By Antonia Cundy
The election of the rightwing Jair Bolsonaro last year as Brazil’s president might deter some from moving to Rio de Janeiro, but its beautiful sights and beach setting mean the city is still deserving of its age-old moniker, Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvellous City).
Cariocas — as Rio residents are called — have easy access to the seaside. From Guanabara Bay in the east to Sepetiba Bay in the west, there are 90km of sandy beaches curling around the city’s coastline. Copacabana and Ipanema may be the best known, but the 18km stretch in the wealthy Barra da Tijuca suburb, a 30-minute drive south-east of the city centre, attracts many too.
Meanwhile, the more central Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon offers bike rental and picnic opportunities on the tree-lined paths around it.
In a city where average temperatures in the coldest month (July) are still 21C, residents can keep fit with outdoor activities all year round. They can eat well too: superfoods such as açai (berries) and raw cocoa are Cariocas’ bread and butter; enormous açai bowls can be bought from street vendors for $1-$2.
Rio knows how to let its hair down; its annual carnival, held before Lent, is considered to be the world’s biggest party. Nearly 600 street parties take place around the city, with the largest, Cordão Da Bola Preta (Big Cord of the Black Ball), drawing about a million people to samba around the colourful floats.
At night, in the raucous Lapa neighbourhood, wheeled carts offering zingy caipirinhas keep people’s energy up until the small hours. For live samba in a brewery try Bar da Lapa, or the bars near the 18th-century Carioca Aqueduct.
Brazil’s currency reached a historic low against the US dollar last September, but the appointment of Paulo Guedes as economy minister promises change in the country’s finances. The University of Chicago-educated professor plans large-scale reforms, including an overhaul of the country’s pension scheme that could save R$1tn ($350bn) over 10 years.
Guedes has much to overcome: according to the IMF, gross public debt is forecast to hit 90 per cent of GDP this year. However, in March, optimism prompted Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa stock market index to touch 100,000 points for the first time in its history.
Brazil is the ninth-largest oil producer in the world, according to the US International Energy Information Administration, and the largest in Latin America. Rio, home to oil company head offices, benefits from the demand for skilled workers — the state surrounding the city is responsible for two-thirds of the country’s oil output, which in 2018 was on average 2.586m barrels per day.
From almost anywhere in the city, Rio is a visual feast thanks to the towering statue of Christ the Redeemer inland and Sugarloaf Mountain on the coast. It also has the extraordinary feature of an urban rainforest right at its centre. Covering almost 4,000 hectares, the Tijuca National Park is home to the first replanted forest in the world. Along with waterfalls and historical ruins, its hiking trails afford unparalleled peace and views of the striking cityscape below.
Ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio underwent intensive redevelopment, the focus of which was the Porto Maravilha project to upgrade the crumbling harbour area. The work included renovating 70km of streets, new underground infrastructure for power and sewage, and light-rail lines.
The centrepiece is the spaceship-like Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow). A science museum, the R$230m building is designed to adapt to weather conditions — its futuristic bright white canopy of solar spines juts out over the port.
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