Due in large part to the beautiful beaches, coastline, and mountains, Rio de Janeiro is known as “A Cidade Maravilhosa” (The Beautiful City). So what better way to experience this incredible topography than from above. With this in mind I decided to book an aerial tour of Rio by helicopter. So one sunny, clear day, I went to a private airport in Barra da Tijuca (an upscale residential suburb of Rio) where I had booked a private helicopter tour. After arriving at the airport and signing numerous documents and waivers as well as going through some safety preparations and being fit with a harness-like vest which would connect to the seat belt, I was ready to see my ride. And it was a sleek one!
The only surprise (and in fact, made me a bit nervous at first) was that the helicopter had no doors and was completely open on both sides! But hey, I definitely have “miles to go before I sleep”, so I boarded, and strapped myself in. The pilot explained our itinerary, asked me if I wanted to concentrate on any area in particular and we were off! I pretty much deferred to his expertise (since pretty much my life was in his hands and he knew the weather and visibility better than me) but emphasized that I would like to get as close as possible to the iconic Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue which stands high atop the Corcovado mountain as the city’s religious and symbolic guardian. After takeoff, we headed toward the coastline of Barra da Tijuca.
Barra da Tijuca is a mostly upscale residential suburb of Rio with beaches just as beautiful, albeit much less crowded than the ones in Rio proper. It is not as much a tourist destination as Rio since it is about a half hour drive to the main center of action in Copacabana and Ipanema, traffic which can make the commute exponentially worse during rush hour. While the government tried to promote tourist development in Barra after the 2016 Olympics (many hotels were built), it has sort of died down after that due to the terrible recession in Brazil and the desire of most tourists to be closer to the action, resulting in the closing of existing hotels (including a Trump Hotel) and the abandoning of some under development. All in all, however, this lack of overtourism makes Barra a nice place for the locals to live.
From there, we passed by Saõ Conrado.
Saõ Conrado is one of my favorite places in Brazil. While home to many of the old money Brazilians, it is also home to Rocinha, one of the biggest and historically, worst favelas (slums) in Brazil. Talk about a snapshot of the wealth distribution inequality in Brazil! Recent police and military intervention as well as a surprising upsurge in tourist development in the favela (restaurants, bars, art galleries hostels, and guesthouses) have made it much safer and the majority of the inhabitants are some of the most hardworking, honest and friendly Brazilians you will meet! For beach lovers, Saõ Conrado’s small beach is one of the best for hang gliding. And its upscale Fashion Mall is one of my favorite places to escape the heat, get a good meal and people watch.
From there we passed by my home in Rio, the Sheraton Grand Rio in Vidigal, which is one the only Rio hotel with direct beach access as well as being extremely close to but not in, crowded Copacabana and Ipanema.
From there we passed by Leblon and right next to it, the world famous Ipanema Beach.
And while Leblon has some of the world’s most expensive real estate and Ipanema has one of the world’s most famous beaches, the latter is mostly known for the famous song, The Girl from Ipanema, written by Antônio Carlos Jobim. And while I didn’t attempt to find her from high above, looking down at the sights, I would definitely bet that she is still there.
From there, we passed by Arpoador (the harpoon thrower) which is a small piece of beach, land and rock jutting out into the ocean and naturally separating Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. It is known for its surfing.
Then we quickly turned the corner and arrived at the world famous Copacabana Beach.
And while known the world over and loved by both Brazilians and foreigners alike (especially first time visitors), I would not stay in the Copacabana area due to some of its seedier side streets and more crowded beach. But I definitely visit it at least once every time I go to Rio, whether to walk along its mosaic covered promenade on the Avenida Atlantica or to get a bite to it.
And now to the part of the tour for which I was waiting….. Christ the Redeemer statue. We quickly went from overwater to overland and began to ascend rapidly over Rio de Janeiro. And as we approached the Corcovado Mountain, the magnificent statue grew closer and closer.
And as we pulled away from the statue, one which is illuminated at night and which can be seen from all over Rio, I realized it is watching over and protecting Rio at all times.
From there we passed over the upscale Lagoas (Lagoon) area.
And on the way back to the airport I saw many more panoramic city views of Rio (note: the first one is the same view used on many of the Spanish language telenovelas (soap operas) when showing Rio.
And just like that we were ready to land!
My helicopter tour of Rio de Janeiro was incredible and exciting. I highly recommend it for getting a one of a kind, bird’s eye view of this marvelous city!