Brazil’s host City of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics is a vibrant, and often mysterious place. Most people outside of Brazil know very little about Rio de Janeiro, other than the fact that there are communities of people living in colourful favelas (densely-populated slum neighbourhoods). Want to find out more about the Cidade Maravilhosa / Marvelous City? Check out the following 10 Rio de Janeiro facts…

10. Rio de Janeiro Means “January River”

Although there isn’t a river there, the Portuguese sailed into a large bay on the 1st of January 1502 and named it “January River” (or River of January) – they mistakenly thought it was the mouth of a river. This bay was later renamed Guanabara Bay, which means “Bosom of the Sea”.

Tourists Looking Out Over Guanabara Bay from Sugarloaf Mountain
Tourists Looking Out Over Guanabara Bay from Sugarloaf Mountain

9. Samba Originated from African Slaves in Rio

The most famous dance in Brazil – the Samba – is an African dance which is synonymous with Rio Carnival. During the transatlantic slave trade, approximately 5 million African slaves were brought to Brazil and many worked on plantations in Rio de Janeiro. Samba derives from “Semba” – a traditional African music, originating from the ex-Portguese colony of Angola, in West Africa.

Samba Dancers Parading Through the Sambadrome at Rio Carnival
Samba Dancers Parading Through the Sambadrome during Rio Carnival (Photo: IBN Live)

8. The Pope Gave a Church Service to 3 Million People on Copacabana Beach

Rio de Janeiro hosted the 14th international World Youth Day, with events taking place between the 23rd and 28th of July 2013. Pope Francis held a Mass on Copacabana Beach on the final day of this Roman Catholic festival, attracting 3 million worshippers. This was Pope Francis’ first trip abroad since becoming Pope, and he was mobbed by large crowds on his arrival.

Pope Francis Arriving at Mass on Copacabana Beach
Pope Francis Arriving at Mass on Copacabana Beach (Photo: BBC News)
Copacabana Beach - Transformed Into a Church for World Youth Day
Copacabana Beach – Transformed Into a Church for 3 Million Visitors on World Youth Day (Photo: BBC News)

7. Michael Jackson Shot a Music Video in one of Rio’s Favelas

Michael Jackson and movie director Spike Lee shot the music video for “They Don’t Really Care About Us” in Rio’s Santa Marta Favela (you can take a tour of this favela here). Rio de Janeiro officials feared that this video would damage the City’s tourism by highlighting its poverty. These officials accused Jackson of exploiting the poor and tried to prevent the video shoot from going ahead. However, Jackson and his production team persisted – and as a homage to the superstar singer, a bronze statue of Michael Jackson has been erected in a small square in the favela.

Micael Jackson Filming his Music Video at Santa Marta Favela in 1996
Micael Jackson Filming the “They Don’t Really Care About Us” Music Video in Santa Marta Favela (Photo: The Guardian)
The Bronze Statue of Michael Jackson at Santa Marta Favela
The Bronze Statue of Michael Jackson at Santa Marta Favela (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Guilherme Mendes Cruz)

6. Ipanema Used to be a Stinky Lake

Rio’s second-most-famous beach – Ipanema – translates to “Stinky Lake” in Brazil’s native Tupi language. As Ipanema Beach is considered to be the stylish and sociable alternative to Copacabana beach, you would never guess that it’s name was so offensive!

View of Ipanema Beach - Coming Down From Arpoador
View of Ipanema Beach – Coming Down From Arpoador

5. Rio is Home to One of the New Seven Wonders of the World

Cristo Redentor – or Christ the Redeemer in English – is one of the new seven wonders of the world. Standing on top of Rio de Janeiro’s Corcovado Mountain, constructed from 1922 to 1931 and weighing 635 tonnes, this iconic statue of Jesus Christ is the symbol of the city.

Mase Taking an Obligatory Christ the Redeemer Selfie
Mase Taking an Obligatory Christ the Redeemer Selfie

Oh, did we tell you that we had to endure a FIVE-HOUR WAIT to see Christ the Redeemer?

4. A “Carioca” is a Resident of Rio de Janeiro

Anyone who is from Rio or lives in Rio is referred to as a Carioca. The word actually originates from the native Brazilian Tupi word “Kara’i Oka” which means “white man’s house”. Carioca’s can be credited with inventing the sport Footvolley on the sands of Copacabana beach (volleyball with the feet), as well as the famous Bossa Nova sound, which is a fusion of samba and jazz.

A Patriotic Carioca with Rio de Janeiro Tattooed All Over His Back
A Patriotic Carioca with Rio de Janeiro Tattooed All Over His Back

3. Rio Carnival is the Largest Carnival on Earth

We’ve spent new years eve on Copacabana Beach – it was absolutely heaving with people – and we were told that these crowds were nothing in comparison to the carnival. Approximately 1 million International tourists join in the celebrations with the 6.5 million cariocas already in the city.

A Bloco (Street Party) at Rio Carnival
A Bloco (Street Party) at Rio Carnival (Photo: Tours Gone Wild)

2. It is Illegal to Sunbathe Topless on the Beach

Unlike the sea of bosoms you can be subjected to on the beaches in Spain or Turkey, you’ll not find a single bosom in sight on Copacabana or Ipanema beach in Rio. It is illegal to sunbathe topless on these beaches, but fear not – there is a nudist beach in western Rio called Apricot Beach (Praia do Abricó) that adults can visit so they can tan those hard-to-reach areas.

Copacabana Beach - No Boobs in Sight
Copacabana Beach – No Boobs in Sight
Ipanema Beach - No Boobs, Just Trendy Cariocas With Umbrellas
Ipanema Beach – No Boobs, Just Trendy Cariocas With Umbrellas

1. Christ the Redeemer is Struck by Lightning Several Times a Year

Standing at 125 feet / 38 metres tall (including its pedestal), the Christ the Redeemer statue is probably closer to the sky than it wants to be! Due to this, it has been struck by lightning many times and has needed to undergo repair work.

Christ the Redeemer Being Struck by Lightning
Christ the Redeemer Being Struck by Lightning (Photo: Daily Mail)
The Damaged Hand of the Christ The Redeemer Statue
The Damaged Hand of the Christ The Redeemer Statue (Photo: Daily Mail)
A Construction Worker Carrying Out Repairs on the Arm of Christ The Redeemer
A Construction Worker Carrying Out Repairs on the Arm of Christ The Redeemer

 

Plan Your Own Trip to Rio de Janeiro

The first thing you should do… Download our Free Go To Rio App for your iPhone, iPad, Android, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick. This will help you to plan your entire trip – from giving you the top 20 restaurants, attractions, nightlife and top things to do in Rio de Janeiro, to giving you access to the best tours in the city.

We always look for the best deals when it comes to flights, accommodation and tours. Over the last 15 years of enjoying trips together, we’ve come to rely on a few providers that have saved us money and given us a great service…

TOURS & THINGS TO DO

  • Viator.com – Excellent tours and all of the top things to do in Rio de Janeiro, hand-picked by local, English-speaking tour guides. We’ve been using Viator since 2011 when we booked a River Seine cruise in Paris

ACCOMMODATION

  • Hotels Combined lets you search and compare the best hotel deals in Rio de Janeiro, from Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com and more! With a choice of 527 Hotels in Rio, Expedia offers up to 60% Discount on selected Rio de Janeiro Hotels. We’ve been using Expedia since 2005 !! Hotels.com offers up to 70% Discount on many of their Hotels in Rio. We’ve been using hotels.com since 2003 !!

FLIGHTS

  • Expedia – Book a few months in advance and you’ll find cheap flights to Rio, with many international flights flying direct from major cities. We booked our first flight with Expedia in 2005 from London to Miami

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