If you’re glued to your television through the Olympics, inspired not only by the perfect physique of every athlete you see but by the glorious backdrop of Rio’s Sugarloaf mountain, why no pop the city on your list of considerations for upcoming family holidays? Rio isn’t just for Olympians, but families, too. Favelas, all-night parties and skimpy bikinis aside, Brazil is a country of colour, music and pulsating culture, perfect for a luxury family holiday, though often ignored by many planning trips abroad with the kids.
Nothing sums Rio up better than the annual Carnival, but there are many sides of the city to discover – from spotless beaches to vibrant neighbourhoods and the magnificent, wild untamed flora and fauna. This is a destination that will leave the whole family, old and young, wide-eyed. Incredible granite mountains jut out from the sea and rise high from the midst of the city. It is a concrete jungle in the most literal sense, but greenery sprouts teasingly up through every pavement crack. It’s no wonder the Brazilians refer to Rio, quite literally, as “Cidade Maravilhosa” (wonderful city).
WHERE TO STAY IN RIO
Situated on a quiet cove just a short distance to Ipanema Beach, the Sheraton Rio Hotel and Resort has 559 rooms, all with private balconies and 24-hour room service. Offering every amenity under the sun from tennis courts to a spa with a health club, three outdoor pools to an outdoor Jacuzzi, the whole family will be kept busy. The service is excellent, the buffet breakfast receives rave reviews and the Pizza Place (one of five hotel restaurants) is an absolute family-favourite.
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A new addition to the city in 2012, the pièce de résistance at Tuakaza Exclusive Guest House is the natural swimming pool fed by a natural waterfall. Situated in the São Conrado district, this boutique hotel has just six rooms, each named after a different Brazilian fruit – acai, papaya and kiwi are some such examples – and all are furnished with local artwork.
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Quite simply, the 245-room Copacabana Palace Hotel is the crème de la crème of the city’s hotels. The guestbook reads like a red carpet roll call: Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela and Tom Cruise have all, at one time or another, rested their heads on the Palace’s finest pillows. What is more, this quintessential Rio beauty has just had a $20 million facelift. The original Art Deco features remain intact, but the bedrooms, bathrooms and Cipriani Restaurant have all been beautifully revamped.
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WHAT TO DO IN RIO
Be it running along the beach, surfing, sunbathing, swimming or stopping to watch the seaside jugglers, magicians, stilt-walkers and fire-eaters, life in Rio seems to revolve around the beach. The most famous city beaches are Copacabana and Ipanema; they are two sides of the same bay so pretty similar, defined by wide golden sands and big waves. The best for young families is Baixo Baby on Leblon Beach which has a play area with kid’s toys.
Rio City Zoo
For little ones, Rio City Zoo is perfect. Open Tuesday to Sunday, it has 2,000 species – the majority native being to Brazil – and a walk-through aviary and reptile house.
The Metropolitan Cathedral
Don’t miss the Metropolitan Cathedral with its 18-metre bronze doors, pews to seat 20,000 people and striking stain-glass windows.
Rio’s Surrounding Jungle
One of the most incredible things about Rio is the fact that it’s in the middle of a jungle – make sure you visit the surrounding rainforest, which is packed full of birds and wildlife. Your best bet if you want to explore the jungle is to arrange a jungle tour via your hotel concierge who can make sure you see it in a safe and supervised manner.
Many museums offer free entry for kids under seven, and the Museu do Indio (Indian Museum) has a fantastic room where children can decorate themselves to mirror native warriors with stamps and body paint provided. The National Museum, which has mummies, zoological displays, historical artifacts, and a 5-tonne meteorite, is a must.
Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain
There are the two essential tourist sites: visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado, before taking the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar).