A year ago, when I mentioned that I was going to take my 9 year old daughter to Brazil for a vacation I received several sideways looks. Especially, since I planned to make Rio de Janeiro our base for the three week stay in Brazil. Not unlike most cities, Rio struggles with dual personalities. However, the shear beauty of the golden sand, pristine blue ocean against the sharp backdrop of lush rainforest mountains heightens the poignantly contrast of favelas in poverty, gangs and crime within. While recently there have been several high profile attacks on tourists, my experiences in Rio have always been safe. I was first in the city during the 2016 Olympics and I found it extremely safe. Even though safety had decreased in the subsequent six months ahead of our vacation, I found it no different than many other large metropolitan centres. I would not have gone if it was unsafe and I followed the same basic rules for travelling smart in any country. Since our visit in March 2017, there has sadly been a significant change for the worse. I hope this will be reversed soon because my daughter and I loved Rio and wish others the opportunity to experience it too.
I think everyone would agree that the Cidade Maravilhisa (Marvelous City) is famous for the large party of Carnaval and breathtaking scenic views of the city at every turn. However, there are numerous dimensions to the city including countless family activities. No matter if your interests are beaches, outdoor adventures, historical sights, art and architecture or parks and gardens Rio can accommodate. Even a budget conscious family can do many activities for free. My daughter and I planned a basic list of sights we wanted to see. Unlike my last trip to Brazil, where I planned nothing, a responsible family vacation required slightly more planning time to be invested. That being said, we only had a list of things that we might or might not get to exploring. Every morning we’d wake up, eat breakfast and plan our day depending on how we felt. Is today a beach, museum or outdoor hike day?
How did you get everywhere? Was there much English? Well, we walked a fair bit on the beach but within the city it was over 30 degrees Celsius which made for a sweltering trek at times. I love taking the bus but unfortunately for safety reasons we couldn’t use it during this trip to Rio. Mostly we travelled by Uber. It was perfect because there was no verbal communication or cash required. Get in and arrive at your destination for about $7-$9. Taxis were a little more expensive but still reasonable and worked well. In a city of 6.5 million people you will come across many that understand English but generally on the street or in restaurants there wasn’t much English spoken. That being said, if you don’t mind the added adventure, just learn a little Portuguese and download Google Translate to get along just fine.
We were very fortunate because my dear friend Gi, who lives in Rio, was able to spend much time with us. I truly believe without her kindness and generosity our time in Rio would have been very different. We were in the city for twelve of the next twenty-one days and we crisscrossed it numerous times to see its sights. Rode a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Boggy boarded the waves at Ipanema Beach. Gazed at the royal palms of the Botanical Gardens. Stood at the foot of Cristo Redentor atop the Corcovado Mountain. Climb the stairs of Escadaria Selaron. Explored aquariums and museums. Hiked in the jungle like Parqueda Catacumba. Ate and drank new things. To finish many of our days we’d walk the one block from our apartment to the ocean and talk about our adventures in the surf of Copacabana Beach. We built some amazing memories!
But it was a little bit of work too. My daughter had to keep on top of school assignments while she was away. Primarily she needed to keep a journal of her experiences and how they were different from what she was accustom to in Canada. She also had a 30 minute video conference from Brazil with two different classrooms in her elementary school each week. She would describe what she felt was important about our adventure and then answer questions the students asked about Brazil and our travels. It was an amazing way to stay connected from over 9,000km away and include her peers in a different type of learning environment.
Would I suggest traveling off the beaten path with your kids? Without a doubt, YES!!! Don’t worry about missed school. With a little planning most assignments can be done early, late or emailed from anywhere in the world if needed. Plan just a little, learn a little of a new language and roll with the outcome. Travel safe and it’ll be fine. We have friends in Thailand, Italy, Cuba – what memories to make next??? So much to explore and so little time!!!