According to the Cariocas, Rio de Janeiro's locals, God made the Earth in six days and spent the seventh sipping from coconuts on Copacabana Beach.
And, with a whole new world to choose from, why would anyone pick anywhere else?
Golden beaches are only the tip of Rio’s allure. Tear yourself away from the glimmering sands, the beach football and the crashing surf and you will see why it is called the Cidade Maravilhosa, or Marvellous City.
Here, verdant mountains loom over densely populated neighbourhoods that spill out on to dazzling shores and a bright blue sea dotted with tiny islands. And, the picture-perfect backdrop is merely the beginning.
Brace yourself for revelry in all its forms: dancing at street parties, hiking to cascading waterfalls, devouring endless churrascaria and cheering at rowdy football matches — all played out to a lively samba beat. Rio’s a party town and we’re all invited.
An open-armed welcome
Standing on top of the 700-metre-high peak of Corcovado with his arms spread wide, Christ the Redeemer is one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks.
The 30-metre-tall statue, which has been crowned one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, was completed in 1931 as a symbol of peace, and was constructed in parts before being carried up the mountain. However, even masterpieces have their mysteries and the 635-tonne structure is quite literally stuffed with secrets.
The master builder of Christ the Redeemer, Hitor Levy, almost died after a fall during construction. When he returned to work, he wrote the names of his family members on a scroll and placed it inside the statue's head. Hordes of workers followed suit, writing names and messages on the inside of the tiles that form the outer shell.
Visitors to the statue can take a scenic 20-minute train ride up the mountain while tapping their toes to lively Carioca bands, or take the hour-long trek through the foliage for a more rigorous experience.
Hiking through the Tijuca rainforest
Cariocas probably don’t hit the gym for those beach bodies when they have the mountains. And where better to stretch your legs than one of the world’s oldest national parks? Just steps away from the city bustle lies the Tijuca forest — a world away from Rio’s famous fiesta atmosphere.
Feel the temperature drop and the air thicken as you weave your way into the the deep exuberant green of this 39-square-kilometre tropical jungle reserve. Packed full of towering treetops, bubbling creeks and majestic waterfalls, the forest is teeming with life, with everything from toucans and capuchin monkeys to palm-sized marmosets and spiny iguanas calling it home.
Trails here are well-marked and serious hikers climb the 1,022 metres to the summit of Pico da Tijuca. The best way to explore, however, is by car, with excursions from companies such as Jeep Tour offering stop-offs at all the noteworthy sights, from the Pedra da Gavea monolith to the Vista Chinesa lookout.
Catch a football match
Sports fans can step into the legendary boots of late Brazilian striker Pele at the Maracana Stadium, during a tour that takes you from the dressing room to the pitch, where you can even take a penalty or two.
The stadium was opened in 1950 to host the World Cup and has since seen its share of legendary moments, including Pele’s 1,000th goal, Germany’s World Cup triumph in 2014 and performances from artists such as crooner Frank Sinatra, rock band Kiss and 1980s singer Tina Turner.
When it’s not brimming with rowdy football fans supporting the two home teams Flamengo and Fluminense, the Maracana opens its turnstiles to visitors. Tours begin at a hall of fame displaying the footprints and shirts of former players, before a peep into the dressing rooms and a jog through the tunnel out on to the pitch itself. As far as football tours go, it’s simply the best.
Sample Brazilian cuisine
Foodies mustn’t leave Rio without devouring feijoada, a simmering stew of meat and beans that forms Brazil’s national dish. Typically eaten at weekends, feijoada is prepared by the vat load and best enjoyed over an extended lunch period, when it can be eaten slowly and every mouthful savoured.
Carnivores should make a beeline for one of the city’s many churrascaria restaurants and enjoy unlimited cuts of tender meat grilled over an open flame. Assador Rio’s in Flamengo looks out over the harbour and features a stunning terrace for al fresco feasting.
Here, the barbecue is served rodizio-style, where roving waiters weave their way through tables wielding huge cuts of glistening meat on sword-sized skewers. Give the signal and the juicy hunks are carved directly on to your plate.
Where to stay in Rio?
To soak up the glamour of starlets past, a trip to Copacabana Palace hotel is a must, where acts such as Ray Charles and Tony Bennett have performed for guests including Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana and The Beatles.
Perched on the edge of the famous Copacabana Beach, the Belmond-owned hotel is considered one of the most exclusive establishments in the world.
A stomping ground of the rich and famous, it has hosted everyone from Madonna to Robert De Niro and was immortalised by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their 1933 film, Flying Down to Rio.
More recent guests have included pop stars Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, who have enjoyed the hotel’s old-school glitz while performing in the city.
Today, guests can enjoy a newly renovated theatre, dine at the Michelin-starred MEE Restaurant or simply sink into a mattress so comfortable that the wife of Rolling Stones star Keith Richards reportedly bought two to take home with her.
Pass us a coconut.