Naomi Shimada’s Guide To Rio

They say Rio de Janeiro has the ability to make you fall in love with her on the ride from the airport alone, and that’s definitely true. People say “Oh Rio, it’s the most beautiful place, literally everyone is hot, etc, etc” and I’ve always taken that with a pinch of salt. But I had to go there because seeing is believing.
I consider myself fairly worldly. I’ve grown up in different parts of the world and I’m a keen traveller who tries to jump on a plane wherever and whenever possible. I’ve seen a lot. Or I thought I had until now. Because Rio De Janeiro - and Brazil itself - is a whole other thing. A place that truly marches to its own beat, a place that I - like all the others who’ve walked the beaches of Ipanema - have fallen in love with through and through. You can’t argue with its beauty. The vast dense hills of green jungle that surround the city make you feel like you’re in Jurassic Park, then you skip down to the beach and somehow you’re in a city but you’re swimming in crystal clear warm water. And everyone really is that good looking. As I glanced around, the thought crossed my mind that if me and any one of these guys in my eye-line were the last two people left on earth and had to procreate, it wouldn’t be that bad at all.
There is a sense of freedom there that I haven’t felt anywhere else and the sexual energy that vibrates through the air is contagious. It’s just ON. For starters, the eye contact game is on another level. People act on what they want here (whereas in London, every guy I have ever liked takes five years and has to get absolutely annihilated to make a move… YAY). Your eyes lock and they just come over and kiss you. This happens so often here that they have a term for the kiss-and-walk-away moment: micaleta. The sexual openness is such a cool factor about this place. Whatever you’re into, it’s welcome and you can do it wherever and whenever you want. As my Cariocan (people from Rio are called Cariocans) friend said to me: “You should be free! Everyone is a little bi here in Brazil!” Where to stay
Hotel Santa Teresa
Dreamiest boutique hotel in the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa that looks like it’s beautifully falling apart, set on top of a hill with the best views of the city. Contemporaneo Hostel
Set in a beautiful building in the super central neighbourhood of Botafogo (between downtown and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema), this is a design hostel at its best and has both dormitory and private rooms for whatever your budget. I’m such an Airbnb fan and found great, well priced apartments all over the city. Good neighbourhoods to stay in are Santa Teresa, Ipanema, Botafogo, Flamengo, Lapa, which all offer something a little different.
Where to eat

Bar Do Minheiro. The owner used to be a close friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol so there is great abstract work dotted all around the bar and it makes for a cute artist hangout. It specialises in simple, traditional food. Order the pastéis de feijão, a cake made of beans, and inhale one of the best caipirinhas in town. Fat Choi in Gloria is a Brazilian-Chinese restaurant that somehow just works. Try the porco bafasso, a pork shank marinated for 12 hours in wine, saffron and coconut milk. If you’re going to have one ball out meal, make sure it’s at Aprazivel in Santa Teresa. The restaurant is pretty much a giant tree house that looks out over the city. And you must order the heart of palm (a vegetable harvested from palm trees) in butter sauce. I will never stop dreaming about it for as long as I live.
What not to pack

Forget about packing any swimwear. EVERY swimsuit you own is too big for Brazil. Leave your high waisted bottoms, full suits, tankinis and padded tops and get into the local spirit buying some teeny-weeny bikinis straight from the vendors on the beach. Words can’t express how refreshing it was to see women no matter what size and shape they were, all sporting a mini bikini. They’re cute, cheap and accept card payments so do yourself a favour and keep your case light.
Don’t pack any sandals. As much as I didn’t want to give in, Havaianas are just the only way to go here. Literally everyone wears them. Locals told me that you’re immediately identified as a tourist if you’re not wearing them. Don’t bring a towel to the beach. Apparently that's another 'spot-the-tourist' move. Grab a cute Rio sarong on the beach and bring it home for the memories. People also love to talk about how dangerous Rio is and I was told by many that I was crazy to be travelling in Brazil on my own. Rio does have its fair share of crime, risk and danger – a lot of it due to the massive gap in the class system, but I encountered so much love and kindness from strangers. Let’s also not forget how dangerous London can be. You should always be street smart and aware of your surroundings wherever you are, but don’t let the fearmongering stop you from taking what could be the trip of a lifetime.

More from Travel

R29 Original Series