Though Rio de Janeiro‘s Zona Sul – or ‘South Zone’ – is famous for Copacabana beach, a delicious food scene, and an abundance of iconic attractions, those who explore beyond its boundaries will be inspired by vibrant samba schools, authentic cuisine, and untouched beaches. Here’s everything you need to know.
Exploring the West
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Looking for stunning beaches in Rio de Janeiro? The ones in the south zone such as Ipanema and Copacabana won’t fail to impress. Yet the truly untouched beaches that conjure most people’s definition of paradise are found in the west of Rio. Barra da Tijuca (often shortened to Barra) beach is the first of a long stretch of beaches, and while it still borders high-rise apartment blocks, it doesn’t attract the same heaving crowds of the southern shores.
Head further west to find Recreio’s beach, known for its impeccable surfing conditions and empty sands. For a truly paradisiacal experience, go further still to find the rarely-visited Praia Funda, Praia do Meio, and Praia do Perigoso. These beaches you can only access by hiking the Transcarioca trail, a 180 km (112 mile)-hike that winds along Rio’s western coastline before drifting off into the depths of the Tijuca Forest.
Nature is the main appeal here with glorious hikes and viewpoints such as Pedra do Telegrafo and Pedra da Tartaruga. Go to Barra de Guaratiba for stand up paddling (sometimes known as ‘sup’ in Rio) through mangroves followed by a fresh seafood lunch in one of the handful of simple, local eateries dotted throughout the area. If you love a challenge, try stand up paddling to Ilha Tijucas in Barra, an uninhabited island 4 km (2.5 miles) from the coastline. For culture-vultures, go to Cidade das Artes in Barra to see various art exhibitions and live music – a highlight is watching the Brazilian orchestra. For wining and dining, be sure to check out one of the area’s many restaurants, bars, and clubs.
Uncovering the North Zone
The north zone of Rio de Janeiro is replete with attractions that represent life in the city better than the monuments in the south. Head to Maracanã, the largest stadium in Brazil, to watch a local football game to experience the true passion Brazilians have for the game. For shopping, Feira de São Cristóvão promises a stimulating experience. The largest indoor fair in Rio is full of items, souvenirs, and food inspired by the northeast of Brazil. Eat the local food there – try the carne do sol with rice and beans – while watching the live forró performances which include animated music and lively dancing. While in Rio, watching a samba performance is a must and there are few better places than at Portela samba school in Oswaldo Cruz. Watch the samba rehearsals where dancers impress with lightning-speed footwork followed by traditional, homemade feijoada that they serve there.
Things to do
Being away from the coastline, Centro has everything for those looking for a culture fix with its collection of museums, art galleries, and theatres. The area is also rich in historical significance from the Portuguese colonisation to the remaining scars of decades of past slavery. For weekend nightlife, skip Lapa and go to Arco de Teles instead on for all-night outdoor parties on the cobbled streets with live Brazilian music. Head further inland to the hills of Santa Teresa. With its bohemian vibe, it seems another world from the body-conscious shores of the south and is an area replete with art studios and artisanal shops.
By all means, have fun in the south zone of Rio – it is, after all, a tourist hotspot for many wonderful reasons. However, you don’t need to stay there to enjoy the best of Rio. Hop on a bus at the Rodoviária (the main bus terminal in Rio) in the north zone and go exploring some of the nearby points of interest.
For mountain charm, go to Petropolis, the home of the former Emperor of Brazil and pleasant spot for forest hikes and classic Brazilian restaurants. For a tropical retreat on a paradisiacal island, take a boat to Ilha Grande, an island known for some of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches, marine-rich waters, and jungle trails. Alternatively, escape the crowds at the peaceful Paraty, a beachside colonial town known for its locally-brewed cachaça, dozens of waterfalls, and island-hopping boat trips. Finally, there’s Buzios, former fishermen’s village that is now an upscale seaside town known for its high-quality seafood restaurants and thriving nightlife.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.