Clipper Race Stopover: Rio de Janeiro

in Brazil / Clipper Tales / Overland Travel
rio de janeiro graffiti turf to surf

When 250 or so booze-starved sailors turn up in Rio de Janeiro after four weeks at sea, things get a little messy.

To start with, those of us lucky enough to arrive first discover there is a well-stocked bar and restaurant within spitting distance of the docks in Marina da Gloria, and they offer to stay open until the last paying customer leaves. I laugh out loud as the marina’s bartenders make this generous offer to the Clipper crew because they have no idea what they’ve just gotten themselves into.

Since even the fastest boat arrived six days later than Clipper originally anticipated, the whole fleet is on a time-crunch to enjoy themselves. At best, the skippers and round-the-world racers have one, maybe two days to see Rio when they’re not deep cleaning the boat, provisioning for Leg 2, attending crew meetings, taking the new “leggers” out for pre-race training and doing sailboat repairs. It has the effect of turning nights out in Rio into a desperate race to drink ALL the Caipirinhas, eat all the meat and see all the sights.

marina da gloria rio de janeiro

The teams spreading out their sails for repair at Marina da Gloria

Ryan and I are forced to toss out most of our plans to travel in Rio de Janeiro because though we booked our flights with the intention of giving ourselves at least ten days, the Doldrums whittled away six of those days, leaving us with two days to work on the boat and just two days to speed through Rio before sprinting to the airport and flying to South Africa for some hopefully-less-hectic travel time.

And, don’t forget, we are the lucky ones. Teams like Switzerland, Invest Africa and Mission Performance – who took the most westerly route and got stuck in the Doldrums – will limp into port a good four or five days after the lead boats. I feel bad for them floundering around at sea, knowing all the while we are here partying it up at the Clipper Awards Ceremony, guzzling free beer, sipping Caipirinhas and stuffing barbecued meat of all kinds into our faces. Meanwhile, Invest Africa has to forfeit the race to motor for three days until they reach Rio. That’s how bad it is to come in last. It’s not just about being at the bottom of the leaderboard. It’s about missing all the fun, to boot.

But, as I said, we are the lucky ones. And Ryan and I are determined to get the most out of our two days in Rio, so we hit this city like two Olympic tourists on a mission. If only traveling were a competitive sport…oh, wait. According to this article on, it already IS.

We may not be as hard-core as the dudes in the “Travelers’ Century Club,” but here’s what we crammed into our forty-eight hours in Rio:

1. Parties – LOTS of parties. Parties in the marina. Parties in the bars of Lapa. Parties in Copacabana. Even a party in an amazing, lofted Samba bar called Rio Scenarium, which is known as one of Rio’s Best Bars. Every time another boat arrives, there is another crew to party with. Which explains how I woke up in a sail locker one morning… on the wrong boat. Not unlike that time after my Level 2 Clipper Training… *sheepish grin*

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Watching the samba below at Rio Scenarium (Photo credit: Hemispheres Magazine)

rio scenarium clipper race party

Samba turns into hugging when we’ve not seen each other for a month

2. Running along Copacabana Beach – Our Air B-n-B rental apartment in Lapa turns out to be the perfect place from which to explore, party in the evenings and even go jogging from, as it is fairly central to everything. After a month at sea, I am ecstatic to finally stretch my legs and run through the streets of Rio. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I’ve run that I nearly collapse before I even reach the Copacabana boardwalk. But I can definitely vouch for Copacabana as a lovely place to sit and hyper-ventilate for a while.

3. Favela Tour – When I mention to a Citibank CEO on board Henri Lloyd that Ryan and I are going on a tour of the favelas, he frowns and says, “Why?! You can see them fine from here!” as he points towards the hills.

rocinha favela travel in rio de janeiro

This is how you cram 11.5 million people into a small space

We are standing at the base of Christ the Redeemer at the time, a cold monument visited by every tourist in Rio. But I’m seeking out more of the warmth of Brazil. More people, less monuments. I want to see the real side of Rio and see for myself the places that CNN and the BBC love to splash across the TV as they portray Rio as one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

Our visit to the Rocinha Favela with “Be a Local” Tours is, by far, the highlight of our stay in Rio. With a population of 11.5 million, this favela is an incredibly intricate community woven together with concrete-box homes (some fancier than others), electrical wires, tiny shops, makeshift steps, exposed water pipes, garbage heaps and people. People everywhere — working in shops, carrying heavy sacks uphill, playing music, playing with children, shooing the chickens, smiling and welcoming us in to explore the veins of vibrant life that all connect to the heart of Brazil.

It is a fascinating, eye-opening tour that allows me to see up-close how so many people in Rio live.

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The streets are so narrow, I struggle to get out of the way of passing workers

favela tour travel in rio de janeiro

Housing is stacked, one on top of the other, to fit everyone in

4. Christ the Redeemer & Sugarloaf Mountain – The slow, leisurely way to see both of these would be to set out for a long day’s walk up the hill to the base of Christ the Redeemer, hang out for a few sunset cocktails with a scenic view, wander slowly down the hill and then take the tram down to the metro station. And then you could repeat the process the next day, but with Sugarloaf Mountain.

But we don’t have time for that, people. We have a plane to catch.

travel in rio de janeiro christ the redeemer

“Taxi! To Christ the Redeemer, please!”

So, instead, we take a taxi to the base of Christ the Redeemer, skip the long wait for the lightrail and instead take a bus to the top of the hill and then dash up to the foot of the statue for some photos, buy a few pairs of Havaianas, guzzle a few espressos and then dash back down to the taxi so he can drive us back to Lapa for our afternoon Favela Tour.

And after we finish the two-hour Favela Tour, we get the tour bus driver to drop us at the base of Sugarloaf, where we race the sun to the top so we can enjoy the view from our incredible vantage point over-looking the harbor before dark.

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Cramming in a quick sunset “selfie” on Sugarloaf

travel in rio sunset view from sugarloaf

The view from Sugarloaf at sunset was worth the rush

And, as soon as the sun goes down, we hurry off to find another taxi to take us to…

5. Maracanã Stadium for a football match –  Going to see a football match at the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio, which was recently renovated for the 2014 World Cup, is like peeking through a window into Brazil’s soul.

Sure, there are players playing with a ball on the field and, yes, some people – especially Brazilians – like watching them. But the night Ryan and I go to see Flamengo play (Rio’s team), I can’t take my eyes off the football fans packed into the stadium. They are dressed in red and black (Flamengo’s team colors), shouting at the field, waving their arms, swearing, hugging, singing and dancing.

It is clear Brazilians have as much passion for football as they do for dancing, partying and laughing. If you want to see a nationality that brims with loud personality, go see a football game at Maracanã and then go out to a samba bar for the night. Trust me on this one.

flamengo football maracana travel in rio de janeiro

Gooooooaaaaaal! Flamengo scores!

flamengo football fan rio maracana

Football fans come in all sizes in Brazil…

samba dancing boy rocinha favela

…as do the samba dancers



The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan have just finished Leg 1 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK, and they are racing in Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia starting November 4, 2013. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at

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