Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The mountain of Corcovado, topped by a 32-metre statue of Christ the Redeemer facing out over Guanabara Bay, has to be the great enduring image of Rio de Janeiro. From up here, on a clear day, you can see almost the whole city, from the downtown business district to the Internationally famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. It also has one of the best views of Sugar Loaf Mountain, another of the city's great landmarks.
Rio de Janeiro is arguably the most stunning harbour city in the world, pipping both Sydney and Hong Kong. While the last two are amazing in their own way, Rio has the advantage of being built on a series of hills, some of which are still covered by virgin forest, and looks out over the most beautiful natural scenery of the granite islands in Guanabara Bay. Corcovado, set within a park that opens at 8 am, can be reached either by taxi or by a creaking old tram that winds its way up to the summit. You should really make the effort to reach the top early in the morning when misty clouds, backlit by the rising sun, sometimes fill the bay, with just the tops of the islands peeking above them. Ifs also well worth visiting at sunset, when the sun sinks into the hills behind Rio and the city lights up.
Similarly, the view of both Rio and Corcovado from Sugar Loaf Mountain is worth seeing at both ends of the day, when the city assumes quite different appearances. If you want to see the actual sunrise you will have to take a taxi to San Cristobel Point, which lies outside the park. Although not as high as Corcovado. it still enjoys a commanding view over the bay. From the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain it is possible to take a very short helicopter ride that flies you up and around the statue of Christthe Redeemer.
Rio, however, is about so much more than sights or even natural · beauty. No other city in the world epitomizes the 'Life's a Beach' philosophy more than Rio. And where better to see this than at Copacabana and Ipanema? Both immortalized in song, these beaches mirror the character of the cariocas, as the citizens of Rio cal themselves. As the clubbers who congregate there to wind down after an all-night party give way to the first of the morning's joggers, the next 24 hours will see everything from holidaymakers to beach boys, from volleyball players to bodybuilders - all set to a background of bossanova music and perhaps accompanied by a cocktail.
Rio has endured a bad reputation for street crime over the years, but has gone a long way to clean up this problem. As with most major cities, drugs and poverty make certain parts of the city riskier than others, but if you stick to the main areas (which include all the principal tourist sites) and don't carry valuables conspicuously, you will probably find Rio far less threatening than many European capitals. In fact, the biggest annoyance I suffered - though totally well meaning - was that the locals constantty warned me to be careful with my possessions.
Many airlines fly to Rio from all over the world. Most of the hotels are out along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. The most famous hotel is the Copacabana Palace, run by the Orient Express Group. Even if you do not stay there you should visit the terrace bar for a sundowner. When on the beach, leave · all your valuables in your hotel or with the guards posted on the beach by most of the top hotels. The downtown area is quite a way from the beaches, but táxis are cheap and plentiful. The stunning views from Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado are not to be missed.