Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Capoeira

You might be lucky enough to catch a group of young Cariocas gyrating acrobatically around each other on a street corner, accompanied by a musician twanging the single-stringed berimbau (a musical bow). This is capoeira, a martial art that African slaves are thought to have brought to Brazil in the 18th or 19th century. It now attracts growing fan base from around the world, drawn by its skilful blend of athleticism and hypnotic grace. Participants should get close but not quite touch each other. Capoeira schools have sprung up all over Rio, offering courses for all ages. One of the most reputable and long-standing is Capoeira Senzala (tel: (21) 9431 5914; www.capoeirasenzala.net), based in Copacabana.

Hang gliding

Hang gliding and paragliding off Rio’s sheer peaks is a spectacular thrill and a great way to see the city from a dramatically different angle. Flights take off from a ramp on the Pedra Bonita peak, overlooking São Conrado. After 15 or so breathtaking minutes of soaring over the treetops, you land on the soft sands of Praia Pepino some 690m (2,100 ft) below. There are several highly professional operators offering tandem flights, including Just Fly (tel: (21) 2268 0565; www.justfly.com.br), run by Paulo Celani, a professional pilot with more than 25 years’ experience.

Surfing

Stroll down Ipanema Beach on early mornings and late afternoons to see dozens of surfers in action. Surfing is as big in Rio as the waves that pound the beaches all along the Zona Sul coastline. Prainha and Recreio, beyond Barra to the west, are top spots for surfing, while inner city beaches, such as Arpoador and Leblon, are good options to get some practice in. There are several places to rent boards, including Invicta Surf Shop (tel: (21) 3439 072) in Arpoador, while beginners should check out surf schools such as Rio Surf n Stay (tel: (21) 3418 1133; www.riosurfnstay.com), which offers courses, tours and accommodation.

Climbing

Despite the fact that Rio is an ideal destination for climbers, this sport still only attracts a dedicated minority. The granite peaks looming over the city present a challenge for even the most experienced climber, but there are easier routes up some mountains and specialist companies run guided ascents for all skill levels. Sugar Loaf and Corcovado are two of the most popular and hardest climbs, but a couple of hours’ drive from Rio, in the nearby Serra dos Orgãos National Park, the Dedo de Deus is a fantastic alternative for dedicated types. Climbinrio (tel: (21) 2245 1108; www.climbinrio.com) is one of several companies run by professional instructors.

Beach volley

It is not unusual to see professional athletes playing vôlei (beach volleyball) on several beaches in Rio. After football, it’s Brazil’s favourite sport, and the canny Cariocas have managed to combine the two, with futevolei. Many visitors are happy just watching this dynamic game, but you can also take beach volleyball lessons on some of the hundreds of courts around the city including by Posto 10 on Ipanema Beach. Just turn up the day before to book a place; lessons usually take place mid-morning. You might even be invited to join a game, but be warned: the locals are rather good.

Cycling

For all but the hardcore urban rider, cycling in Rio is a challenging task, as its main roads are far too dangerous for most riders. However, there are some off-road cycle paths around with more being built to improve the city’s bike-friendly status. Most can be found along the seafront (Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Barra) and around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Visitors can rent bikes from the municipal BikeRio (tel: (21) 4063 3999; www.mobilicidade.com.br/bikerio.asp) network with dozens of pick-up points around the city. Just look out for the bright orange bikes, with the Itaú bank sponsor logo. Several companies run guided bike tours in and around the city, including Special Bike (tel: (21) 2539 3980; www.specialbikebotafogo.com.br) in Botafogo.

Dancing

Nothing comes more naturally to Cariocas than dancing. A night out in a gafieira (samba dancehall) in Lapa or a chic Ipanema nightclub is a fantastic experience, and Rio has many private courses and professional schools to help budding dancers shake their hips. Have a go at the deceptively simple samba, or try the more challenging lambada, afoxé and forró. Classes for these and many more nifty moves are available from dance schools dotted all over Rio. One of the best known is the Casa de Dança (tel: (21) 2541 6186; www.carlinhosdejesus.com.br) in Botafogo, run by professional dancer and choreographer Carlinho de Jesus.

Cooking

If you’re stuck for something to do on a rainy day in Rio, why not learn to cook - Brazilian style. The highlight of Cook in Rio’s (tel: (21) 8761 3653; www.cookinrio.com) class, beside the yummy meal, is the history lesson that goes with it. The one-day course includes the preparation of classic dishes such as the blow-out feijoada stew, or moqueca, a spicy seafood speciality from Bahia. You'll also find out how to mix a mean caipirinha, Rio's favourite cocktail of cachaça (cane rum) and lime juice, which helps wash it all down.

Trekking

With the mountainous expanse of Tijuca National Park wrapped around the city, Rio is ideally placed for walks and treks through the dense Atlantic Forest. Its exotic tropical flora, and the opportunity to spot monkeys, toucans, morpho butterflies and more, will add an extra allure to any trek. There are also breathtaking views from the mirantes (lookout points) and rocky summits. With myriad paths, it is not recommended to go alone, but several specialist companies run guided treks through the park. Rio Hiking (tel: (21) 2552 9204; www.riohiking.com.br) is one of the best-known outfits and they also run tours to other wild areas in and around the city.

Horse Riding

Whether you fancy a gentle riverside amble or a rigorous cross-country trek, the forests, mountainsides and waterways around Rio offer some wonderful routes for exploring on horseback. There are several operators that run a range of tours and equestrian courses, including Haras Pegasus (tel: (21) 2428 1228; www.haraspegasus.com.br), one of the best known riding stables in Vargem Grande, beyond Recreio dos Bandeirantes, in the far west of the city.

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