I fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to whether or not to plan an itinerary when traveling. On one hand I like the structure of knowing what I want to do, but I like to leave room to let things run their course and go wherever the wind blows. With four days in Rio, I knew I had ample time to play it loose, so I didn’t feel bad about planning an itinerary for the day. To add an interesting twist to our trip, I challenged my friend to see who could plan the best one-day itinerary. The only rule was that we had to leave out the big attractions (i.e. Christ the Redeemer statue) because it was a given we’d see those things. After scouring the internet, I managed to put together a day of fun that I was quite proud of so this is how to spend a day in Rio de Janeiro
1) Jardim Botanico
Our first stop was at Rio’s botanical gardens. I’m sure we’ve all seen pictures on Instagram of someone walking down a pathway lined with tall palm trees. From the moment I saw it for the first time, I knew this was a place worth visiting. Jardim Botanico is a special place that is hard to put into words. Imagine tall stalks of bamboo, a greenhouse full of different species of orchids, dirt covered pathways covered by overarching branches. There are no words I can use to do this natural wonder any justice. I’m not a nature person, but it was hard to tear myself away from the gardens to make it to the next stop on my itinerary. It felt magical. Costing only $R9.00 (approx. $2.32US), this is a must see.2) Lapa Neighborhood/Arcos da Lapa
We traversed Rio on the city’s buses, but I was not a pro by any means. We managed to figure out the buses to get nearest our destinations, and with the help of Google Maps, walked the rest of the way. After leaving Jardim Botanico, we took a bus to Rio’s Lapa neighborhood that dropped us right in front of the Arcos da Lapa. Also known as the Carioca Aqueduct, this structure was built in the 18th century to bring water into the city. Since being discontinued as a waterway in the late 19th century, it has served as a tramway connecting Rio and the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Although this was not on my itinerary, it was a surprise once we hopped off the bus. The arches aren’t a pristine shade of white. Some of the neighborhood’s homeless seek shelter underneath its arches. Men sat side by side on the steps, possibly waiting for a day’s work. I can’t say with any certainty. But I appreciate everything I saw. I love seeing life happen as is, especially in neighborhoods that are reminiscent of the place I call home and feel most comfortable. I’ve heard amazing things about Lapa’s nightlife that I did not get a chance to experience, but it is high on my to-do list the next time I’m in Rio.3) Biblioteca Real – Gabinete Portugues de Leitura
From the Arcos da Lapa, we walked to our next stop. My friend and I are both avid readers, so I wanted to incorporate something in our itinerary I knew we both would appreciate.
After coming across the BuzzFeed list, 49 Breathtaking Libraries from All Over the World, I had to see this library that looked like something from a fantasy novel. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was under construction with chandelier lowered to the floor, the uppers levels inaccessible, and the shelves covered in plastic to protect the books. Even though we didn’t get to see it in its full glory, it was a stop we were glad we made nonetheless. But even under construction, it was something I was glad I had the chance to see.
It is becoming a habit of mine to frequent bookstores and libraries when I travel. It is allowing two worlds that I love to collide, and it fills me with so much joy. The smell of the pages, the quiet, the beauty in the binding of the books. Ahhhhhhh!!!! I can go on and on! Simply being in that space and seeing how much my friend appreciated it was enough for me.
4) Escadaria Selaron
I know I said main attractions were off limits, but since we found ourselves in the neighborhood we decided to visit the Escadaria Selaron, also known as the Selaron Steps. Chilean artist Jorge Selarón created this tiled masterpiece and it is a favorite highlight of Rio’s Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods. This labor of love was created by Selarón as a tribute to the people of Brazil and the colorful tiles radiate this expression of love. Make sure to join the queue and snap a picture in the center of the famed tiles and then begin your ascent to the top taking in the beauty along the way.5) Pedra do Sal
The last stop on my itinerary was in Rio de Janeiro’s Saude neighborhood. Starting at 7 pm on Mondays & Fridays, locals gather at Pedra do Sal for live Samba music, singing, dancing, drinks and food all held outdoors. If you’re a music lover like my friend and I, you are in for a treat. From the first beat of the drums and shake of the tambourine, your body is swaying to the music, and your feet are making their best attempt at the rapid footwork of Samba dance. Pedra do Sal, which translates to Rock of Salt, is historically relevant as it was formerly a slave market, once provided housing for escaped and freed slaves, and it was home to a large community of Brazilians of African descent. It was electrifying being in space that was once representative of painful moments in history but is now cloaked in moments of pure joy and palpable energy. We stayed until 12 am, me sitting on the stairs listening to the music, my friend venturing closer falling in step with the locals. Both of us mesmerized by the power of music and dance.
Leaving Pedra do Sal, we walked down dark alleys looking for bus stops and any bus that said “Leblon” because we knew it would get us close to home. Usual Sanura would have been bothered by not having the bus routes planned beforehand, knowing exactly where we were going, but the day had been too good to me to allow myself to become frustrated. Once we figured it out (or rather my friend figured it out 🙂 ) we were on our way home. As I leaned my head against the window, Samba rhythms played in my head, and my feet tapped along in sync and I knew I had won the challenge.
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