The best things in life are free, so they say. If so, there are worse destinations for the poor cash-strapped wanderer than sun-soaked Rio de Janeiro. Surrounded by thick sandy beaches with year round temperate surf, hills and mountains galore to hike and climb, picturesque favelas to visit if you’re brave or foolhardy enough, and the largest national park in any city in the world to explore, it’s a penurious travellers dream.
Of course tourists, rich and poor, come here in droves. And, as one would expect, Rio has a large tourism industry made up of canny industrious locals anxious to relieve visitors of the weight of their wallets. Unfortunately, Rio also has a criminal underclass who are less canny and less industrious but will take your wallet for absolutely nothing and throw your cellphone into the bargain. (I’m a little sore about this issue being on my third phone).
The view towards the west, about halfway up
Rio’s tourism industry is no different from any other with plenty of legitimate vendors offering good value for money and others not so much. Hotels and hostels take a significant cut if you book trips through them, so if you want to save money head down to Copacabana beach where you’ll find friendly Carioca handing out flyers. A lot of these are in Portuguese as Rio is a favourite destination of Brazilians, but you’ll get the gist and be able to compare what’s on offer. These trips start at the crack of dawn normally, so you might want to go easy on the Caipirinhas the night before…
Here’s the thing. Often, at least within the city itself, the tours can be done by yourself at a fraction of the cost. Public transport in Rio is great and the metro (subway) is really easy to navigate and reasonably priced (4.20 reals for a one way ticket). All it takes is a little planning. Or, better still, go off the beaten track altogether and do something that you won’t find on a brochure.
There’s a great view of arguably the largest favela in Rio, Rocinha
I have just the thing.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ‘do’ the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. I have, and, despite the gloomy day, it was great. However, there is a better vantage point to see the city and all it costs is the bus ride there, 3.80 reals, and four reals to get a minivan to the base of the mountain called Two Brothers (Dois Irmaos).
You have to ‘climb’ the rest. When I say climb, I don’t mean cliffhanger type stuff (not a very topical reference but I can’t think of another). It is more like a very steep walk and there are plenty of places you can stop for a rest and enjoy the view. I am far from athletic, chose unsuitable footwear in a pair of flip flops and it wasn’t a problem for me.
The view from Sugar Loaf is not to be sniffed at; but it’s touristy and overpriced
Two Brothers (Dois Irmãos)
The place is called Two Brothers, Dois Irmãos in Portuguese, and the views are spectacular. You also get to see the famous Vidigal favela where David Beckham and Madonna are rumoured to have bought houses for ridiculous sums of money, driving up prices in the favela and infuriating the locals. There’s always trouble in paradise….
Don’t be put off by the heavily armed police at the entrance. This is par for the course in every favela in Rio de Janeiro and Vidigal is considered one of the safest. I’ve been up there loads of times and the only guns I’ve seen are in the hands of the police. I’ve been in other favelas where this is not the case, but that’s another story.
Kite flying is a national pastime
There’s a few nice bars near the base of Two Brothers too. I suggest you walk down, have a wander around and ask for a bar on your way. You’ll need a drink after your Herculean feat. Just kidding! It’s really not that bad. But you’ll be hot, for sure.
If you’re lucky you’ll also catch some locals kite flying. This is a national past-time in Brazil. The kites are tiny and handmade out of wire, paper and bamboo. They can reach incredible distances and the locals fly them way out to sea. Sometimes they play music and make the kites dance. Really cool.
We were lucky enough to witness the making of a music video, my services weren’t required
What you need
Water, lots of. Trainers or whatever you call them where you’re from (I went up in flip-flops but it wasn’t a great idea). Lunch, if you want a picnic at the top. Plastic bag to bring your rubbish back down. Sun cream. Camera or cellphone.
How to get to Two Brothers
I feel this bit is fast becoming obsolete with everyone having a cellphone and access to google maps and public transport information via the same. That said, on my second visit I went with a large group from the hostel and we literally discussed how to get there for an hour. I knew, as I’d been before, but apparently two girls in the group, who’d never been, knew better… I was pulling my hair out. Avoid large groups!
The bus routes in Rio are complex and nonsensical to a visitor, but getting to Vidigal (Two Brothers) is simple from Copacabana beach. Stand by any of the little blue bus signs on Av. Atlântica on the side of the road farthest from the beach. Have small money on you (it costs 3.80) and take Intergrada 09: they come every ten minutes or so. Ask the driver to let you know when you’re at Vidigal and sit near the front. The journey is about 20-30 minutes. You’re close when you get to the end of Ipenemha beach. You’re really close when you pass the Sheraton hotel on your left. When you get to Vidigal you’ll see a row of white vans and motorcycles. Jump in one or on the other (4 reals for the van, 5 for the bike) say ‘two brothers’ and you’ll be there in a jiffy.
The closest metro station to Vidigal is Antero de Quental, about a 25 minute walk from Vidigal. It’s a pleasant walk. Walk west along the beach, keep going onto Niemeyer Avenue, walk past the Sheraton Hotel and you’ll see the entrance to Vidigal on your right. You can’t miss it. When you arrive, you’ll see a row of white vans and motorcycles. Jump in one or on the other (5 reals for the bike, 4 for the van), say ‘two brothers’ and you’ll be there in a jiffy.
Have you been? Would you like to go? Let me know, down below.