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Ask Getaway: Plan the Perfect Trip to Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been a popular vacation destination for countless years. Annually, the “Marvelous City” receives over 2 million international tourists, on top of 5 million domestic travelers. If you’ve never been to Rio, you may still be able to safely visit the city if you plan properly. Officially, the city no longer requires proof of vaccination, but travelers are still encouraged to get fully vaccinated before visiting.
Brazil’s buzzing metropolis is a mix of cultures — including Portuguese, African, European and South American — and millions of people adore Rio’s famous beaches and rich nightlife. Although travel is complicated right now, a trip to Rio de Janeiro is still feasible. So, come with us to Rio as we take a look at need-to-know booking info to must-see attractions and all the content you should delve into pre-trip.
Getting to Rio: Flights & Accommodations
Although traveling to Rio, or anywhere international, might not be on the table right now due to the global rise in Delta variant cases, there’s no harm in doing a little research. More likely than not, two of the biggest items on your checklist will be booking flights and finding a place to stay.
If you’re flying from the United States, you’ll have several options when it comes to airlines. If you’re looking for direct flights, you’ll get those options when flying out of Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and New York City, due to the eastern half of the country’s relatively closer proximity to South America. From the U.S., United, American Airlines and Delta all offer connection-free options. Flying from Europe? Try KLM (Amsterdam), British Airways (London), Air France (Paris), TAP Portugal (Lisbon), Iberia (Madrid) or Lufthansa (Frankfurt).
If you don’t mind a stop over, airlines based in Latin and South America, such as LATAM, offer flights to various locations throughout South America, so if destination-hopping is in the cards for you, check out their offerings. Even now, you can try and save on a future flight by tracking prices on a site like Hopper. Not only is this a great budgeting strategy, but it’s also a solid way to familiarize yourself with flight offerings to Rio in general.
When it comes to finding a place to stay, there are many options, as one might expect given that Rio is a major city and tourist hub. The good news? No matter where you choose to stay during your trip, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views, from mountains to beaches.
If it’s your first time visiting Rio, the spectacular urban beaches might present the biggest draw. If that’s the case, neighborhoods like Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are all suited to beach-going. Want something off the beaten path? Try the ever-artsy Santa Teresa. And, if nightlife and bar-hopping are your prime motivations for visiting Rio, you can’t go wrong with a hotel in Botafogo.
Rio also has accommodations for every traveler’s budget. In the infamous Copacabana, for example, you could splurge on a luxurious hotel or take a more budget-friendly approach without sacrificing the beautiful views, airy rooms and other other amenities. For neighborhoods like Santa Teresa, which don’t feel as a immediately tourist-centric, Airbnb, VRBO and other owner-run rentals might be a better fit.
Rio’s Most Breathtaking Vistas
First stop: the iconic Ipanema beach . It’s easy to see why Cariocas (residents of Rio) and tourists flock here. With jaw-dropping views of blue waters and mountains, Ipanema beach offers the picture-perfect backdrop. It’s also the best place to meet friendly Cariocas and watch athletes play football and volleyball in the sand during the day. At night, the beach turns into a huge party, where people socialize and dance all night long.
Now, it’s time to take a trip up Corcovado Mountain to admire the Christ the Redeemer statue . Symbolizing love and redemption, the legendary landmark is an attraction you don’t want to miss. The 98-foot masterpiece was built between 1922 and 1931 on top of a 2,330-foot mountain. Christ the Redeemer stands with open arms, which also represents the welcoming nature of Brazilians.
Another major reason millions of travelers visit Rio is to celebrate Carnival , a colorful street festival with music, dancing and elaborate costumes. Many of the dance routines actually tell a short story. Rio’s celebration is considered the biggest carnival in the world and dates back to the 1640s. Every year, the massive festival takes place before Lent. However, it’s always possible to relive the magic at home. We’re sure these tours must have built up an appetite by now.
Get in a Good Mood with Good Food
There’s nothing like getting to know a city through its food. It’s time to check out traditional Brazilian specialties. The popular coxinha (croquette) is made of shredded chicken meat covered in dough. It’s then deep-fried to golden perfection. Coxinha is a street food that’s easy to eat on the go, and, thankfully, they are also easy to make when you have your own counter-top deep fryer .
Galinhada is another tasty Brazilian dish. Combining chicken, rice and all the best spices, you can create the mouthwatering Galinhada yourself at home. Your stomach will be happy, and your taste buds will be even happier. Watch Elisabete cook the meal and easily translate and grab the recipe from the video’s description. Try not to drool!
A couple of Brazilian drinks you must try are caipirinha and coffee. Caipirinha is the national cocktail that’s made with brown sugar, lime, ice and cachaça (a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice). Brazilian coffee is also a sweet treat, which mixes black coffee (made from freshly ground coffee beans) and tablespoons of sugar. Now that you’re full, let’s explore great films and shows about Rio.
Before You Go
Watching a movie that takes place in a famous city often gives us the travel bug. There’s no doubt that Central Station makes us more curious about Rio. Even better, it gives us a closer look into the lives of Cariocas. The film follows the heartwarming friendship between a young boy, who is searching for his father, and a middle-aged woman, whose life is full of bad luck. Rio landscapes are featured in the 1998 drama film, but, most importantly, it shows the real interactions of Brazilians.
Favelas have a bad reputation for being dangerous. Some travel guides suggest avoiding these areas at all costs. However, others recommend visiting safe favelas to learn about the complex and rich history of the poor communities that make up 25% of Rio. Vox takes us inside favelas and discusses how they were formed. The documentary also covers how art and creativity are growing within these vibrant areas.
Some popular movies have also been filmed in Rio, including the 11th James Bond film, Moonraker (1979). The spy film boasts the city’s incredible Sugarloaf Cable Car in an intense fight scene with Agent 007 and bad guy Jaws. The amazing clip shows the scenic views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, which millions of people come to see each year. It’s easy to see that Hollywood also appreciates the city’s beauty.
Brazil is widely known for its samba and bossa nova. These styles will easily transport you to a romantic, tropical night. For samba, listen to the legendary Chico Buarque. One of his most popular songs is “ A Banda .” Another famous samba singer to check out is Clara Nunes, a.k.a. the “Queen of Samba.”
One song that put Rio in the spotlight is “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”) . The bossa nova and jazz tune was so popular that it won the 1965 Grammy for Record of the Year. Many folks worldwide recognize the musical style of bossa nova, which means “new trend.”
Have you ever heard of funk carioca (favela funk)? It’s Rio’s version of hip hop. When people think of funk carioca, they often associate it with Brazilian singer Ludmilla, formerly known as MC Beyoncé. She went viral in 2012 with the song “Fala Mal de Mim,” which mixes funk melodies with pop.
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Vive el río
Somos un Empresa que cuenta con una embarcación a través del río Magdalena. Nuestra embarcación cuenta una alta calidad técnica para el transporte seguro de hasta 97 pasajeros. Además contamos una tripulación de más de 20 años de experiencia.
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Expedition Rio Magdalena Colombia
- Not wheelchair accessible
- Service animals allowed
- Infant seats available
- Confirmation will be received at time of booking
- Most travelers can participate
- This experience requires good weather. If it’s canceled due to poor weather, you’ll be offered a different date or a full refund
- This is a private tour/activity. Only your group will participate
- For a full refund, cancel at least 24 hours in advance of the start date of the experience.
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Honda: cruise the Río Magdalena and discover Colombia from the water
My Colombia wishlist always included that hot city in the middle of the country. That city where almost no foreign tourist comes, but which should be very special. I’m talking about Honda: the transportation hub of Colombia. Together with my parents, I step in Zipaquirá on the bus to arrive 5 hours later and nauseated from the terrible hairpin route in the totally unknown Honda. Soon we find out how special this town really is. Not only that: in fact, it is also fantastically beautiful. The surprise of Colombia and an absolute must-see if you want to travel off the beaten path! In this series, I will take you through Honda and introduce you to a downtown that is not inferior to Cartagena, walk through the ghost part of the city and visit interesting museums. But first, we sail down Colombia’s main river. The mother of the country. I am talking, of course, about the Río Magdalena. Like us, hop in a rickety little boat and discover Colombia from the water!
The Río Magdalena
Colombia’s main river is 1540 kilometers long and runs through as many as 11 of the country’s departments. Namely Magdalena, Atlántico, Bolívar, Cesar, Antioquia , Santander , Boyacá , Cundinamarca , Caldas, Tolima and Huila . The river begins in the Andean mountains of Huila and empties into the Caribbean Sea near Barranquilla. As far as Honda, the river is navigable by large ships, but the river continues past San Agustín . Its main tributary is the Río Cauca and its total basin covers 24% of the country. The areas along the river are home to 80% of Colombia’s population. Something that already indicates how important this river is to the country.
A piece of history
For a long time, the Río Magdalena was one of the most important roads for transportation in Colombia. In addition, Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century entered the country by river instead of having to cross the rugged land. At the time of the Spanish colony, the river served as a means of communication between Bogotá and the important port of Cartagena . And thus indirectly with Europe. Even after independence, the Río Magdalena remained important. Both people and goods moved across the country by water. Also, the Magdalena River is the scene of many fishermen. After the advent of flight paths and a vast road network, the river was used less and less as a means of transportation and communication. Nevertheless, today the Río Magdalena is still a very important river that is in the hearts of Colombians.
Boating on the Río Magdalena
Sailing with a local.
If you visit Honda do not expect a lot of tourists, you are not going to find them here. So there are also no large tour boats to take you across the river. There is a tourist boat, but it runs only when there are tourists. We took a different approach and arranged a boat trip through the owner of our fantastic hotel in Honda : Luís. Luís knows all about Honda and the river and takes us to his self-built cottage on the banks of the river. In a part of Honda where it is very poor and where the inhabitants still cook with wood instead of gas. In his wooden house, we see all kinds of finds from the river, such as pieces of wood shaped like birds. To help the locals a little, he takes one of the poor locals as a boatman.
With a rickety boat across the river
As we walk up the little beach by the river we are a little startled by the little boat. A rickety yellow/white motorboat whose engine seems to be just barely working. Five of us just fit in, including food, drinks, binoculars and a book complete with all the birds found here. Already wobbling, we get in and sail up the river. As if we were the only persons in the world, we rippled across the mighty river. Dodging branches and large stones. There is no one, no boats and no people. Only the sound of the wind, our little boat and the many birds.
Impressive flora and fauna
The fresh wind blows my hair in all directions as I thoroughly enjoy this tour. Everywhere I look I see nothing but beautiful nature. High mountains, steep cliffs, fifty shades of green, sandbars and huge numbers of birds. Luís recognizes every bird from afar. With his binoculars, he spots all sorts of things and we enjoy ourselves along with him. Sandbanks loom in the distance. In the middle of the river. We sailed a little further, docked wobbly on an island and labeled this undiscovered piece of land as Isla Holanda.
Islets in the river
Luís explains that these islets in the Río Magdalena move all the time. Also, the size depends on the state of the water. It has rained a lot in recent days, so the water is high. Still, we moor at one of the islets to get out in the middle of the river. A strange sensation, it is like walking on water. The sandbanks are very low and wet. As new islets keep emerging, hardly anyone sets foot on this land. Only at low tide do fishermen come to fish from an islet, until the islets disappear again and new ones appear. On Isla Holanda, we intensely enjoy all the greenery, mountains and birds around us.
Enjoy the sunset from the Magdalena River
When we sail back, it has already been five o’clock. Dusk sets in and the sky becomes redder and redder. Cruising at this hour is great for cooling off from the heat that characterizes Honda. The birds fly with us and we once again enjoy this boating adventure. Gee how I never would have wanted to miss this! When we almost arrive, the sun sets and the sky turns orange. In the distance, I can see downtown Honda with the mighty red and white church rising above the greenery. A trip to remember and a special end of our trip.
Where else in Colombia can you view the Magdalena River?
You can, of course, view the Río Magdalena at almost any spot where roads come, but the best known and easiest spots are these:
- In Mompox, you can cruise the foothills of the Magdalena River and the river itself;
- Retrieved from the alternative route to Tatacoa you cross the river into beautiful territory;
- In Villavieja, the gateway to the Tatacoa Desert , you can see and even cross the Magdalena;
- In Neiva, the capital of the department of Huila;
- If you driving by car through Huila you can enjoy a spectacularly beautiful part of Magdalena: Embalse de Betania;
- In San Agustín you will find the narrowest stretch of the Magdalena River and you can take a trip to Lake Magdalena, the beginning of the river;
- The river runs into the sea in Barranquilla, something you can witness with your own eyes.
Embalse de Betania, Huila
Visit Honda: Colombia’s newest must-see! Curious about what else to do? Follow me on Facebook or via email and discover more about this very surprising city (including practical tips on how to get there, great museums, where to eat, safety and lodging) these weeks!
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At the end of 2014, I (Sabine; 1985) decided to emigrate from the Netherlands to Colombia. After living in Bogotá for almost 3 years, I moved to the nice village of Sopó, Cundinamarca. To move back to Bogotá in early 2022, where I still live. From there I will passionately take you on a journey into beautiful Colombia and share all kinds of useful tips & itineraries. As a local, I know the best spots and provide up-to-date information. I also share everything about sustainable travel off the beaten track worldwide.
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Take the Train Along Rio Magdalena: A Journey of Exploration!
Barrancabermeja and Puerto Berrio on the Rio Magdalena are not classical turistspots. Nevertheless, for those travelers who seek experiences out of the common, it is an ideal place for discovering and experiencing "real" Colombia.
Ferrobus from Barrancabermeja to Puerto Berrio
Traveling 130km between Barrancabermeja and Puerto Berrio on the rails is the longest train journey you can do in Colombia now! The "Ferrobus" provides a comfortable transportation option between the two cities and brings you to remote regions you would never have imagined visiting on a typical circuit. With a capacity for 40 people, the Ferrobus also offers a cargo bunk for campesinos who board the train anywhere on the way to transport their commodity to the next village or town. The Train along Rio Magdalena provides an innovative way to explore an unknown but beautiful part of Colombia.
The first trip leaves at 5 a.m. every day from Barrancabermeja, and the return "Ferrobus" departs from Puerto Berrío at 1:00 p.m. The travel time on the Ferrobus depends mainly on the intermediate stops. I recommend not being in a rush when using the train. The Ferrobus journey is the perfect way to travel slowly but comfortably between Puerto Berrio and Barrancabermeja.
Barrancabermeja is a vibrant and inviting city in Colombia situated by the Magdalena River in the western part of the department of Santander. This city is home to Colombia's largest oil refinery and is affectionately known as the Oil Capital of Colombia. One of the hottest cities in Colombia, it has warm temperatures all year round. The town is surrounded by water bodies which makes it quite humid. The city is part of the Middle Magdalena region, providing a unique and beautiful landscape.
There are various comfortable accommodation options in Barrancabermeja. I usually stay at the GHL Style Hotel , but other similar hotels are available. Barrancabermeja has an Airport with various daily direct flights to Bogota.
Puerto Berrío is a vibrant municipality in the Magdalena Medio subregion of Antioquia. Today, Puerto Berrio is a bustling commercial hub. Puerto Berrio's strategic location on the Magdalena River, with good overland connections to Medellín, Bogotá, Santander, and the Caribbean, has been critical to the region's growth.
The most inviting tourist attraction in Puerto Berrio is the Majestic Hotel Magdalena, with its 125-year-old history. The hotel overlooks the Magdalena River and was the place to stay overnight when traveling between the large cities of Medellin, Bogota, or Cali and the Caribbean. It was in Puerto Berrio where the railroad ended, and the journey continued by steamship on the Magdalena River.
Accommodation options are limited in Puerto Berrio. Of course, there are hotels, but most are on the "simpler" side. Puerto Berrio has no nearby airport.
Today are no passenger ships connecting the cities along the Magdalena River anymore. Nevertheless, it is possible to do a short cruise on one of the local tourist boats in Puerto Berrio and Barrancabermeja.
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