How to spend 48 hours in Rio de Janeiro: a sun-soaked, sprawling metropolis tucked towards the far Western tip of the world’s fifth-largest country?
Set against the backdrop of sloping tropical forests, dotted with boulder-like mountains, and endless stretches of white sand and shimmering Atlantic Ocean, Rio is no doubt one of Brazil’s most iconic destinations. Blend its sublime geography with a complex history, unmissable art and culture, and a sensational foodie scene, and you’ll soon see why Rio de Janeiro tops bucket lists globally. All bolstered by the fact that its domestic and international airports benefit some of the continent’s best flight connections, spanning from Brazil’s far-flung Islands, like those featured in our itinerary The Treasures of Brazil to Peru’s coastal capital, Lima.
How to spend 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro
We don’t need to tell you that Brazil’s high-energy, samba capital is way more than a layover destination, but when time is tight – a visit here requires a meticulous plan. A guide tailored for the astute traveler looking for how to spend 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro, designed with pinpoint accuracy to absorb Rio’s atmosphere like a local whilst also enjoying some of the city’s most talked about attractions.
Welcome to your essential reading; for the curious Aracari traveler laying eyes, ears, and heart on the magic of Rio as part of a luxury South America vacation.
Friday AM: Soak up the history of central Rio
Whilst arrival times vary according to flight schedules, Rio’s airports are some of Brazil’s busiest which makes landing into the city on the cusp of the weekend not only recommended but feasible too. For many of our clients, Rio De Janeiro features as part of a wider luxury South America vacation and so often they’ll arrive at the domestic airport. This smaller airport is found in the heart of the city center, marking the ideal starting point for how to spend 48 hours in Rio.
From the airport, our clients are met by Aracari’s representative in the city before being whisked off for a guided visit of Rio’s historic city center. Awash with a complex and rich history, Rio has been shaped by the many different cultures that have arrived on its shores over several of the last centuries. Accompanied by an experienced guide, also a Rio local, spend the morning unraveling the city’s unique past with stops at some of the most fascinating sites, including a visit to Little Africa.
Once the largest African slave market in the world, Rio was a port of call for millions of slaves arriving in Brazil. From carnival to samba, and food to music and religion to architecture, discover the harrowing history of slavery, contrasted with the magnificent influence African people have had on the identity of Rio.
Friday PM: Take a ride up Sugarloaf Mountain
A guide on how to spend 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro isn’t complete without a trip up Sugarloaf Mountain. But first, stop at a “boteco” – a lowkey bar much loved by locals found. At the end of a hot day, workers flood to this part of town to gather, unwind with a beer, and enjoy a typical Brazilian pastry named empanada. Soak up the laidback atmosphere before heading up Sugar Mountain for sunset.
Visible from all over the city, this natural landmark is the gateway to some of the most iconic viewpoints and especially beautiful at sunset. The view up here is a hair-raising moment of awe and the perfect place to welcome in the first night in Rio before heading to the luxury lodgings of the Emiliano Rio Hotel.
Friday Evening: Sample the delights of Michelin-star dining
Found in one of the city’s most sought-after locations, the Emiliano Rio is in Copacabana itself, but very near the beginning of Ipanema, part of the reason we have handpicked this intimate hotel. Spend an hour or two relaxing in your suite, before heading out for an evening meal at one of the city’s most written-about restaurants.
Lasai is a Michelin-starred restaurant a short drive from Copacabana. Located in a historic building, this unique restaurant reflects cutting-edge Brazilian cuisine. Influenced too by the Head Chef’s time in the Basque region of Spain, the kitchen is guided by the strict principles of seasonality and proximity, working with small local producers.
48 hours in Rio: Hike through Tijuca National Park
Wake up on Rio time today, ready to enjoy a gentle hike to another of the city’s unbeatable viewpoints in the Tijuca National Park.
Our most recommended route, the Pedra Bonita hike is no more than 4 km (2.5 miles) round trip, making it the ideal option for those spending just 48 hours in Rio. But don’t be fooled by its relatively short ascent, the view at the top is sure to be one of the most memorable during your luxury South America vacation.
From this serene vantage point, appreciate how Rio’s incomparable beauty is in its unique location, and the boundless tropical greenery of the city. Led by a Rio local and a highly knowledgeable guide, it becomes obvious why hiking must be an essential part of how to spend 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro.
48 hours in Rio: Unwind on Copacabana Beach
Return to the luxury of The Emiliano for the afternoon, with a delicious lunch in one of the hotel’s acclaimed restaurants.
Although easy to fill a guide on how to spend 48 hours in Rio with endless activities a laidback afternoon on Copacabana beach is as essential as any. Sit back in the sun, sample a caipirinha or two, and immerse in the bustling energy, before preparing for a soulful Saturday night.
48 hours in Rio: Visit the bohemian Santa Teresa before sambaing the night away
Begin your evening early, before the sun sets, and head out to the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Laidback and leafy, Santa Teresa is less typical of a guide for how to spend 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro but to us, that’s the beauty of it. Relaxed, artistic, and highly recommended for those seeking an authentic taste of the tropical city, it’s also here that you’ll find Chez Georges.
A charming bolthole nestled amongst the lush flora and fauna, the house itself was designed by a well-known architect in the 1970s in the “Brutalist” style of which there is a lot in Brazil and sold to a designer who lived here with his family. Compromising just seven rooms – each named after a famous musical George i.e. George Harrison – a large outdoor pool, and a terrace with truly spectacular views over Rio, this charming bed and breakfast will host your final dinner in Rio. Enjoy a tasting menu, pre-arranged exclusively for our guests and dine in the tranquility of the forest – the perfect prelude to the remaining late-night hours.
Then just a 10 minute drive from Chez Georges, lies the iconic Rio Scenarium samba club. Pulsating beats ring out from its doors, beckoning revelers from across the city to the dance moves born of Rio: the samba. Housed in a crumbling multi-story house this unmissable nightlife spot is a Saturday night favorite for locals and astute in-the-know travelers.
48 hours in Rio: Witness the manmade marvel Christ the Redeemer
So far, there is of course one glaring omission from our guide on how to spend 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro. Towering above the city like a watchful guardian, Christ the Redeemer is perhaps the postcard talisman of Rio.
On Sunday morning, head to Corcovado Mountain. Spend an hour or so in the company of the manmade marvel and the surrounding views over the city, before heading back down the Mountain and into the nearby downtown for lunch.
A firm favorite amongst locals, Lilia is a traditional downtown haunt serving authentic dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. Enjoy a feast and freshly made tipple, before heading to the airport for your onward journey – a fitting ending to 48 hours in Rio De Janeiro.
Curating your bespoke South America vacation
Each of the experiences detailed in our guide to how to spend 48 hours in Rio are curated with the Aracari touch, and featured in sample itineraries like this one: A Tale of Two Halves: Peru and Brazil. Led by charming guides, as much as a subject specialist as they are local to the city, and punctuated with stays in tried and tested hotels, our luxury South America vacations aren’t those you’ll come across without our help.
Whether you wish to discover more of vast Brazil or springboard onto more of our fascinating region – we are a testament to why travel specialists are more vital than ever. Discover for yourself why we are the leading luxury travel providers for bespoke itineraries across South America and book a one-to-one call with one of our travel designers today.