Golden beaches and lush mountains, samba-fuelled nightlife and spectacular football matches. Welcome to Rio de Janeiro.
Five Top Experiences
The open-armed saviour has stood atop his lofty perch (710m-high Corcovado), gazing peacefully over Rio, since 1931.
The statue is a remarkable work of artistry, but most people don't come up here to admire the art deco design.
They come for the mesmerizing panorama and combination of tropical rainforest, beaches, islands, ocean, bay and verdant peaks which surround this unlikely metropolis.
There are several ways to reach the top. The steep cog train up through thick forest provides a memorable ascent.
Overlooking downtown Rio, the hilltop neighbourhood of Santa Teresa - where people live in houses rather than high-rises- has a village-like vibe. Its aging 19th century mansions and bohemian spirit offer a dramatic counterpoint to Rio's better-known seaside persona.
Here you'll find old-school bars, art-loving B&Bs and lush backyards where marmosets often roam, with magical views over downtown and the bay.
The downside: it's still rough around the edges. But the locals and expats who live here wouldn't have it any other way.
Maracana Football Stadium
Fresh from an R$800 million makeover in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Maracana is hallowed ground among Brazilians.
It has been the site of triumph (Pele's 1000th goal) and catastrophe (losing to Uruguay in the final match of the 1950 World Cup). Games here are simply spectacular, with tens of thousands of cheering fans sending up an earth-shaking roar when the home team (and Rio has four of them) scores.
Whether you're a football fan or not, don't pass up the chance to see a game inside this historic arena.
Floresta da Tijuca
While New York has Central Park, Rio has the Floresta da Tijuca, a vast swath of rainforest with hiking trails, refreshing waterfalls and abundant greenery that make other parks look like playgrounds.
There are a number of fine walks you can take here, as well as some climbs up rocky 900m-high peaks, where rewarding views await.
If you prefer flying to walking, take the hang gliding flight from Pedra Bonita inside the Tijuca boundaries for a magnificent (if somewhat terrifying) view over Rio's wondrously green backyard.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas
'Saltwater lagoon' may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the words 'Rio de Janeiro', but this picturesque body of water plays a key role in the city's psyche.
By day cariocas (residents of Rio) cycle, jog and stroll the 7km path that loops around it. By nightfall, a different crowd arrives to eat and drink in the open-air kiosks scattered along the shore.
In December Lagoa is home to a massive floating Christmas tree, its glittering lights and nightly display pure magic for kids and adults alike.
This is an extract from Lonely Planet Rio de Janeiro (8th Edition) by Regis St Louis. © Lonely Planet 2013. Published this month, RRP: $39.99.