If You Have 1 Day
If you're like me -- a pale-skinned gringo -- it's an act of utter insanity on the first day to set foot on the beach during the peak afternoon sunshine. On your first day hit the beach early. Enjoy the clear air and an hour or so of tanning in the softer morning rays. Then head up to the Corcovado and see Rio laid out below you in all its glory. Stop in for a quick lunch at any of Rio's countless kilo restaurants, then in the afternoon head to Centro to explore what you've seen from on high. Wander old Rio, making sure to check out the Uruguaiana shopping district, and to poke your head into any one of countless baroque churches. Finish your walk with a nice cold chopp (beer) at a sidewalk cafe in Cinelândia, or in the countless patios in the Arcos do Teles. Have dinner back in the Zona Sul, at one of the top-notch restaurants in Leblon. If it's a Saturday in pre-Carnaval season, go see a samba school rehearsal. Or find a botequim or restaurant that plays music and enjoy Rio until the wee hours.
If You Have 2 Days
On your second day get some culture. Go see the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM), or if painting's not your thing see the Museu Histórico Nacional, the Forte de Copacabana, or Ilha Fiscal. Have lunch overlooking Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar) at the Circulo Militar in Urca. Afterward, work off those calories by climbing up to the Pão de Açúcar's peak. Reward yourself for your efforts by having dinner at the Porcão on Flamengo beach -- all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue, with a view of the bay and the Sugarloaf thrown in. In the evening, go for a drink, some dancing, and some live Brazilian music at any of a number of spots in Lapa.
If You Have 3 Days
In the morning take the old streetcar across the Arcos da Lapa to the quirky hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa. See the Museu Chácara do Céu. Enjoy the view at the Ruin Park, or have lunch in an outdoor cafe. In the afternoon, go hang gliding. Soar above the beach, feeling the wind, admiring the mountains and the waves below. Or if that's a bit too much, take a hike in the rainforest in Tijuca National Park, or stroll amid the stately palm trees in the Jardim Botânico. In the evening, stroll the walkway round the edge of the Lagoa, or people-watch in the nightlife area of Baixo Leblon. Have a snack, a beer, or dinner at one of the many restaurants.
If You Have 4 Days or More
Take Marcelo Armstrong's Favela Tour through the huge and hidden neighborhood of Rocinha. Or check out the sights in Niterói across the bay. Try some extreme sports, like rappelling or rafting. Or take a gentle tour down the coast to the Museu Casa do Pontal and Grumari beach. If you've got several days to spare, go inland to the summer capital of Petrópolis, or the pretty historical cities of Paraty or Ouro Preto and Mariana. Or else head up the coast to Búzios and do some scuba diving or just hang out on the long white ocean beaches. Lord knows, you could even spend more time on the beach in Rio.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.