Rio - Before my visit to Brazil, people who had visited the South American country raved about its beautiful beaches, lovely tourist attractions, nice food and warm people.
When I finally arrived in Rio de Janeiro in September, I found the country to be all that and more. It is impossible for anyone visiting Brazil not to fall in love with the country, and for me and my wife, Zimbili, it was love at first sight.
Even the long delays we experienced at Rio de Janeiro International Airport couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm after getting a glimpse of the famous Brazilian favelas.
It came as a huge disappointment to us when our tour guide informed us that we would not be visiting them because of security concerns.
On our arrival at the four-star Rio Othon Palace we were pleasantly surprised by Rio de Janeiro’s vibrant nightlife and beach sports taking place at night. Even though we were exhausted after a 10-hour flight, the scenes at the world-famous Copacabana Beach couldn’t be ignored.
The vibrant nightlife at the beach and night clubs made me think about my own city of Durban and how much we can learn from the Brazilian experience.
It was beautiful to see residents of Rio making full use of the beach by playing soccer, volley ball, running and exercising. Every Sunday, the Rio city council shuts down the main road next to Copacabana beach so residents can take full advantage of it through cycling, jogging and music performances. It is indeed a beautiful sight.
It is perhaps compulsory for tourists visiting Rio to experience the majestic statue of Christ the Redeemer, which has become the face of this amazing city since it was built in 1931.
At 38m high, this breathtaking and majestic masterpiece overlooking Rio is visited by more than 5 000 people a day. For me, being on top of the mountain next to this daring piece of engineering was the highlight of my trip.
As if that was not enough, another must-see attraction we visited was Rio’s tallest mountain, Sugarloaf, which is accessible only via cable car.
Tour operator Jean Phillippe said: “The Sugarloaf Mountain cable car was built in 1910 and it connects the Urca Mountain, which is 220m high, and Sugarloaf Mountain, which is 400m high.
Once you are on top of the mountain you are rewarded with 360º views of the city and Guanabara Bay.
“The cable car, which takes 65 passengers, is very popular with thousands of tourists visiting the site every year,” said Jean Phillippe.
Experiencing the cultural life of Rio is not complete without visiting the finest restaurants this diverse city has to offer.
Out of all the restaurants we visited, I was particularly impressed with Porcao Rios, which has the most unusual style of serving food I have experienced in all my travels around the world.
The steakhouse restaurant has waiters who come charging to you carrying different cuts of meat, chicken and sausages, and they keep offering you meat until you admit defeat.
I was also impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the Brazilian people and their determination to succeed with little government support.
While the country has an unemployment rate of just 5 percent, those who don’t have jobs are out there making a living in the thriving informal economy.
When I left Brazil at the end of our visit, I was convinced that this country will stage the most successful soccer World Cup in 2014 despite problems being experienced with the completion of stadiums, airport delays and infrastructure upgrades. - The Mercury