RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - From white sandy beaches to a bustling center to vibrant rainforests on the sprawling hills, Rio de Janeiro has something for everyone who visits.
Home to over 6 million people, Brazil’s second biggest city has a vibrant and colorful atmosphere which is infectious.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in Rio de Janeiro.
5 p.m. - After unpacking, blend in with the “Cariocas”, or locals, by picking up a pair of Havaiana flip flops. MG Bazaar in the Copacabana area is the best place to choose a pair from hundreds of designs and colors.
6 p.m. - Now suitably attired, head to a traditional bar or “botequim”. Amarelinho (www.amarelinhodacinelandia.com.br), near the National Library in central Rio, is one of the oldest.
Try an ice cold draught beer (“chopp”, pronounced “shop”) or the Brazilian cocktail caipirinha, which is made from white rum (cachaca), sugar and limes, and can also come in a wide range of fruit flavors like banana, strawberry, coconut, mandarin and passion fruit.
8 p.m. - Try a “churrasco”, or Brazilian barbecue. “Passadores” or meat servers pass your table offering skewers of beef, pork, lamb, steak, chicken, duck, sausage, ham and prawn.
If you like your meat well done, just ask the server, and when you want a pause from eating turn over the token on your table to the red side until you want to start again.
There is usually a fixed price for as much as you can eat barbecue and unlimited access to a salad and sides bar. Appetizers and desserts can also be ordered from the waiter, as well as an extensive range of cocktails, wines and beer.
The most famous chain in Rio is Porcao (www.porcao.com.br), although Rio Brasa (www.riobrasa.com.br) is also recommended but has fewer branches. It is advisable to book a table at either at weekends.
8 a.m. - Locals say the best place for breakfast is Da Casa da Tata in Gavea (www.dacasadatata.com.br). Strong Brazilian coffee will wake you up, along with breads, preserves, sandwiches, fresh fruit and juices.
9 a.m. - “Corcovado” (hunchback) mountain dominates the Rio skyline and has the most spectacular views of the city. At the top is the 125-foot high statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven wonders of the world, which was built to commemorate a century of Brazilian independence.
The peak is reached very slowly by crowded train but taxis will take you there as well.
11 a.m. - Follow trails down from the mountain or get the train or a taxi to the nearby Tijuca National Park, which at 12 square miles is the world’s biggest urban forest.
The forest is home to hundreds of species of animals and plants, many of which are under threat of extinction.
It is also the location of the 98-foot high Cascatinha Waterfall, a Chinese style pagoda and a giant granite picnic table called the Mesa do Imperador which has two observation levels with good views through the forest of a lake and some of Rio’s beaches.
There are a number of guided tours through the forest, which can last anywhere from two and eight hours.
2 p.m. - For a traditional lunch in the park, Os Equillos (www.osequillos.com.br) is touristy but welcoming and serves a good feijoada at weekends.
Feijoda is Rio’s most traditional dish and mostly eaten on Saturdays. This stew contains meat cuts ranging from cutlets and sausages to trotters and ears, cooked in garlic, onion, oil and bay leaves. It is usually served with white rice, collard greens and pork crackling, cassava and hot sauce.
6 p.m. - Head down from the hills to the district of Gavea, which is between the forest and Leblon. The city’s planetarium and jockey club are located here.
At the heart of Gavea is Praca Santos Dumont a small square surrounded by restaurants and bars which are lively at the weekends.
Guimas is a traditional bar and restaurant hidden behind the square, loved by bohemians and artists, which has a jazz pianist and good cocktails.
8 p.m. - Be prepared to queue for a table at nearby Braseiro da Gavea on the square but you can order a drink while you wait outside. Groups of students, young families and older couples all come here to try a wide range of sharing dishes, including deep fried chicken with garlic and savory pastries.
10 p.m. - Pick up some souvenirs at the night market on Avenida Atlantica on Copacabana beach. Vendors sell everything from beads, football shirts, capoeira pants to hammocks.
10 a.m. - Sugar Loaf Mountain is a must-see for any visitor. It is located in the Urca region of Rio and can be reached by a cable car, featured in 1979 James Bond film “Moonraker.”
Views of the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, Rio’s center and the Christ the Redeemer statue can be seen from the top.
12 p.m. - Every Rio beach has its own character. Copacabana is perhaps the most famous although it is past its heyday of the 1970s. Ipanema is more fashionable now and more refined.
Copacabana stretches 2.5 square miles. On Sundays, one lane is closed to traffic so people can cycle, rollerblade and skateboard.
2 p.m. - Head to a kiosk along the beach for a coconut water or fresh fruit juice and a cheap lunch or pop into the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel (www.copacabanapalace.com.br) for a more expensive treat.
3 p.m. - At the northern end of Copacabana is a small and quieter beach called Leme, favored by surfers. At the foot of the large hill there is a walking trail called Fishermen’s Walk where you can see birds, butterflies and maybe even monkeys, as well as local anglers.
7 p.m. - Santa Teresa is a great neighborhood in the hills near Lama to visit. It is home to artists and writers and has quirky houses and small museums. Unfortunately the tram will not be running until 2013 but taxis will make the journey.
The area used to be quite impoverished but some wealthier residents have moved back. It is quite safe to walk around during the day, but avoid the back streets after dark.
After checking out the small, bright shops, savor a leisurely cocktail at Bar dos Descasados at the Hotel Santa Teresa. This chic bar, called “Bar of the Unmarried”, is found at the bottom of the newly renovated hotel’s garden. Relax under the arches of the restored slave quarters or on the tree-covered terrace.
9 p.m. - Aprazivel (www.aprazivel.com.br) is higher up the hill and has excellent views of the beach and city at night. Rather like a giant tree house, the restaurant is only accessible down some rather steep steps but serves some fantastic Brazilian food. Grilled fish in orange sauce with coconut and cashew rice and roasted banana is among some of the most popular dishes.
Fortunately, the restaurant runs a car service to take you down the steep hill afterwards.
11 p.m. - To listen to samba, Brazil’s national music genre, some of the best musicians play at Bar do Semente in the Lapa region. The place is tiny but has a lively atmosphere and both samba and salsa are performed there.
Editing by Patricia Reaney