Brazil is ahead three hours from Eastern US, and we’ve been sleeping in and staying up late. When I make us all get up at 8am for breakfast and touring it’s painful. Emma sips some coffee. Lily rubs her eyes. The looks I get a breakfast are angry and hurt. I’m a slave driver.
And that was the easy part. We head down Avenue Atlantica toward Praça do Lido, a jail like city ‘park’ in Copacabana where there is the bus up to Christ the Redeemer statue. And it’s unbearably hot at only 8AM. So hot that you dive for little patches of shade anywhere you see them because it’s about 15 degrees cooler. (The ambient temperature is 95, but I bet it was 100 on the sidewalk in the sun, maybe more.)
CtR is Rio’s most famous landmark, and it indeed is stunning because you can see it from almost anywhere in the city. For the pious, I expect it’s pretty important. Brazil organized lots of votes to get it named one of the new wonders of the world.
I don’t know if it’s a wonder, but it must be pretty damn big to be seen from so far away. The Trip Adviser reviews say that it’s funny to see the people lay on the floor below it’s feet to get it in frame for a selfie. To which god are they prostrate? Android or Apple?
Trip Adviser also says that it is a godly pain in the ass to get to the statue. I still don’t completely understand it, but basically you have to get there, then you need a ticket to get in, and then you also need a way up – three total costs. And the lines for each can be really long and hot. At Praça do Lido there is a van/bus service that combines two of the three for a fee, and it’s supposed to be faster.
But omg the lines are already incredibly long at 8:30am! I count at least 200 people waiting and it’s barely moving. And it’s getting hotter. We have never been willing to suffer lines, so after a brief moment to consider alternatives we made a group decision to head to Pão de Açúcar, Sugarloaf mountain, in the Rio bay. (The next day we would hear from another tourist that they spent four hours in line only to be turned away because tickets had sold out for the day.)
Pão de Açúcar is actually the most popular tourist attraction even if CtR is the more famous. A cab driver didn’t know the English but nicely struggles with my Portuguese (non) pronunciation, and we get there in about 20 minutes through the Copacabana tunnel. At first glance the lines don’t look too bad, and in fact, compared to the deadly wait for Cristo Redentor it’s a breeze. We wait about an hour, much of which is spent in an air conditioned room playing Peggle.
Sugarloaf mountain is a granite and quartz mountain rising a thousand feet or so out of the Guanabara bay in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an unusual peak, like the tip of a huge finger sticking out of the sea. They built a massive cable car from the ground to the two peaks, and they offer great views of the city. We buy our tickets and queue up for the first cable car. The line behind us is already getting longer. I’m glad we didn’t sleep in.
The cable care is glass walled and it’s honestly a thrill rising up above Rio, which for my money rivals Capetown as the most beautiful city on the planet. The beaches, the hills and valleys, jungle and skyscrapers are a triumph of civilization and urban planning. I take thousands of photos, knowing with each click that none will represent the view we are getting from up here.
It’s time for some water and a coffee. Emma adds a suco do manga (fresh mango juice, which is everywhere). The crowds at the top aren’t too bad. The cable car regulates the flow a little bit I guess. We queue up for the second cable car to the higher peak and again love the view.
It is hot though. A woman offers to take our picture but the girls have scurried off into the shade. Lily has her downtrodden look. She is the youngest, but she also gets discouraged and frustrated with any difficulty. And the heat is real difficulty. I find it withering.
Thinking ahead to tomorrow, I’m wondering how we are going to do Christ the Redeemer. There are internet tickets, but that only eliminates one of the lines. There is still the other ones. And if it’s this hot, it could be brutal. Worse, it is frequently cloud covered, which ruins it entirely. I’m not going there for a 100 foot art deco statue of Jesus.
“Girls – how about we do a Helicopter ride.” Emma answers “I wouldn’t say ‘no'” in her best I-totally-want-this-but-i’m-a-cool-teen-and-I-can’t-show-any-enthusiasm voice. Lily shouts ‘yeah!”
We’ve done helicopters in a few places, and they are frigging expensive. This would be our fifth: New York, Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, Capetown plus microflights in Angor Wat and Dunhuang, China, a tiny plane in Peru over the Nazca lines and a hot air balloon in Costa Rica. The microflights are thrilling, and the hot air balloon majestic, but helicopters are the best. As important as it is to get inside and down deep to see the detail, there is nothing like seeing a place from the air.
This trip has been expensive, much more than I wanted. Hotels are pricey at New Years and we didn’t get frequent flyer tickets. So I was hesitant to go over my budget, but decide it’s better to fly around Christ the Redeemer than try to deal with that line over a holiday weekend in Rio. I pay $650 for the three of us, and they give us a small safety brochure and send us down the stairs and on to the helicopter platform.
We have the helicopter to ourselves and Lily gets the front seat! And we take off Sugarloaf mountain and are immediately in a dreamlike floating experience over this amazing city. They fly over Copacabana beach first, then Ipanema, over the Botanical garden and lake, then a few circles around Christ Redeemer before going back over Botofogo and Flamengo. I was inspired to slap together this video.
Rio was the capital of Brazil until 1960 when they moved it to Brasilia, which remains the administrative center. Sao Paulo is the bigger city by double but Rio is the imagination of the country. It’s reputation for partying, art, Carnival and samba and tourism is unrivaled in South America, much less Brazil. It’s easy to see how one could fall in love with this city. (Crime, drugs and poverty remain a huge issue though.)
As we fly around the Christ and I see little people jammed on the platform, I’m psyched that we won’t be going up there. I’ll have to find something else to do tomorrow, but after this, anything will be fine.
And we circle back across the beaches and downtown Rio to the sugarloaf mountain platform to touch down. It may be a 15 minute flight, but it’s so exhilarating it seems like longer. I have never been sad I chose to do a helicopter tour.
After that there is little left to see from the cable car, so we head down. The lines are even longer. We hop in a cab and head to the beach! The rest of our day is waves, a little food and probably a nap.
The flight was so amazing that I made a video! Enjoy.