When in Rio, don't be afraid to follow the tourist trail—the major attractions really are "must-sees." Contrary to tourist-board images, the sun doesn't always shine on the city, so when it does, make the most of it. If the skies are clear, waste no time in heading for Cosme Velho to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, or to Urca to make the cable car ascent to the peak of Sugar Loaf. Time-pressed travelers will find that whistle-stop city tours are a good way to see many attractions in one day, while those lucky enough to spend a week or more here can afford to take a more leisurely approach. Cloudy days are a good time to visit the attractions of leafy Lagoa and Jardim Botânico and the breezily bohemian hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The historic buildings, museums, and cultural centers of Centro, Catete, Glória, and Lapa are ideal rainy-day options.
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Pão de Açúcar
Arcos da Lapa,
Pão de Açúcar
The indigenous Tupi people originally called the soaring 396-meter (1,300-foot) granite block at the mouth of Baía de Guanabara pau-nh-acugua (high, pointed peak). To the Portuguese the phrase seemed similar to pão de açúcar, itself fitting because the rock's shape reminded them of the conical loaves in which refined sugar was sold. Italian-made bubble cars holding 75 passengers each move up the mountain in two stages. The first stop is at Morro da Urca, a smaller, 212-meter (705-foot) mountain; the second is at the summit of Pão de Açúcar itself. The trip to each level takes three minutes. In high season long lines form for the cable car; the rest of the year the wait is seldom more than 30 minutes. Consider visiting Pão de Açúcar before climbing the considerably higher Corcovado, as the view here may seem anticlimactic if experienced second.
Arcos da Lapa
Formerly the Aqueduto da Carioca (Carioca Aqueduct), this structure with 42 massive stone arches was built between 1744 and 1750 to carry water from the Carioca River in the hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa to Centro. In 1896 the city transportation company converted the aqueduct, by then abandoned, into a viaduct, laying trolley tracks along it. For decades, Santa Teresa's rattling yellow street cars (the "bonde" or "bondinho") passed over the aqueduct as they carried passengers from Centro up to the hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa. After an accident in 2011, however, when the tram's brakes failed and six passengers were killed, the bonde was shut down pending major upgrades. New trams are expected to be in service by 2014, though this target may not be met.
For children and others with an interest in seeing birds and beasts up close, Rio's city zoo makes for a diverting day out. Colorful native birds and a variety of South American monkeys are among the attractions; the "nursery" for baby animals and the reptile house are always popular with younger visitors. The zoo has received criticism for the somewhat small enclosures the larger animals—including lions and bears—endure, but conditions overall have improved in recent years.
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