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Rio de Janeiro – Brazil Travel Guide, Vacation, Tourism
Rio de Janeiro is an awe-inspiring city, its stunning tropical setting matched only by its irrepressibly fun-loving residents, called Cariocas. Impossibly steep, age-worn granite peaks rise from the ocean between glorious stretches of golden sand. Brash skyscrapers vie for space with impeccably restored colonial buildings, and lush forests tumble down hillsides into densely populated residential areas.

Brazil's former capital has retained much of its distinguished historic character, with magnificent churches, palaces and mansions clustered in downtown Centro. Rio has long since outgrown its mountainous backdrop, however. Tunnels were blasted through the rock in order to populate neighbouring beaches during the last century, and successive land reclamations pushed out into Guanabara Bay. Such has been the success of its urban planning, in fact, that much of Rio's coastal designed landscape, including the iconic statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) has been granted World Heritage status by UNESCO.

Today, Rio is best known as one of the world's most popular holiday destinations, particularly for its spectacular Carnival. Rio's citizens claim their identity with pride, but depending on whom you ask, a Carioca may either be born or live in Rio. And they come from a diverse mix of cultures; European, African, Asian and indigenous peoples, forming a racial harmony unequalled in Latin America.

Their lives reflect an equally wide spectrum of wealth or poverty. Up to a fifth of Rio's population is estimated to live in its vast, ramshackle favelas — shantytowns — which rub up against millionaires' villas and luxury condominiums. Somehow, and despite the activities of notorious criminal gangs, both rich and poor get along, with a characteristic liberal tolerance.

No matter what their background or economic standing, Cariocas are united by a shared passion for living. Ranked top of Forbes' latest list of the world's happiest cities, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) revels in life, with the beach, futebol (football) and Carnival the principal diversions. The annual Mardi Gras pageant is Rio's greatest opportunity to show the world what it does best: party.

High above all this fun and frivolity are Rio's ever-present landmarks: Corcovado (Hunchback) mountain and Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) with its historic cable car. As well as these twin icons, Rio boasts a wealth of attractions, spectacles and activities, plus great food, music and entertainment – enough to keep a visitor busy for any length of stay.

Rio is constantly re-inventing itself. A vibrant agenda, including hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, is transforming the city into a safe and exciting place to visit. Copacabana, birthplace of its original hedonistic getaway image of the 1920s, is still impressive.

But now, other further-flung areas are drawing more visitors. Barra, near the new Olympic village, is booming. Downtown Lapa, a formerly seedy and insalubrious district, is the new heartland of Rio's live music scene. And nearby, the rundown port area is getting a huge makeover, with the Porto Maravilha project building futuristic new museums and a vastly improved infrastructure.
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