This is Part 3 of a series of trip reports on my November trip to Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls.
On my ticket to Iguazu, I could book a stopover in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro for no extra cost. At first I was planning on doing Sao Paolo, but folks suggested 2 days in Rio would be a better use of my time. There was a lot I wanted to do in those two days, which didn’t work out too well for a number of reasons. But I still found the city enjoyable and will probably go back some time now that I have a 10 year visa.
Generally, I was very pleased with my hotel choice, the Caesar Park Hotel, a Sofitel managed property right on the beach in Ipanema (sometimes spelled Cesar Park). Although there are tons of hotels in Rio, the major American chains don’t have properties that are particularly well-located for tourists except for the J.W. Marriott, which was out of my price range. Caesar Park, though, was right where I wanted to be. The hotel felt in between a boutique and large property, which was good. I’m not sure how long it has been part of the Accor family, which also has a traditional large Sofitel on Copacabana, but there were some things in the lobby which suggested it was formerly part of the Starwood-owned Design Hotels group.
Check-in was smooth, and but for a long wait for the elevator, the room was quite lovely — not huge or spectacular, but definitely nice and not small. Although it was not one of the true oceanfront rooms in the hotel, it did have a side view of the ocean and Morro Dos Irmaos (Two Brothers peaks) which was pretty darn lovely.
The room was showing a bit of wear, with some cracked walls and a dated bathroom, and a lack of outlets, and the bed was a bit firm for my taste. There was also no complimentary water bottle or coffee/teamaking facilities which I would’ve thought was a Sofitel brand standard. The only major issue was that the room was quite loud, as it was designed to basically be an extra bedroom for the room across the hall, and the two rooms had their own mini-hallway, which amplified the sound of my neighbors and what I could only assume was some sort of repairman while I napped. We’ll get back to this later.
By the time I got to the hotel, I knew the TIM cell phone store would be closing shortly. I wanted to get a Brazilian visitor sim card, which is supposed to be easily purchased. It is not, and the ensuing saga convinced me to just buy a sim card online before my February trip to Bahia. So I briskly walked to the TIM store, about 5 minutes from the hotel. No one there spoke English, but between English and Spanish I conveyed what I wanted. She showed me the right Tourist SIM on her computer, and asked for 50 Reals, great. Except it was cash only, which I had known but forgotten, and hadn’t gone to an ATM yet. I still had 15 minutes til closing, so I ran outside to a bank and tried to access it with my Charles Schwab debit card, which failed. I tried again at another bank, and failed. At this point I knew I’d have to get in touch with Schwab. So I went back to the hotel, used my backup/emergency old phone, and Schwab put a “travel advisory” on the card — something I’d never had to do on my dozens of other international trips.
At around 10pm, I headed to the nearby Zaza Bistro. It looked popular and hip, and was close, so why not. The only negatives were that seating was outdoors and was very humid, and it was a little more expensive than I’d anticipated. But it was good Asian/Brazilian fusion and still not “expensive.” I had a chicken curry with bananas, beer, water, and Moroccan chicken appetizer, for about $35. I tried going to the ATM again after dinner, but apparently the ATMs of Rio close at 10pm.
After what was just an exhausting day, rather than try and go out, I called it an early night so I could take advantage of what was essentially my one full day in Rio.
My plan was to wake up, go to the gym, head to the ATM and then to the TIM Store, grab a quick coffee and pastry-type breakfast, head to Corcovado/Christ the Redeemer, come back for lunch and beach at Ipanema, nap, and head to Sugarloaf Mountain. This did not occur.
The gym and ATM part of the plan went ok, but alas TIM did not open until 10am. So I looked for a café, finding only find juice bars and McDonalds. I ordered a cappuccino and croissant at McDonald’s, but ended up with a hot chocolate and a disgusting croissant with fake yellow cheese and ham in it. TIM finally opened and contrary to my experience the day before, they insisted that they didn’t sell the Tourist SIM and I had to go to their store in Leblon to get it. I walked over to Claro, the other cell provider, and they said they didn’t sell sim cards. At this point, I had spent way too much time on it, and had less than 72 hours left in the country, so decided to give up.
I went back to the hotel, and asked the concierge about getting to Corcovado, and he said I needed to get a ticket in advance for the train, which was absolutely not true. He said he would buy it online for me, and somehow ended up buying two tickets instead of one, needing to get one refunded on my credit card. There were no online tickets available until 3pm, so the plan was now completely shot.
So I decided instead to walk around Ipanema and Copacabana. It was not a beach day, alas, as it was rather cloudy. I did a 45 minute walk along the beach which was nonetheless enjoyable and showed me some of the local beauty, wink wink. I then took a taxi back to Ipanema and napped, before heading to the beach in front of the hotel, where hotel staff sets up chairs and towels for guests. The wind and clouds made it not so pleasant, yet I still managed to get a sunburn.
After that I grabbed a disappointing though cheap and well-presented beef stew lunch at a casual restaurant, before hopping in a taxi and heading over to Corcovado. The taxi took quite a while- about 40 minutes – but it allowed me to see more of the city, particularly the Lagoa district. As per instruction, I got there 30 minutes early, which was totally unnecessary with a timed ticket for the train up to the mountain. I was the first one there for my train, and waited in the small waiting area and grabbed a Diet Coke.
A crowd started to gather, and I ended up sharing the train with a large group of French teens, which was loud. The train ride is slow, but fairly spectacular, as it seems almost vertical going up the side of the peak, with cool views below. The train doesn’t currently have any stops on the way, but there were a few former (and maybe future) stations along the way. At one point, the train stops for a track change I think, and people run up to the train to try and sell you water through the windows.
Once you reach the summit, there is a bit of a walk to the statue itself, though you see Christ’s backside right from the start. There are a bunch of shops and snack bars you climb past and then you hit the main platform around the iconic statue. Even on a gray and cloudy day, it was packed. It’s very difficult to get good pictures of either the statue or of the city below, though I can see how it could be a really beautiful view on a nice day. With the clouds you could still see the whole city. Still, it wasn’t so spectacular for it to take up half of my time in Rio.
I waited a long while for a train back down, but luckily made it down and grabbed a taxi just before the rain started. In all, I should have either gone in the morning or to Sugarloaf.
When I got back to my room, I wanted to nap before the evening. Unfortunately, the noise was even worse than before. Now, there was loud drilling going on either directly above my head or on the other side of the wall. After pretending maybe I could sleep anyway, called down to see how long the drilling was going to go on. They called me back and said it would be done by 6pm. Since it was already 5pm, and it wasn’t worth packing up all my stuff to try and change rooms, I went to the gym, though I was exhausted. My tiredness get I couldn’t motivate to work out much as I was exhausted, (plus a girl was occupying the only elliptical) but kept going until 6:10.
As you may have guessed, the construction was still going. I called down again and asked when it would really stop and the desk clerk was apologetic and said he’d talk to his manager (I didn’t ask him to.) I got a call back from the manager, apologizing. She asked me if I had plans for the night, because she would love to give me a drink coupon, which she said would be delivered to my room. (When she asked if I had plans for the night, I thought she would be offering dinner at least.) I really don’t think a drink compensates for essentially the lack of use of the room. Of course I then waited for the stupid drink coupon, which never came. I was meeting a friend for drinks at 7:15, so I just asked about it at the front desk, and they gave me one of the coupons for a welcome drink from the stack of hundreds on the desk. Of course after I had the stupid Caipirinha at the rooftop bar (which took about 10 minutes to get) and stopped back in my room before dinner, there was a note with an apology, a welcome drink voucher, and a voucher for a 30 minute massage, which was nice and all but considering I was leaving the hotel at 7am the next day would do me little good. Not well handled.
It randomly turned out that a friend of mine from DC was also in town, so we met up for dinner in Copacabana, at an overpriced adequate Italian place right on the beach. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at the Copacabana night market right on Avenida Atlantica, and picked up some trinkets, before “early” (i.e., midnight) bed before a 6:15am wakeup.
I was checked out of the hotel at 6:50am and in a taxi en route to the airport (GIG) for my flight to Iguassu.
As an aside, a few days later, I got an email saying my Accor Le Club points were being transferred to my Iberia Avios account (which is in turn linked to my BA Avios account). Apparently I had set that up 4 years ago. At first I wondered if I’d had just missed out on some great points opportunity, but there ended up being an Avios promotion of some sort, plus a double Accor points promo going on, which led to this one stay earning 2368 points. And for some reason, Le Club points transfer to Iberia 1 to 1, whereas most airlines, including BA, are 2 to 1. So good move 2012 Adam. Also, I had complained via Twitter to Accor about the hotel issue, and after some follow-up, I got 3000 additional points deposited in my account.
I didn’t explore downtown Rio at all, or its nightlife, so I’ll probably go back sometime soon. (Though on my next trip to Brazil in February-March I’ll be seeing other parts of the country.) I leave you with a selfie: