Rio De Janeiro, Brazil Travel - Guides
Throughout Brazil there are so many choices for travel activities, tours, lodging (popular hotels and vacation rentals), and big & small cruises that travel in Brazil promises to be an unforgettable travel experience. You can build your personal trip planning itinerary online and choose to explore the area on your own or take our travel theme tours that make it easy to experience travel as you like it.
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|Rio de Janeiro Introduction|
Say "Rio" and mental images explode: the glittering skimpy costumes of Carnaval; the statue of Christ, arms outspread on the mountaintop; the beach at Ipanema or Copacabana, crowded with women in miniscule bikinis; the rocky height of the Sugarloaf; or the persistent rhythm of the samba.
Fortunately in Rio there's much more beyond and behind the glitter: historic neighborhoods, compelling architecture, wildlife and nature, dining (fine and not so fine), nightspots, bookshops, cafes, museums, and enclaves of rich and poor. In Rio, the more you explore, the more there is.
Stunning as the physical setting is -- mountains tumbling down to sandy beaches, then the sea -- Rio was not always the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city) it would become. The town grew up as a shipping center for gold and supplies during Brazil's 18th-century gold rush. In recognition of the city's growing commercial importance, the capital was transferred from Salvador to Rio in 1762, though the city remained a dusty colonial backwater.
In 1808, Portuguese Prince Regent Dom João (later King João VI) fled Lisbon ahead of Napoleon's armies and moved his court and the capital to Rio. Accustomed to the style of European capitals, the prince and the 12,000 nobles who accompanied him began to transform Rio into a city of ornate palaces and landscaped parks. High culture in this new imperial city arrived in the form of a new library, an academy of arts and sciences, and the many glittering balls held by the imported elite. King João's son, Pedro, liked Rio so much that when the king returned to Lisbon, Pedro stayed on and declared Brazil independent.
Now the capital of a country larger and richer than many in Europe, Rio grew at a phenomenal pace; by the late 1800s it was one of the largest cities in the world. Many of the newcomers came from Europe, but a sizable portion were Brazilians of African descent who brought with them the musical traditions of Africa and the Brazilian Northeast.
A new "low culture" of distinctly Brazilian music began to develop in the city's poorer neighborhoods. The high point of the year for both high and low cultures was the celebration of Carnaval. In palace ballrooms the elite held elaborate costume balls. In the streets, poorer residents would stage their own all-night parades. Not until the 1920s did the two celebrations begin to merge. It became, if not respectable, at least possible for elite and middle-class Brazilians to be seen at on-street Carnaval parades. Low culture likewise influenced composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, who incorporated Brazilian rhythms and sounds into his classical compositions. Gowns and costumes at the elite balls got more elaborate, not to mention more risqué. At about the same time, the first road was punched through to Copacabana, and Cariocas (as Rio residents are called) flocked to the new community by the beach.
All of these elements came together in the 1930s with the opening of The Copacabana Palace hotel -- a luxury hotel on Copacabana beach with a nightclub that featured exclusively Brazilian music. The 1933 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Flying Down to Rio portrayed Rio as a city of beach, song, and beautiful, passionate people. The image held enough truth that the iconography has stuck through the end of the 20th century and beyond.
In the years following World War II, São Paulo took over as Brazil's industrial leader; the federal capital was moved inland to Brasilia in the early 1960s. By the 1980s, violence and crime plagued the country, and Rio was perceived as the sort of place where walking down the street was openly asking for a mugging. For a time Cariocas feared for the future of their city -- needlessly, it turned out. In the early 1990s, governments began pouring money back into basic services; cops were stationed on city streets, on public beaches, and anywhere else there seemed to be a problem. Public and private owners began renovating the many heritage buildings of the city's colonial core. Rio's youth rediscovered samba, returning to renovated clubs in the old bohemian enclave of Lapa. Now a city of some seven million and growing, Rio remains the country's media capital, an important finance center, and Brazil's key tourist destination.
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