Rio de Janeiro

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Welcome to the Cidade Maravilhosa, or the Marvellous City, as Rio is known in Brazil. Synonymous with the girl from Ipanema, the dramatic view from Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain, and famous Carnival celebrations, Rio is also a city of stunning architecture, abundant museums, and marvellous food. Rio is also home to 23 beaches, an almost continuous 73-km (45-mi) ribbon of sand.

As you leave the airport and head to Ipanema or Copacabana, you'll drive for about a half hour on a motorway from where you'll begin to get a sense of the city's dramatic contrast between beautiful landscape and devastating poverty. In this teeming metropolis the very rich and the very poor live in uneasy proximity. But by the time you reach breezy, sunny Avenida Atlântica—flanked on one side by white beach and azure sea and on the other by condominiums and hotels—your heart will leap with expectation as you begin to recognize the postcard-famous sights. Now you're truly in Rio, where the 10 million cariocas (residents of the city of Rio) dwell and live life to its fullest.

Enthusiasm is boundless and contagious in Rio. Prepare to have your senses engaged and your inhibitions untied. Rio seduces with a host of images: the joyous bustle of vendors at Sunday's Feira Hippie (Hippie Fair); the tipsy babble at pavement cafés as patrons sip their last glass of icy beer under the stars; the blanket of lights beneath Pão de Açúcar; the bikers, joggers, strollers, and power walkers who parade along the beach each morning. Borrow the carioca spirit for your stay; you may find yourself reluctant to give it back.