One of my favorite ways to explore a city is with the Free Walking Tour groups. Before visiting Rio de Janeiro, I had seen images of Corcovado, Sugarloaf, and the world-famous beaches, but hardly ever the city center. I was curious to know what Rio is like outside of the touristic areas, so I booked a walking tour. I was surprised to find European style architecture, colorful street art, many city improvements since the Olympics, and much more.
Here are the top places to visit in the Rio De Janeiro downtown:
Lapa is a neighborhood in the downtown with a bohemian vibe, buzzing with nightclubs, street art, and music
One of the most touristic and recognizable sights in Rio is the "Seleron Stairs", a sweeping staircase made up of tiles from the colors of the Brazil flag. It was created by Chilean born artist Jorge Selaron in 1990 who started renovating the dilapidated staircase in his neighborhood.
Today, there are over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries,. The line to take a photo on the steps is buzzing with tourists and locals, and can last for over 20 minutes long. This work of art is proclaimed to be a tribute to the Brazilian people and is admired by people from around the world.
This two story coffee shop was ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world, found right here in Rio Centro.
Centro features European architecture inspired by France and Portugal, with a unique Brazilian flair. It is mostly a commercial district and much of the area is closed on Sundays, so be sure to visit during the week to catch the downtown during its liveliest moments.
This stunning Art Nouveau opera house is a highlight of Rio De Janeiro's classic architecture. The theater was created during the early twentieth century with a luxurious facade. The interior is just as grandiose, and features nightly dance and musical performances.
Selina Hostel and Coworking Space
One of the best ways to enjoy the city center is from a rooftop. Check out the top floor of Selina for an epic view of Centro, where you can spot Rio's most unique architecture highlights all in one place, including the Petrobas Building, Carioca Aqueduct, Rio Cathedral. You can even grab a caipirinha at the bar and catch a musical performance.
What are your favorite places in the Rio downtown? Comment below!
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Cartagena is one of Colombia's most vibrant cities, located along the Caribbean coast. The city is an hour flight from Bogota, and 30 degrees warmer and 100x more colorful. As soon as we landed, we were greeted by tropical humidity and rain.
We drove along a scenic coastal road with the Caribbean Sea right outside the window and epic cumulous clouds along the horizon. The beach was packed with tourists and locals alike, many oblivious to the rain as they continued their beach activities. To our left was the Old Town, a UNESCO site noted for the historic fortress walls that span blocks, if not miles. Ahead, we saw towering clusters of glass skyscrapers which reminded me of Hong Kong on the beach. Cartagena is a city of contrasts, excitement, and culture and we couldn't wait to dive in and explore.
Welcome to Cartagena!
Top places to photograph in Cartagena:
1. Bocagrande - The modern metropolis, filled with hotels, beaches, and restaurants.
2. Isla Baru - The beach getaway, 40 minutes by car from Cartagena.
3. Cartagena Old City - Colorful doors, old walls, and cobblestone streets.
4. Catedral De Santa Catalina De Alejandria
5. Cartagena Old Town - The Old City is walkable and filled with Spanish beautifully preserved colonial architecture.
6. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas - The old city walls span the perimeter of Cartagena and offer amazing views of the city.
The castillo is one of the best places to photograph and enjoy the ocean views.
7. Plaza de San Pedro Claver - Historic plaza filled with Spanish architecture.
8. Calle San Andres - Beautiful street filled with colorful flags.
9. Musica - A trip to Cartagena is not complete without music and dance! If you hang out in the Old City long enough, you are bound to encounter talented musicians and dancers.
10. Street Art - Cartagena is filled with street art around the city. The best way to see it is via the Biking Tour.
What is your favorite thing to see in Cartagena? Comment below!
In our second trip to South America, we visited Colombia's stunning cosmopolitan capital city of Bogotá. The city is home to many artistic treasures, diverse landscapes, a rich political history, colorful neighborhoods. In addition, it is a great time to visit Colombia as they were recently listed as "Country of the Year" by the Economist in 2016 for their historic peace agreement, and named the world's happiest country. After our trip to Bogota, it's easy to see why.
Bogota is home to over 8 million people with an altitude of 8,500+ feet (higher than Denver!). It is surrounded by beautiful mountain typography and offers an enjoyable temperate climate (a perfect 70 degrees during our stay in late May). Many of the city's sights are easy to visit by foot. We explore the city via the Beyond Colombia Free Walking Tour which meets at 10am outside the Museo del Oro. The tour gives an excellent overview of the city's highlights and history.
Behind the scenes travel vlog of Bogota:
Here are the top 5 things to see in Bogota:
1. Museo del Oro -
One of the most popular museums in Bogota, the Gold Museum attracts over 500,000 visitors per year. The museum is filled with pre-Colombian gold treasures, ranging from jewelry, masks, to intricate artifacts. Much of the art was destroyed and turned into riches during the Spanish colonial expeditions, so it is amazing to see that these pieces survived.
2. Street Art -
Bogota is one of the top cities in the world for street art, some of which span entire building blocks. Walk through La Candelaria District to view some on your own or take the street art tour, which will show some of the best art in town.
3. Botero Museum -
The Botero Museum is a free museum in Bogota that features the works of iconic Colombian artist Fernando Botero. His works are easily identifiable because of the large figures that he depicted in painting and sculpture, which Botero explained were a play on proportions. Throughout Latin America, you will find many Botero works on display in city plazas which are considered a status symbol.
Grounds of the Botero Museum:
4. La Candelaria District -
This area is considered the historic old town and is filled with beautifully preserved architecture, colorful buildings, churches, and unique bars and restaurants. The district is a delightful place to walk around, photograph, and enjoy the local cuisine.
Pops of color in the streets - local merchants sell everything from tropical fruits, hats, desserts, to jewelry.
5. Monserrate -
Walk or take the aerial tram to the top of Monserrate for the most stunning view of Bogota. We took the tram, which offered a scenic view up the mountain. The hilltop rises about 10,341 ft above sea level and is considered a pilgrimage destination as well as a tourist attraction. At the top, you will find the Monserrate Monastery, a restaurant, and sidewalks filled with shops. It is the perfect place to capture the sunset over Bogota.
Monastery at the top of Monserrate:
View from the top of Monserrate - perfect place to capture the city from above:
We hope that you get a chance to visit Bogota, it truly is one of the most breathtaking cities in South America.
What are your favorite places in Bogota? Comment below!
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We are two adventurous young professionals who turned our passion for travel into a blog to help others travel more.