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24 Hours in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro is a big city in Brazil with much to do.

To hiking unique mountains, paragliding and hang gliding, touring favelas, and enjoying tanning and water sports at the beautiful beaches, you should definitely spend more than just one day here. However, if time doesn’t permit, here is the itinerary I would recommend.

Transportation: Transportation in Brazil can be less than reliable and, at times, quite confusing. Green Toad Bus can help you plan an itinerary throughout the country and continent, and also get you to where you need to go in a timely manner. This can help relieve a lot of stress in this bustling and chaotic city, especially if traveling solo around Brazil.

Hostel: Stay at the Hostelling International Cidade Maravilhosa in Gloria. This is where I stayed during my time in Rio and found the staff friendly, the rooms comfortable, and the breakfast buffet delicious. While not in the most centrally-located area, it is near a park and many inexpensive eateries, as well as within walking distance to Lapa. Moreover, it’s really close to the metro and bus stations, making it convenient to get anywhere you need to go.

8:00am: Start your day with a delicious buffet breakfast at the hostel. Meats, cheeses, fruits, cereals, breads, cookies, cakes, juice, and hot beverages will give you the energy you need for a long day.

9:00am: Take a tour of the favela of Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil and one of the biggest in the world. I took a tour with Be A Local and felt that it was very respectful, educational, and eye-opening. I enjoyed learning about the favela with the safety of the tour, and also appreciated the fact that the guide wasn’t pushy and made sure we knew we didn’t have to buy anything or donate money if we didn’t want to.

1:00pm: Head over to Copacabana Beach. It’s beautiful, lively, and fun, with many water sports to enjoy. There are also markets, shops, and restaurants to eat at along the strip. I would also recommend walking south along the beach and checking out the hip and sexy beaches of Ipanema and Leblon.

3:30pm: Take the bus to URCA station and hike Sugarloaf Mountain. One of the most famous and beautiful mountains in Rio de Janeiro, it is a challenging but not impossible hike that offers a mix of landscapes of stunning sea, mountain, and city views. Enter at the trail that begins on the beach, and do the coastal walk until you come to a set of steep stairs on your left. You must climb them for about 30 minutes before it gets level. At this point, make a left and continue on through a mixture of flat and uphill terrain, until you reach the most breathtaking lookout point you’ve ever seen. Once you get to the top, you can take a cablecar over to the larger mountain of Sugarloaf. The area is beautiful at sunset, especially when you look across the city to Corcovado Mountain and see the Christ the Redeemer statue all lit up in a glowing purple.

7:00pm: Start making your way back down the mountain via cablecar, which is free after 7:00pm.

9:00pm: Enjoy a late dinner. If you want to stay near the hostel, check out the Gregora Art Cafe, which is a one minute walk away and is very cute and relaxing. For something a bit more traditional, go to either Barra or the upscale area of Leblon and go to Academia de Cachaca. Here you can sample some of the most uniquely flavored Capirhinas and fusion dishes in the city.

11:00pm: You have two options for nightlife. For a cheaper, low-key evening with a mix of people and an “anything goes” atmosphere, head to Lapa. This neighborhood gets crazy at night, and you are guaranteed to have fun. Just be careful, as pickpocketing is a bit common in the area. For a more trendy night out, head out in Leblon or Ipanema.

This post was made possible by Green Toad Bus, South America’s best bus pass and backpacking network. 

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is a New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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  1. Joel on at 1:29 pm

    I’m going to take a trip to Rio de Janeiro some time next year. Those waters look like they would be pretty good for scuba diving. I wonder what kind of visibility there is, and what kind of coral I would see. Thanks for posting this, Jessie.

    • jess2716 on at 1:37 pm

      Visibility seems good, although I don’t scuba dive. I’d say go to one of the calmer beaches like Reserve Beach or Prainha. Don’t go to Barra as that one’s pretty rough and more of a surfing beach. You’ll have a blast wherever you go though! 🙂

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