most amazing cities on the planet, but before I arrived I must admit that I was slightly intrepid. Having heard so many stories about people getting robbed at knifepoint I was worried about coming here alone. But… my reality of Rio was completely different.
Avoiding the downtown area, I chose to stay at Jabanga Hostel in Botafogo, a funky area with cafes and bars and a metro nearby. Even walking back at night I felt safe in this area.
If you are planning a trip to Rio, here are my recommended suggestions for what to do in Rio as a solo.
Discover Life in a Favela
There are more than 700 favelas in Rio. The largest one is Rocinha which has approximately 70,000 people living there. Santa Marta has roughly 8,000 residents and was placed on the world map when Michael Jackson came here in 1996 to film part of his controversial music video ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us.’
In fact, favelas are becoming so hipster that apparently David Beckham has even bought a house near one.
Taking a social impact tour in a favela can teach you about life in one of these communities. My tour guide was a resident from Santa Marta who had lived here all of her life and explained the history of the favela and how they are perceived by the rest of Brazil. The tour took 2.5 hours and was one of the best experiences I had in Rio. Choosing a community-based tour through a platform such as Visit.org helps the residents.
1. Learn the Samba
You can’t come all the way to Brazil and not try the Brazilian dance. It doesn’t have to be hip-wiggling fast-paced moves like you see in the carnival either. Not only did I learn the basics of how to shake my booty but I also had lots of fun and had a ready-made group of people to go out with to a samba club.
Plus the proceeds of my group samba lesson go towards a samba school in one of the favelas, which in turn helps children to turn their attention to dance instead of a life of drugs and crime. So I could have a night out in Rio and know that my money was helping others – bonus!
2. See the Christ de Redeemer Statue
Words cannot describe this experience. If you are anything like me and have dreamed of visiting this iconic destination, you will be lost for words. Designed by a Polish-French sculptor the statue stands 30 metres tall with its arms spread, embracing the city.
Stood tall on the summit of Mount Corcovado, take the tram up the mountain then walk the steps to get amazing views as you climb higher. Keep your eyes peeled for the monkeys on the way up!
3. Climb Sugar Loaf Mountain
This mountain is nearly 400 metres high and offers the most amazing views of Rio. The journey is made in 2 parts. You can either take both cable cars or just take the first one to the top of Urca Hill which is 220 metres above sea level then hike the forest path up. As I rode on the first cable car the mouth of Guanabara Bay opened up.
To the right I could see Copacabana Beach. The views were simply amazing. Instead of taking the second cable car I hiked to the top just in time for dusk and watched the twinkling lights over the bay. Sugarloaf offers 360 degree views and you can even watch the helicopter land on the helipad on the mountain.
You can buy your tickets from the cable car station. It opens at 8pm and runs until 9pm with services running every 20 minutes. If you are travelling on a budget (like me) then just pay for the first cable car and hike to Sugarloaf instead. If you do go up for dusk, the last ticket has to be brought before 7.45pm.
4. Sunbathe on Copacabana Beach
Yes this is touristy but as they say, “When in Rio….” Copacabana is the biggest city beach in the world at 4km in length.
You don’t even have to move here as everything will come to you. I just found my spot on the sand and beach sellers selling cocktails, ice-cream and the Brazilian team footballs came to my sarong. I actually brought my nephew’s presents from the comfort of my sunbathing spot!
It’s a great walk too so after sunbathing you can walk past the volleyball nets and along the sandy stretch of the beach or the promenade. It is one of my most favourite beaches in the world.
5. Drink a Caipirinha in the Lapa District
On Friday nights near the huge acaduct, pop up bars come alive with Caipirinhas all different sizes. Some of the bars with high sound systems playing their own tunes. The Lapa district has gorgeous architecture and is where the locals come to unwind on a weekend. Just choose your pop up bar, order whichever size cocktail you fancy and soak up the atmosphere that is one of Rio’s funkiest districts.
All of the excursions I did were through visit.org who I’m an ambassador with. I only recommend organisations who are solo-female friendly and who help to give back to communities.
Of course there are so many other amazing activities to do here. You could take a boat trip to Ilha Grande, one of the most beautiful islands in Brazil, which was once a former prison. Or you could visit the Petropolis, an old emperors city which is approx 66km outside of Rio. Then there are coffee plantations, an old gold mine and UNESCO sites. Simply put – four days in this amazing city is nowhere near enough.
Where To Stay in Brazil
I stayed in Rio for 3 nights at Jabanga Hostel in Botafogo. This area is really safe with plenty of restaurants. It was only a 5 minute walk to the Metro, and 30 minutes walk to both Copacabana Beach, and Sugarloaf Mountain. I stayed in a 5-bed female dorm and met some great people to go sightseeing with. Dorms start from £10 a night (£11 for the female dorm). I absolutely loved Rio and had no problems with pickpockets there.
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How good is Rio for solos? I am giving Rio 4 stars. The Botafogo area feels safe and I had no problem walking around by myself here. There is so much to do in Rio that my only regret is not spending enough time here.