By Bhamika Bhudia, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the holidays draw ever closer, Christmas and New Year’s in the Cidade Maravilhosa can offer an amazing time. But many travelers have just ten days away from a busy life and cold weather back home, so planning how to get the most out of the trip is key.
Day 1, Christmas Eve: As vacation starts, usually arriving from an overnight flight, what better way to spend Christmas Eve day seeing the best views of the city by visiting Corcovado Mountain where the 130 feet tall Christo Redentor (Christ Redeemer) stands. Take the cog train up the mountain to reach the breathtaking views of entire city and the country’s most famous statue.
In the evening, anyone looking to celebrate the more spiritual side of Christmas can attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve as a number of churches open their doors to the public. Among the recommended are Ipanema’s Nossa Senhora de Paz and the Sao Bento Monastery which is downtown.
Or (or after) those in the mood to party should make their way to Lapa Friday night.Samba clubs favorites such as Democraticus normally attract a large crowd, and Riotur (the city’s tourism board) predicts that the streets will be as lively as ever.
Day 2, Christmas: What better way to spend Christmas Day than laying a base for your tan and heading to the beach? While many places may be closed for the holiday, it’s a good opportunity to make the most of this quieter period and soak in some sun in Copacabana or Ipanema.
In the evening of Christmas, Brazilian musical legend Roberto Carlos will perform a concert on Copacabana beach. The man known as O Rei da Musica Latina (the King of Latin Music), who has released 56 albums in the country and over hundred abroad, will perform with his traditional orchestra in front of the Copacabana Palace 9:30PM.
Day 3: After a day of relaxing head to Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) for more spectacular views overlooking Guanabara Bay. You can either take the cable car up to Cara de Cao and then Sugarloaf, trek up Cara de Cao or for those interested in extreme sports, the third option is to rock climb the 326 meter Sugarloaf, although prior arrangements for this will need to be made.
The afternoon can be spent in the old streets of Urca near the bottom of the mountains, to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and see a different side to Rio. Praia Vermelha which is in this proximity is the start of a lovely walking trail.
Saturday night can be spent in a club in the upper class district of Leblon. Clubs such as Melt or Gente Fina play a variety of international music as well as Brazilian funk.
Day 4: A perfect Sunday in the city can be spent in bohemian Santa Teresa, the art lovers’ district. You can take the tram, or Bonde, from Centro which goes over the Arcos do Lapa aqueduct into this area.
Here you can find aging mansions, an array of restaurants and shops selling paintings and crafts. From there you can visit the Museu Chacara do Ceu, a former mansion now displaying works of art from famous artists including Picasso and Monet.
Day 5: The amazing Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) has over varieties of 5,000 plants and is a nice way to spend the day. Around this area is also Parque de Catacumba, an outdoor sculpture park and Parque Lage, which has English style gardens with little lakes scattered around. It is also home to Escola Artes Visuais (the School of Visual Atrs) which sometimes hosts exhibitions and performances.
Parque de Cidade is also in close proximity and here you can find the Museu Historico da Cidade where you can find out about Rio from its origination to the mid 20th century. Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where the giant Christmas tree floats, is close by and in the evening lights up at 7:30PM, a must see during this holiday season.
Day 6: You can get a real insight into life in the favelas by going on a favela tour. Despite the media portrayal of the city’s slums, see firsthand the real issues faced by their dwellers and the amazing community spirit that grows from them.
Day 7: Those up for living on the edge, can run off a cliff at Sao Conrado, where you can go hang gliding. This thrilling experience offers amazing views and is highly recommended. For the faint-hearted, beaches in the vicinity are also very nice so you can see somewhere different to the mainstream Copacabana or Ipanema beaches.
Day 8, New Year’s Eve: Reveillon as it’s called in Rio, claims to be the largest New Year’s Eve party in the world. 2011 will be the inauguration of what is being called the Decade of Gold and there will be four locations for the party with the stages in front of Copacabana Palace, Rua Santa Clara, Leme and Rua Xavier da Silveira.
DJs start playing at 6pm and shows start at 8PM. Traditional festivities include party goers, dressed in white to represent peace, prosperity and purity for the year to come, offering flowers to the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea. The official 2016 Olympic logo will be launched and at 11:55PM there will be a light and laser show.
At the strike of Midnight, eleven ferries anchored on sea will shoot a twenty minute firework display that lights up the whole beach and the party goes on until the morning.
Day 9: After a long heavy night of celebrating, if you are not nursing too bad a hangover, recover on the beach of course. To beat the , explore Barra de Tijuca, an affluent suburban neighborhood 20-30 minutes south of Leblon.
Day 10: Before leaving the city, make sure to spend as much as you can of the last day relaxing on your favorite beach, soaking in the sun and preparing to return rested and ready for 2011. It also doesn’t hurt to start planning your next trip back to the Cidade Maravilhosa.