Rio de Janeiro (River of January in Portuguese) is the name of both a state and a city. The city is famous for its hotel-lined tourist beaches, the giant statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) on the Corcovado Mountain and its annual Carnival.
The beautiful city has more than six million people jammed into a relatively small space between the Atlantic Ocean and an escarpment. It is divided by the Serra da Carioca, steep mountains which are part of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. One third of its residents live in favelas which are shantytowns covering the hillsides on both sides of town. Despite extreme poverty, Cariocas have an irrepressible lust for life and most activities end with the samba.
Going to the beach is a ritual for the Carioca, and the famous Copacabana, while taking up just 4.5 kilometres of the Atlantic coast, is always crammed with semi-clad people sizzling in the sun. There are constant activities drinking, singing, dancing, eating and people-watching day and night.
Ipanema is Rio's richest and most chic beach. Safer, cleaner and less frenzied than Copa, it attracts artists, latter-day hippies and beautiful young people. It was there, in 1962, that two young composers were inspired to write the song Girl from Ipanema the fourth most played song in the history of popular music. Helo Pinheiro is that girl she still lives there and runs a small boutique and is recognised everywhere she goes. Her 28-year-old daughter, Ticiana Pinhairo, is carrying on the family fame and is a model and actress.
While you're in the mood for music and it's hard not to be when in Rio why not visit one of the city's biggest and most successful dancing schools?
Carlinhos de Jesus and his troupe perform all over the world and he believes everyone can master the samba and other traditional dances. The school building has room for 2000 students.
Worth its weight in gold is the church Sao Francisco da Penitencia. Set on a hilltop overlooking Largo da Carioca, this and the Church of Santo Antonia next door, form part of the large Franciscan complex in the city centre. Both are worth visiting, but Sao Francisco is outstanding, with interior surfaces filled with golden carvings and hung with censors of heavy ornate silver.
Located at the top of the 710 metre Corcovado Mountain is one of the world's best-known and most visited monuments the statue of Christ the Redeemer. The statue is 30 metres high and when lit at night gives the impression of a ghostly Christ hovering over the city.
A miniature train runs through the steep Atlantic rainforest to the foot of the statue and from there you are given sights of Rio from every angle.
The Municipal Theatre lies along the axis of the avenida Rio Branco, facing the sea. It is well worth a visit. Inaugurated in 1909 its magnificent façade echoes the Parisian styles and fashions favoured by upper-class Brazilians of that era.
Its design arose from a competition when the first and second prize winners blended their projects into one. It is inspired by the Paris Opera House with a façade of classical tendencies and typically baroque-like volumes and forms. Its upper store has lateral curved pediments and the outer walls are decorated with mythological figures and great names in the arts.
Possibly, Brazil's most traditional dish is feijoada, a stew of black beans and pork which is eaten on Saturdays. Casa da Feijoada is the only restaurant in Rio de Janeiro where you can eat feijoada every day of the week. It is in the backstreets between Copacabana and Ipanema.
The Design Hotel Portinari, one block from Copacabana Beach, has fifty-five deluxe guest rooms over fourteen floors, each one designed by a different Brazilian designer.
The Brodowski Restaurant, located on the rooftop, offers its guests a refined gastronomic option, in a relaxed and beautiful atmosphere created by Chicô Portinari.
Lapa is a little funky neighbourhood, once known as the Montmartre of the Tropics. It spent years as a derelict red-light area, but is now the gathering place for Rio's Bohemian crowd. It has attractive colonial buildings and a very active nightlife.