Rio de Janeiro was masterfully portrayed in Fast and Furious 5 aka Furious 5. I'm dead serious. This marvel of modern cinematography managed to show all sides of this colorful city. The possibly most iconic beach in the world, the definitely most iconic Jesus in the world. The cars, the girls, the money. You can have all that in Rio if you're muscular, bald and your name is Vin. Remember that being a superhero doesn't come without any downsides. You'll have to fight the corrupt government, sleep around in the sewers and fight Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Wait, was it in the same movie? I lost track. I don't think Rio is nice or beautiful or even a pleasant city to visit. I think it's dirty, chaotic and dangerous in a romantic kind of way. I think Rio de Janeiro has huge balls and heaps of character. It's where certain kinds of people gravitate to: misfits, adventurers, explorers, someone who wants to get lost. I think it's a Portuguese thing. There might not be much to see but just being there feels amazing. I also have a fling for the language; it's sensual and it swings.
There are about four landmarks worth checking out in Rio de Janeiro. Let's start with the most iconic Jesus in the world (second to the actual Jesus from the book): Christ the Redeemer. People say he stands in a position of peace, of welcoming but I think differently. It's a "come at me bro!" pose, he's taunting you to take the pilgrimage. Jesus doesn't believe you got what it takes to climb up that hill. It's not an easy hike, especially when Rio gets super-hot and crowded. Take my advice and go during early morning hours when it's cool and not as packed. You can also take an elevator, but what would Jesus do? He wouldn't cheat on a pilgrimage. Sugarloaf Mountain is another option if you'd like to catch a panoramic view of the bay and entire Rio. There is no Jesus there so you can take a cart to the top without a guilty conscience.
Theatro Municipal is the second stop on the tour of my favorite spots in Rio de Janeiro. It's an opera house and, in my opinion, the most beautiful building in the entire city. It was built in 1905 and can host ballet and concerts for over 2000 people, very impressive for a building from those times. The entire plaza the opera it stands upon is dedicated to high culture. National Library and Museu Nacional de Belas Artes are both jaw-dropping buildings that guard the vast heritage of Brazil. If you're into that kind of architecture then you need to check the Parque Lage out. It's an estate that belonged to one Enrique Lage, which became in 1960 the most amazing park in Rio. There's a café within the courtyard of the mansion from where you can see the Sugarloaf. A truly stunning place.
Now that we got all that out of the way, let's dive into the meat and potatoes of Rio de Janeiro. You can feel this city's heartbeat as soon as you leave your hotel room. It's hot, it's crowded and it's really loud, a mass of glorious chaos. Walk the steamy streets and marvel at the many murals and colorful graffiti. Who needs art galleries when your entire city is art? Stroll a little bit further and take a whiff, what's that heavenly smell? Probably a churrascaria barbequing fresh meat, all you can eat will cost you around $30. You can stuff yourself with so much food you'll have to wheelchair yourself out. Brazilians love their meats and they know how to handle them. Grab a caipirinha and head for the beach.
Which beach? Copacabana, obviously. I bet the name rings a bell. I personally know a bunch of "Copacabana" striptease clubs. Easily one of the most famous coastlines in the world, one look at it and you'll realize the title is not undeserved. It's a gorgeous 4km long stretch of clear, yellow sand. Unfortunately it's also packed with people. It can also get slightly dangerous out there because of a nearby favela. Don't walk around with your wallet in your back pocket and you'll be fine. Leblon and Ipanema beaches are both a bit less crowded if that's what you're looking. The best thing about these is the Brazilian national sport. They'll tell you how they're obsessed about football. Every kid from the favelas wants to be the next Ronaldo. The reality is very much different. Women's beach volleyball is where it's at. They just won't admit it. There are courts every couple of meters with those tanned Brazilian beauties bouncing around. If you're a meathead like me, you'll probably want to pay the Flintstones Gym a visit. It's not California Muscle Beach but the rustic, concrete weights have a charm of their own and it's become a bit of a cult spot.