Rio in 2 –3 days
A whistlestop tour of Rio should definitely include a day beach-hopping on Copacabana and Ipanema. In the evening take a boat cruise out into Guanabara bay to watch the sun set and the city lights twinkling to life.
Spend your second day scaling the heights – catch the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in the morning, and the funicular to the top of Corcorvado, in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer statue in the evening.
In 7-9 days
See more of the city by visiting Santa Teresa, and hiking amongst the natural wonders of Parque Nacional da Tijuca.
Spend a day exploring Rio’s best museums and galleries, around Centro district. The historic centre of the city, it’s home to a number of fine colonial buildings and wide plazas.
The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil hosts exhibitions, theatre, film screenings and cultural events, Museu Histórico Nacional tells the history of the country, while the Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica stages contemporary art exhibitions. Museu Folclórico Edson Carneiro has good displays of indigenous and folk art.
Escape the hubbub of the city by exploring the quiet streets of Urca and the paths around the base of the Sugarloaf, where tracts of forest hide secret coves.
If fixtures permit, see if you can get to a match at the home of Brazilian football – the Maracanã stadium. These are colourful, boisterous affairs, so try to go with a Portuguese speaker, and have your wits about you.
A favela tour opens up parts of Rio that most tourists simply ignore. These sprawling slums clinging to the edges of the city can be extremely dangerous, but they are also rich with the genuine spirit of the place. Only go with a recognised, respected tour company.
If you time it right, you may be able to join a tour to one of Rio’s famous Samba schools as they prepare for Carnaval.
Two weeks +
After visiting all the major sites – and sunning yourself to crisp on the Copacabana, head a little further afield at some these attractions within striking distance of Rio:
A wonderful park that protects steep-sided valleys covered in pristine rainforest, clear rivers and a huge variety of flora and fauna, Itiaia is perfect for those who can’t get to the Amazon, but want to experience something of Brazil’s natural riches. Walking trails range from a few hours to a few days.
A beautiful stretch of coastline offering beaches, fishing villages and colonial towns set along forested ridges.
A real gem, the cobbled streets of this colonial city buzz with cafes, bars and live music. If the ornate churches and colonial mansions aren’t your thing, head for one of the 65 islands or 300 beaches nearby.
150km southwest of Rio, this large island boasts lush forests and tropical beaches. There’s good hiking, swimming and diving to be done here.