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Rio de Janeiro tours and excursions

Rio de Janeiro tours

Jeep tours

Several companies offer jeep tours of Rio's natural wonders. Rio by Jeep offers hiking tours of Tijuca National Park as well as adventure sports, including white-water rafting, scuba-diving, horseback riding and mountain rappelling. Jeep Tour goes to Búzios, the sun soaked beach resort east of Rio, with stops at various sites en route. Both companies can arrange hotel pick-ups.

Tel: (21) 3322 5750; (21) 2108 5800.
Website: http://www.riobyjeep.com

Boat tours

Saveiros Tour operates a cultural boat tour around Guanabara Bay, taking in major sights including Sugar Loaf Mountain, Niterói's Contemporary Art Museum, the Rio-Niteroi Bridge and Ilha Fiscal. The two-hour trip in a traditional schooner departs daily from the Gloria Marina. Tickets can be bought at the marina.

Other boat companies operate from the docks by Praca XV, offering daily trips to Niterói, Ilha Paquetá and other islands in the bay. There are also day cruises further afield, along the Costa Verde to Angra dos Reis, Ilha Grande and Paraty.

Tel: (21) 2225 6064; (21) 2104 6992.
Website: http://www.saveiros.com.br

Walking tours

Several specialist operators offer tailored guided city walks, usually charged by the hour. Cultural Rio runs cultural sightseeing tours of Rio's historic landmarks, led by a multilingual history of art professor. The 'Downtown Rio Tour' crosses the historic centre from Cinelândia, the arts district, to São Bento, the richest baroque church in Rio.

Rio Hiking provides English-language guided walks in Tijuca forest and up Rio's mountains. The price includes an ascent of Tijuca, Rio's highest peak, pick-up and lunch. Trips are either five or eight hours and are a challenging but hugely rewarding experience, providing the best views over the whole city and beyond.

Tel: (21) 9911 3829; (21) 2552 9204.
Website: http://www.culturalrio.com.br

Helicopter tours

For a bird's eye view of Rio, Helisight operates sightseeing flights of various lengths and routes. A 15-minute flight will cover the city centre, Sambódromo, the Maracanã stadium, Corcovado, Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer as well as Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Departures are from one of three helipads, located at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Dona Marta Belvedere (access route to Corcovado) and Sugar Loaf, open daily from 0900 to 1800.

Even the shortest, seven minutes long helicopter rides do not come cheap but those wanting the ultimate whistle-stop tour may feel they're worth a special splurge.

Tel: (21) 2511 2141 (weekdays) or 2542 7935 (weekends and holidays).
Website: http://www.helisight.com.br

Rio de Janeiro excursions

Armação dos Búzios

Only a couple of hours drive from Rio de Janeiro, eastwards along the Costa do Sol, Armação dos Búzios is the ideal destination for a weekend of sun, sea and shopping. Búzios, as it's known locally, sits on a rocky peninsula and boasts over 17 beaches that range from hidden coves to wide oceanic expanses of white sand. Once a simple fishing village, a brief visit by Brigitte Bardot in the early 1960s transformed Búzios into one of Brazil's most fashionable beach resorts. Today its pristine bays are sprinkled with boutiques, fine restaurants, trendy nightclubs and chic designer hotels - a virtual Saint Tropez of the tropics.

Tel: (22) 2623 4925.
Website: http://www.buziosturismo.com

Petrópolis

The former summer home of the Brazilian royal family, Petrópolis is still a popular destination for escaping Rio's high-season cauldron, and enjoying its cooler mountain air. About an hour from Rio by road, Petrópolis has preserved its original landscaped layout, with many historic mansions lining its shady boulevards. Visitors come to relax in its parks and gardens, explore the Imperial Palace Museum and sample the local produce of the Vale des Gourmets in the city's fine restaurants. More active adventurers come to hike and climb in the nearby Serra dos Orgãos national park, with its distinctive peaks that are reminiscent of organ pipes.

Paraty

This enchanting old harbour town is situated some 258km (160 miles) south of Rio, with a backdrop of lush Atlantic Rainforest. Paraty is a UNESCO World Heritage site, in recognition of its immaculately preserved architecture. Its many colonial churches, squares and terracotta-roofed houses are still much as they were when Paraty was a chief port for the export of gold and coffee in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Cars are banned from the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Quarter, which are lined with beautifully preserved buildings. Many now house art galleries, pousadas (colonial lodge hotels), restaurants and handicraft shops.

From Rio, Paraty is about a three-hour drive along the gorgeous Costa Verde coastal highway, which winds around lovely bays dotted with offshore tropical islands.

Tel: (24) 3371 1897.
Website: http://www.paraty.com.br/us

Niterói

This city across the bay from Rio has two major attractions: firstly, the awesome but less commonly seen views of the city, plus the Museu de Arte Contemporãnea (Museum of Contemporary Art) - a stunning modern building designed by leading Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

The museum houses artworks by leading artists from the mid-20th century, but to many visitors the most impressive sight is the curvaceous white building itself. Suspended on a narrow column over a pond, it overlooks the bay and it seems to defy gravity whilst conveying an uplifting sense of grace. In addition, Niterói has a hilltop park, Parque da Cidade, which offers yet more stunning views, as well as several historic forts, and some excellent-value restaurants.

Most visitors reach Niterói by road, across the huge 13km-long (8 miles) Rio-Niterói Bridge. Alternatively there are ferries from Rio's quays near Praça XV de Novembro, with many daily departures.

Tel: (21) 2710 2727.
Website: http://www.niteroiturismo.com.br

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Hotel Mama Ruisa

This tasteful boutique hotel lies in the heart of Santa Teresa in a converted late 19th-century mansion. Laidback French proprietor Jean Michel Ruiz has had each of the seven rooms individually decorated in tribute to icons of stage and screen, including Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Carmen Miranda and Maria Callas. The spacious lounge is filled with modern designer furniture and its walls are hung with original works of art and ethnic artefacts. The private walled garden has a small pool, with a terrace and veranda where meals and cocktails are served.

Rio Design Hotel

Rio de Janeiro's first design hotel is a modern establishment one block from Copacabana Beach. Its 66 rooms, suites and apartments have been individually styled by top Brazilian artists, giving the hotel an exclusive and contemporary feel. This Rio hotel is a popular choice with visitors who are looking for something a bit chic but not prohibitively expensive. All rooms are comfortable, with flat-screen TVs and broadband internet access. Other hotel facilities include a business centre, fitness studio with spa and sauna, and a rooftop restaurant, but no pool.

Windsor Barra Hotel

Windsor Barr Hotel is a good choice for exploring Rio's western suburbs and beaches, particularly for surfers and for those planning to attend the 2016 Olympics. This modern, high-rise hotel facing Barra da Tijuca beach has 338 comfortable if not luxurious rooms with all mod-cons. It also has a restaurant, bar, two swimming pools, fitness centre, sauna, and airport shuttle bus.

Fasano Rio

Still the coolest luxury hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Fasano Rio is a place where both Brazilian and global celebrities come to see and to be seen. Overlooking Ipanema Beach, this stylish designer hotel brings a modern concept of hospitality, elegance and sophistication. The interiors are a joint venture of renowned architect Philippe Stark and the restaurateur and hotelier Rogério Fasano. The décor combines dark tropical woods with light and airy drapes and furnishings. All 79 rooms and 10 suites have a balcony and most with a sea view. Its rooftop terrace and pool gives a superb view over the beach to the Dois Irmãos mountains, stunning at sunset. The restaurant, Fasano Al Mare, is under the capable hands of three-Michelin-star chef Luca Gozzani.

San Marco Hotel

Located right in the heart of Ipanema, San Marco Hotel is the perfect choice for holidaymakers on a budget who want to take full advantage of the nearby beach – two blocks away - without missing out on Rio’s exciting nightlife. The small modern hotel has 56 tidy and functional rooms, all en-suite with TVs and air conditioning, and is in the thick of Ipanema’s trendy bars, shops, restaurants and clubs (ask for a room on an upper floor if on the street side). Its friendly bilingual staff, wireless internet connection, and competitive rates make this one of the few good-value budget hotels in Ipanema.

Ritz Plaza Hotel Leblon

Located in the heart of Leblon, Rio's most expensive square metre, Ritz Plaza Hotel Leblon offers quality services at affordable prices. Its rooms are well furnished if not huge, with modern décor. A generous buffet breakfast is included and the hotel has up-to-date facilities, including spa and a small pool. It's a couple of blocks in from the beach and close to cinemas, theatres, shops, restaurants and the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon.