I had always wanted to go to Rio de Janeiro – it’s universally celebrated for its vibrancy, natural beauty and incredible soul, making it enough to entice even the most beleaguered individual. But, unfortunately, Rio left me feeling disappointed, misled and let down. I know not all cities are for everyone, so it may be different for you – it wasn’t all bad – but here’s my personal experience of how I was left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
I’d been led to believe that the city was a flamboyant hub of bustling culture, of sunshine, smiling faces and fun. But, personally, I felt that the atmosphere in Rio had been overhyped and was, in fact, a little lacklustre. The most disappointing thing was how dirty the place was – it felt like people just didn’t care. There were bin bags strewn open through the streets, festering in the hot, Brazilian sun.
I found that what was meant to make Rio such a unique and special place to visit was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t exactly expecting it to be a 24/7 street carnival but, being on the coast of Latin America, I expected a more colourful experience.
In Rio, there are more beaches than you can shake a parasol at, but the two that supposedly stand out are Copacabana and Ipanema. Copacabana has been designated as the tourist go-to, as well as the place you’ll find families and the more seasoned crowd, whereas Ipanema is a little quieter, although still attracts quite a large influx of foreigners as well as young skaters and surfers.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure I even saw the beach. I mean, I was there, sure, but all I saw was body after body, umbrella after umbrella, sprawling over what I’m guessing was sand. Darting between them were vendors selling caipirinhas, cheese on a stick and other mysterious treats, as well as clothes and speakers. I expected stunning coastal views, but all I got was peoples backs and bums.
To get a proper flavour of Rio, I had decided to stay in various areas all over the city: an Airbnb in Leblon, Da Costa in Santa Teresa, La Maison by Dussol in Gavea and Casa Mosquito in Copacabana, in that order.
My first stop, the Airbnb in Leblon, was an absolute nightmare. I had chosen it due to its superb location – online it showed amazing views – but, as it turned out, the place and its host were absolutely awful, to the point that Airbnb had to step in. Yes, the views were phenomenal but that did not make up for what a shamble the place was. Firstly, the Airbnb itself was essentially just a wooden hut that had been built on the top of an apartment complex. It was absolutely tiny and contained close to nothing. (see below)
Secondly, I had not been warned about the sordid party that would be taking place on my doorstep. Granted, it was New Year’s, but people were doing drugs, grinding on each other and doing other.. unmentionable.. things that I can’t bring myself to type, until the early hours of the morning, maybe even the next afternoon. I promptly contacted Airbnb, who were incredibly helpful, and moved to Da Costa, which was in Santa Teresa. The place was stunning.
It was run by a wonderful Brazilian woman who, despite the fact that she could barely speak a word of English, welcomed me with open arms (quite literally with a hug!). I stayed here for one night, but I’d definitely stay here again and recommend it to anyone.
Then, I moved on to La Maison by Dussol in Gavea for three nights. The place is sadly now permanently closed, but the place was an absolute gem. It was run by a couple, and nothing was too much trouble for them. They would offer a daily menu, but you could also request absolutely anything you wanted and they would rustle it up for you, although I usually went with the daily menu as it was always full of various delights, including freshly-caught seafood. I honestly couldn’t fault it.
My final stop was Casa Mosquito (it has changed its name to L’Homme de Rio Boutique Hotel) near Copacabana beach, a boutique hotel where I stayed for 6 nights. This place is up a bit of a hill, and my room was at the top of the hotel, so you can imagine I got quite a workout!
Everything about the place was great – beautiful, spacious rooms and panoramic views – but, there was one huge downfall. Nearly every evening they would host raucous parties on its rooftop, which also happened to be above my bedroom. These would go on for hours, and people who weren’t staying in the hotel would be tramping up and down the stairs and having what sounded like arguments (but were probably conversations) outside of my room.
Overall, I had some good experiences, but not enough that I would return again or recommend Rio de Janeiro as a holiday destination. The atmosphere left a lot to be desired, the beaches were subpar and I had a terrible time with some of my accommodation. However, not everything was bad (as you can see, some of the hotels were wonderful, and the food wasn’t bad either!) and this is my personal, honest opinion, so maybe you’ll have/have had a better experience than I did.
If you are looking to travel to Rio or anywhere else, I always recommend to check out the following online travel sites to find the very best prices for flights and hotels.
Click on any of the logos below!