Rio de Janeiro Walking Tour

On our second last day in Rio, M and I went on a free walking tour with our hostel. It was a great way to experience a part of the city we had only seen during the night – Lapa – and an area that we hadn't visited yet – Centro. 

Centro isn’t a safe place to visit on the weekends. Since it’s the financial area, on Saturdays and Sundays it’s completely empty and devoid of people. While that sounded great for my photos (yay, no people in my shots!), our hostel guide told us that many kids from the favelas come to the area to take advantage of the emptiness and pickpocket/steal from people. 

The hostel used to do tours on the weekends, but after one of the guests got robbed (and stabbed!) they decided to only run them during the week. 

Centro is buzzing with people and energy. I expected to see more men in suits, but apparently Rio’s economy isn’t doing too well since the oil slump a few years ago, so there weren’t that many to be found. Above is the famous oil building that was the hub of Rio’s economy not too long ago. 

This area is populated with European-esque buildings and plazas, an attempt by the Portuguese to bring a little bit of home to this foreign place. Banks, opera houses, city halls, and palaces all have a similar architectural style. 

My favourite part of the tour was getting coffee at Café Curto, located on the second floor of a shopping mall. Rumour has it that this is the best coffee in all of Rio. It runs on a "pay-what-you-want" system for their cups of coffee as well as their beans, meaning there’s no set price, you just give what you think it’s worth!

We also ate a quick lunch across from the Municipal Theatre at a cute patio restaurant with yellow awnings. It was called Amarelinho da Cinelandia, and I'm 99% sure we ordered the Badejo de Brasileria to be split amongst 4 people. By our fifth day in Rio, M and I had learned that portions here are huge and one menu item is usually meant to be shared with at least another person. This fish stew was full of flavour and spices. 

Between Centro and Lapa is this stunning church – yes, church! – inspired by indigenous pyramids and temples. It's actually the official Rio cathedral, aka the seat of the Catholic Church in the city. Strange that such a conservative church would build this insane and non-traditional building, but they did, and it really is stunning. 

In Lapa, the main tourist attraction is the "Escadaria Selaron" steps, built by Selaron to attract people to his house which sits a little ways up the steps. To encourage people to pay him a visit and buy his art, he made the walk up the stairs interestingly attractive, with tiles from all over the world creating this mural. 

Even though his house is only a short walk up from the bottom, Selaron extended the steps all the way to the top. During the day, walking up the steps is an incredible experience. When night falls, the steps are transformed into a drinking hub, with hundreds of locals sitting on the steps and on the sides drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and having a good time.

Undoubtedly, the place to be during the night is anywhere near the Lapa arches. Passing through these searches is like passing through into another world ruled by samba, locals, cheap drinks, and a party that never stops. (Sorry for the low quality photos, I left my DSLR in the hostel and all we had was M's phone!)

We went in Lapa two nights in a row, and I honestly could have come here again and again and never gotten sick of it. We went to a botega (bar) full of locals, where a band played and everyone crowded around singing and dancing. A few locals took pity on our poor dance moves and tried to teach us how to samba the Brazilian way. Despite their efforts, I swear my hips will never move the way they should! We had a great conversation with them, talking about their life in Brazil, police brutality, and the discrepancies between the rich and the poor.

I put together a short video of our nights out in Lapa –  it's pretty bad audio + video quality, but it will give you a better idea of the insanity that was Rio's nightlife.