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Holiday Guides for South America - Brazil

Rio de Janeiro Holiday

No matter how many times you've seen the photos of the landmark images that characterise Rio de Janeiro, you can't help but gawp at the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer, the sandy stretch of Copacabana and the sweeping backdrop of Sugar Loaf mountain when you finally get to see them with your own eyes.

Known to its ten-million inhabitants - cariocas in Portuguese - as the Cidade Marvilhosa, Rio enjoys a spectacular natural setting in the stunning Guanabara Bay. Look one way and you stare out across crystal waters to a plethora of sandy islands, turn the other and you see the soaring mountains wrapped in jungle vines.

As one of the world's most exotic tourist destinations, Rio has its affluent areas but it also has its favelas dotted along the mountainside where the rural poor scrape through their daily grind. The seriously rich live in Lagoa, a little way behind the sandy beaches of Ipanema, but a popular place for a spot of blading or cycling round the lagoon, especially in long summer evenings.

For a spot of sunbathing, volleyball or just a good spot to stare at the body beautiful, head to Copacabana beach, immortalised in song and fantastically over-the-top, even down to the mosaic pavements designed to look like rolling waves.

The towering icon of Christ the Redeemer perches atop the Corcovado hill. In clear weather those with strong lungs and stronger legs can trek up the hill to get a breathtaking view of the city below at whatever time of the day or night. For another incredible panoramic view of the city, take the glass cable car from Urca to Sugar Loaf mountain – a must even for those with vertigo.

The Instituto Moreira Salles is Rio's prima cultural centre not only for its modernist architecture and landscaped gardens but also its temporary art exhibitions. The Museu Chácara do Céu is also home to an eclectic collection of 20th-century Brazilian and European art.

Once the urban jungle gets too much then get back to nature at the Jardim Botânico, made up of natural jungle with tree lined avenues and sculptures inspired by Greek mythology. The nearby Parque Lage also has forest amidst a labyrinthine path network and small lakes. But for the real thing head to the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, home to three-toed sloths and howler monkeys. Those feeling particularly energetic can trek up the Pico do Papagaio (975 metres) or the Pico da Tijuro (1021 metres).

Rio has a global range of cuisines to wet your appetite and whilst grabbing a bite to eat is generally easy on your wallet, wandering unawares into more upmarket restaurants will give you a rude shock when the bill comes. Under the cover of darkness, the cariocas come out to play with nightlife ranging from classical concerts to over-the-top samba nights and packed clubs pumping out British and American hits.

And if you happen to be around in February then it would be criminal to miss the hedonistic, flamboyant madness that is the world renowned Rio Carnaval. Millions take to the streets for a whirlwind four days of singing, dancing, drinking and general partying which is as much a testament to the sensual and passionate nature of the Brazilian spirit as it is a test of stamina – albeit an extremely enjoyable one.

Rio is a city whose beauty is matched by its vibrancy. And whether you choose to spend your days dozing on the beach, trekking up mountains or simply admiring the stunning views, it is a place which will certainly leave a picture-perfect impression on your memory.