1. The city has an iconic statue
To get a panoramic view of the city, Rio natives recommend a trip up Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park. Once there, you’ll find the world-famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. At 124 feet tall, the Cristo is a symbol of Brazilian Christianity and depicts Jesus Christ with arms outstretched, overlooking the city’s 6.3 million inhabitants. Made from soapstone and concrete, the statue was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski to commemorate one hundred years of Brazilian independence (Brazil was a Portuguese colony until 1822). But the Cristo wasn’t actually completed until 1931 due to funding.
2. It is home to a legendary stadium where history will be made
Located near Galeao International Airport and in a less touristy part of the city, Maracanã stadium is a place of pilgrimage for soccer fanatics. Built for the 1950 World Cup, where the host nation infamously fell to Uruguay in the final, the stadium was renovated ahead of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. After it plays host to seven World Cup matches, including the final, it will feature prominently in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The stadium derives its name from the Maracanã River, which flows eastward across the northern part of Rio and feeds into Guanabara Bay. With a capacity of 78,838, the Maracanã is the largest stadium in South America.
3. Rio is paradise for foodies
One of the standout dishes is Feijoada: a black bean stew with fresh pork or beef. To the mix are added a variety of vegetables including cabbage, kale, potatoes, carrots, okra, pumpkin, chayote and sometimes banana. Considered a heavy meal, Feijoada is often served with rice and sliced oranges. Meat lovers are spoiled for choice in the city. At restaurants known as churrascarias, they can indulge in a Brazilian style barbeque called Churrasco. Lamb, chicken, pork and beef are all on the menu and offered on an all-you-can-eat basis. Situated on the coast, Rio de Janeiro has restaurants that serve the freshest seafood including oysters, squid, sea urchin, tuna and salmon. The dishes are often creations inspired by the cuisines of Spain, Italy and Portugal.
4. The city has its share of celebrities
The citizens of Rio de Janeiro are known as Cariocas, which derives from a Tupi Indian word for the Portuguese who settled there during colonial times. Among the Cariocas in the global spotlight are soccer luminaries such as Arthur Coimbra, Romário Faria, and Adriano Riberio. From the world of entertainment, film director Walter Salles (The Motorcyle Diaries and On the Road) was born in the city. One of the most popular authors in the world today, Paulo Coelho also hails from Rio.
5. Rio's poor are in the media spotlight
Favelas or slums are found throughout the urban centers of Brazil but some of the most famous ones, depicted in such popular films as City of God (2002), are located in Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s favelas were born in the 1800’s following the end of colonialism and as a result of urbanization. The new migrants to the city, unable to afford urban housing, were forced to form communities on the outskirts. The favelas grew exponentially after 1940. According to the country’s 2010 census, nearly 1.5 million people live in the 763 favelas in Rio. In the 1980’s, drug trafficking brought violence and notoriety to the favelas. With the World Cup on the horizon, Rio police brought a controversial pacification program to the favelas in 2008. The program has been successful in reducing crime and seizing territory from drug gangs, but the police have also been criticized for their violent tactics. Because of their visibility in the media, Rio’s favelas have become a popular tourist attraction.