Updated August 31st, 2018.
Comfort is a word undeniably and forever linked to travel. How was the flight? What’s the weather like? How about the bed? Was the beer cold? The coffee hot? The streets tidy? The toilet clean? It seems our experiences away can hardly be processed without comparison to the comforts of home.
Many seasoned travelers will assure you these comforts do not matter to them. That, in fact, a break from these familiar expectations only adds to the experience and feeling of adventure.
The trappings and excitement of a new place are synonymous with new norms and immersion in a different environment.
As one of the world’s most celebrated emerging economies, I was aware that it is a place undergoing rapid change. While I have had the chance to explore other developing markets, Brazil had long since topped my list and I was pleased to finally have the chance to visit and experience it.
My work was focused in Sao Paulo, the largest city in all of the Americas. While an incredibly fascinating place in terms of economic development and urbanization, I longed for the fantasy of Brazil I had always imagined—beaches, beef and babes.
I promptly added on a few vacation days and booked an excursion to Rio de Janeiro on my own dime.
Despite its economic profile, Brazil is not an inexpensive destination. Import taxes are through the roof, and travel is a luxury not many can overindulge in.
The hotel prices for travelers are astonishing, so for this solo leg of my journey, I had some choices to make. Before booking, I had heard many cautionary tales from seasoned South American travelers and Brazilian natives regarding personal safety.
As an experienced solo traveler and backpacker, I rarely find myself anxious about visiting a new place. However, the number of warnings I had been showered in admittedly had me a little unnerved.
I am fine skimping on a plush mattress and luxury-branded mini hair conditioner, but what about when it comes to actually feeling comfortable? Safety is a comfort that many travelers, especially female ones, toil with.
While you want your experience to be full and authentic, this thought of what it could mean risking can be haunting and distracting.
I opted for a reasonably priced hotel in a safe neighborhood, Ipanema. I was told this area is particularly safe and provides easy access to both the beach and nightlife.
Copacabana is another nice beach area, which is very similar. If you are seeking a more secluded experience, you may try exploring up the hillside and looking at Maria Theresa.
Peeking out the plane window, the lush jungle landscape was a stark contrast to the Midwestern winter I had left below me just a few hours before.
As I arrived in Rio, my first impression was an immediately sweaty brow and, of course, excitement. Given the aforementioned looming thoughts, I was extremely prudent and booked a car in advance to my hotel. This was costly, and in hindsight, I believe unnecessary.
Upon arrival, I took to the streets for some local exploration. I feel compelled to dispel the myth that Brazil is a prohibitively dangerous place to visit.
While it is especially wise to keep to the beaten paths, know what part of town you are in and avoid wandering alone into the favela communities, a conscious traveler should not have any problems.
The distance between Ipanema and Copacabana is very walkable—so walk it. You will miss so much if you don’t. I felt quite safe making this trip alone, strolling the boardwalk and beaches littered with sunbathers, surfers and soccer players.
Ipanema and Copacabana are just stunning, with mountain views in the distance and beautiful Brazilian bodies basking in the foreground.
These beaches are great to relax on, but be sure to save time for a walk along the boardwalk to take in the surfer culture and artistic sand castles. Brazil is a plastic surgery hot spot, so enjoy the sightseeing both human and geographic.
From this same beachfront location, I left on a tour. Yes, a tour! Believe me, I am with you that tour is one of the dirtiest words in the backpacker vernacular.
While Rio is possible to explore without, again that little voice of caution pestered in my ear, as well as my more sharpened voice of reason—value, it’s cheaper!
The tour proved an even better decision given the city center was completely shut down the day I chose to explore in preparation for that evening’s Carnival activities.
My tour consisted of three people, and our guide was well connected enough to talk our way through the police barricades to check out the sights around town.
Another perk of sightseeing this way was that we were able to skip all the lines of tourists, which allowed me to knock out twice as much in half the time, a bonus for a sightseer on a schedule.
Rio is loaded with attractions both natural and manmade, including one of the modern world wonders, Christ the Redeemer. The day began with a hotel pickup and we were off to Corcovado Hill, then Sugar Loaf Mountain and Downtown Rio.
Stops on this, as well as many other tours, included Paineiras, the Christ the Redeemer Statue, Maracanã Soccer Stadium, Sambodrome, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Escadaria Selarón’s Lapa Steps and the São Bento Monastery.
The natural beauty of this city on the sea is breathtaking. A gondola trip up to the top of Sugarloaf affords some stunning panoramic views of the sea and the small towns that line it.
Unfortunately, I woke up to rain on this day, and it never left. The cloud cover was so overwhelming I could barely see Christ the Redeemer even from his feet.
However, the trip up to the Corcovado Hill was a fun adventure, and it allowed me to get a taste of the Tijuca National Forest—always worth a trip to see wild monkeys.
Once my tour was complete, it was time to don my party mask and brave up for my long solo evening. I happened to get lucky and be in Rio for the final night of Rio’s famous Carnaval, the Samba Winner’s Parade.
The event takes place in the Sambadrome and serves as the culmination of the week’s festivities. The top six parade troupes are each awarded ninety minutes to march through a long narrow stadium showing off their dancers, costumes, floats, music and bronzed bodies.
I took a taxi to the event around 9 p.m. when it began, and my driver offered to retrieve me at 5 a.m. when things would start winding down—5 a.m.!? I was worried it may prove a long, lonely evening of sipping caipirinhas in the corner.
The event proved much more like attending a Super Bowl than a Mardi Gras, but I was blown away by the pomp and circumstance. It was pouring rain the entire time, which made for a hilarious atmosphere that was instantly welcoming.
I made friends fast, each from a different country, and the show went on! It was more lavish and over-the-top than I could have ever imagined—celebrities, flying men, fireworks and more glitter, sequins and feathers than one can comprehend.
If you have the chance to attend, make it happen, it is a truly unforgettable world event.
Beyond my desire to get a look at Christo, who eluded me this visit, Rio is a city I’d love to return to. The intoxicating combination of scenery, culture and cuisine make Rio a magical and enticing place.
From stuffing yourself silly on Brazilian barbeque to braving the thong-clad beaches, Rio offers many opportunities to push your comfort zone. While I can of course not guarantee anyone an experience identical to my own, I’d encourage you to feel confident in going.
Solo, female, young, old, this city radiates a unique energy that will dare you to indulge. When it comes to Rio de Janeiro, be smart, be aware and explore what it means to be comfortable traveling in your own skin.
Written by: Jennifer Seiser a designer and lifetime explorer. While traveling she strives to see the world in an intimate way –interacting with people via colors, textures, pictures, patterns, symbols, experiences, products and emotions. To check out more of her travel adventures take a look at her personal blog!