Rio de Janeiro or “River of January” is named after the month Portuguese explorers first discovered this now bustling and colourful city. And colourful it needs to be – to compete with the natural beauty of its surroundings. Sugarloaf Mountain and myriad other peaks jostle for attention at the north and west of the city.

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Rio de Janeiro’s harbour, city and beach are equally crowded (some say more than anywhere else in the world) with locals and tourists alike. But don’t let this put you off as the cruise excursions in Rio provide a wealth of shopping, eating and entertainment options that you’ll never forget.

What to see and do

And if entertainment draws your attention, then there is no better time to plan your trip than to coincide with the famous annual four-day carnival which falls just before Lent in either February or early March. If crowds are seriously not your thing, then head to the forests (Tijuca Forest and Jardim Botanico are two of the best) to discover enchanting waterfalls and the peace and quiet associated with more remote areas in South America.

Museums
There is a rich history and culture to be explored. For art lovers, there are some fine collections of paintings – containing both Brazillian art and international masterpieces. Generally museum opening hours are the same as the shops.

A number of museums are certainly worth a visit. Museu Amsterdam Sauer is home to a collection of precious stones and Museu Chácara do Céu is housed in a modernist mansion amid beautiful gardens. Also try Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, the Instituto Moreira Salles and the Museu de Arte Contemporanea-Niteroi.

Shopping
Brazil is famous for its gemstones, from emeralds to topaz, and Rio is certainly the place to see what’s on offer.
Cruise ships often have arrangements with particular stores which will pick you up at the dock and take you downtown, with no obligation to buy. Generally, shopping hours are from 9am to 6pm during the week and until 1pm on Saturday.

Head to the districts of Ipanema (where you’ll find some great bargains) and Leblon to find Rio’s best boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs. Here the streets are lined with colourful mosaic tiles.

Excursions around Rio
All cruise ships offer excursions to Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. You can explore these independently, but if you’re concerned about security (pickpocketing can be an issue), take a guided tour. Some ships offer shuttles to the beaches; budget around £19 for a day on Ipanema. If you’re in town over Carnival, it’s essential to book tickets in advance; your cruise line will help with this.

Where to eat

The local churrascarias serve freshly-grilled meats at your table – usually on long swords. Brazilian meals can be substantial.

Try black beans and pork with rice. Coffee, of course, is a local treat and is served in street side cafés along with  an abundance of fresh pastries.

Rio de Janeiro highlights

  • Sugarloaf Mountain You can reach the summit, 396m above Rio, by a journey involving two cable cars. Views from the top are stunning, so as long as heights are not a problem, this should definitely be on your must-do list.
  • Corcovado This 100ft high statue of Christ the Redeemer sits proudly 2,400ft above the sea and was a gift from France to the City. At night the lit statue can be seen from all over the city. However, this is a popular attraction so be prepared for long queues at certain times. Book a shore excursion and you’ll get to the top quicker, as part of the tour group.
  • Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon
    Songs have been written about the beaches of these popular areas of the city and they border some of the best shopping and eating districts.
Fact File
Getting around Cruise ships dock at Pier Maua, within walking distance of downtown Rio.
There are taxis, just to your right as you leave the ship terminal. Although they are metered, it’s worth agreeing a fare.
Climate Temperatures in Rio de Janeiro sit comfortably between 21 and 26ºC most of the year, although it is slightly cooler between May and September.
Currency The local currency is the Brazilian real (BRL), however most stores will accept credit cards. Note that travelers cheques are not usually accepted.