Rio de Janeiro
The dramatic landmarks of Sugarloaf and the Christ statue lording over spectacular stretches of famed urban beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema; delicious food and wine with a Latin flair; the sensual moves of samba dance and rhythms of traditional music on display every day of the year including, of course, the bacchanalian Carnival; and a passionate, cosmopolitan and, most of all, friendly people are only some of the ways that Rio constantly affirms its status as a favorite travel destination. Its reputation will only grow when it plays host to the Summer Olympics in 2016.
While not the largest city in the 190 million-resident behemoth that is Brazil -- that honor goes to Sao Paulo -- Rio's six million diverse residents (called "Cariocas") are keenly proud of their city's stature. They are the most outspoken, lively and just plain fun people you'll probably ever encounter. The Cariocas' unmistakable joie de vivre and welcoming spirit is infectious, as they'll gladly share their local secrets on where to go to experience the most important architectural treasures, the most cutting-edge art museums, the most action-packed water sports, or the most memorable caipirinha (the national drink that packs a wallop). But this isn't surprising. Who wouldn't have an open outlook on life living in this perpetually sunny, joyful and fascinating melange of Portuguese, African, European and South American cultures?
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Another definite advantage to visiting Rio and Brazil as a tourist is that it remains one of the few true travel bargains left today in this age of the declining dollar. Like its more dressed-up cousin to the south, Buenos Aires, Rio offers the opportunity to live grandly for a day or a week on a much smaller budget than in comparable cities like Paris or London, with reasonable prices for five-star accommodations, good bargain prices for world-class cuisine and wine, and the ability to shop till you drop when searching out the latest trendy fashion items and jewelry.
While inarguably exciting, visiting Rio is still equated with the word "danger" in some conversations. In reality, there are some safety concerns if you venture far out of the normal tourist quarters. But the overall situation for visitors has improved greatly in the past decade, and pickpocketing and mugging incidents are not common. So kick back and relax as you are drawn into Rio's magnificent orbit.
--written by Stan Wu