If you've never been to Rio de Janeiro, make 2016 the year you go. This year, the city will host the Summer Olympics on the western side of town, so it's bound to be more crowded than usual. But if you go a bit earlier, you'll have plenty of time and space to see the city from atop Sugarloaf Mountain, visit the world's largest urban rainforest at Tijuca National Park, and much more.
This 340-acre botanic garden is not to be missed: It features more than 6,000 indigenous species of flora, 140 species of birds, guided tours, gorgeous lakes and is free for children. The Garden House also houses some carnivorous plants in case you want to see plants eat bugs. And oh yeah, Albert Einstein once visited here. If it's good enough for Einstein, it's good enough for you.
Tijuca National Park, near the Christ the Redeemer statue, is the world's largest urban rainforest. The park is split into three distinct sections, each with their own theme — Forest, the Carioca Hill and Pedra Bonita, and Gávea. With waterfalls, more than 1,600 plant species and 350 animal species and free admission, Tijuca National Park is one of Rio de Janeiro's most prized treasures.
chensiyuan via Wikipedia
The girl from Ipanema lives here. This beach is made for having fun: beer is sold everywhere, you can play beach sports, and the Travel Channel called it the sexiest beach in the world. What's not sexy about this beach, however, is the abnormally high levels of fecal matter in the surf...Yikes.
Rising 1,300 feet above the sea is the monolithic granite and quartz Sugarloaf Mountain, the top of which is said to provide one of the best views of the city. A cablecar runs the length of the mountain, but it's really popular so get there early.
Visit.Rio via Flickr
With fantastic performances and cheap tickets, this Parisian-style theater right in the middle of downtown is a must-see in Rio de Janeiro. If you're interested in the history of the theater, you can pay for a 45-minute walking tour of the theater, which are also available in English.
Standing righteously tall on the top of a mountain with his arms wide open is a huge, beautiful Jesus who watches the city below him 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. One of the city's most visited attractions, it took 9 years to build and is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. You can reach him by van, bus or, if you're feeling up to it, an 8-mile hike! Totally worth it.
Looking for something free to do? Take a walk on Claudio Coutinho Trail, a short trail that takes you along the beach and past some of the area's most beautiful sites and wildlife. It's a great way to see a bit of nature without straying too far from the city.
This year's Summer Olympics will be held mostly in Barra da Tijuca, a neighborhood on the western side of Rio de Janeiro. More than 150 countries and 10,500 athletes will come to the city to compete. To prepare for the event, the city's downtown area has been undergoing a major renovation called Porto Maravilha that includes improvements to public transportation, accessibility and crime prevention.
Looking for Rio de Janeiro nightlife? With its tapas bars, music venues and samba clubs, the festive neighborhood of Lapa is the perfect choice. Check out the three-story Rio Scenarium, a vintage club with dancing and craft cocktails.
If you've got an extra couple hours and the energy, try trekking up the mile-long trail to summit Morro Dois irmaos. The trail is free, but the view is one of the best in the city, and it's certainly cheaper and more accessible (if you're in shape) than Sugarloaf Mountain.