John Maier Jr.  /  AP file
Bathers crowd the beach at Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Dec. 23, 1997.
Special to msnbc.com
updated 11/16/2006 11:28:27 AM ET 2006-11-16T16:28:27

Rio! Just the name gets the pulse racing. Famed for its party spirit, its unusually beautiful people, and its eye-candy setting, wedged between jagged mountains and a deep blue ocean, Rio is a life-list destination, one of those places that you simply have to see before you die. This, in spite of its problems with street crime and poverty. A day and, more importantly, a night in Rio is always an adventure, and will be so with the following 24-hour itinerary.   

9 a.m. - noon: There’s no stopping for breakfast in Rio. Instead, grab coffee and a roll and head up--way, way up to the top of Corcovado . The peak where Rio’s famed Christ statue stands (98-feet tall making it one of the world’s largest sculptures) offers a spellbinding view of the city, all sparkling blue sea, green mountains, and angular buildings in a repeating cubist landscape. Take the train up, not private transportation, to hear the bands of musicians who jump aboard and offer samba serenades for a few relais.

Morning Alternative
Hike a rainforest. Parque Nacional da Tijuca is the largest urban forest in the world (at over 8000 acres) and has a primordial grandeur. Once the entire coast was this leafy and quiet; today, this is one of the last remnants of massive Atlantic Rainforest that once covered the southern coast.

Noon to 2 p.m.: Graze the buffet at a quilo (or kilo) restaurant, where you pay for your food by weight. There are dozens of options all over town, and the food tends to be super fresh, with Brazilian and often, Italian, specialties on offer, from chicken every which way, to pasta dishes, fruits, stewed veggies and fish. The Aipo & Aipim chain is tops, as it offers over 20 choices, live music and a churrasco station where a chef will carve slices of freshly grilled meats and sausage for you.

2 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Hit Ipanema Beach in your tiniest bikini or speedo and enjoy the daily parade. First come the suntan lotion sellers (buy some) with their wares set on racks they lug across the sands; along with the lotion, they’ll likely be hawking swimsuits, small transistor radios, children’s toys, shawls, hammocks -- you name it, they lug it. Next will come a brisk masseuse, to set up a table and small tent for anyone who needs a break from the stresses of tanning. Soon, the beach chefs will approach you with their skewers of just-grilled, just-caught shrimp; or cooked cheese on a stick, so chewy it squeaks as you bite down; or round crackers like funyons; or ice creams. The food is excellent, so order up if you’re hungry. And among all these merchants stroll the people of Rio, men and women of all ages, wearing only slivers of clothing without a trace of self-consciousness. A top activity is simply watching them as the hop from beach chair to blanket, socializing, laughing and treating the beach as if it were an extension of their living room (which it is). It’s a scene like no other, the highlight of any vacation in Rio.

Afternoon Alternative
Not all is good times and laughter in Rio, of course. As anyone who’s seen the film The City of God knows, Rio is home to some of the most wretched slums in the world. Look up and you’ll see them, crowding the hillsides, the buildings so decrepit they look like they might topple over at any moment. Though it may seem voyeuristic to do so, many people tour these slums, to learn about this side of life in Rio. The best-known tours are those led by Marcelo Armstrong A portion of the proceeds from his three-hour tour goes to support a school in Rocinha.

7 p.m. - 9 p.m.: Make your way to Antiquarius for classic Brazilian and Portugese cuisine in an ultra-elegant setting of antique furnishings and artwork (there’s even an antique store on the mezzanine level, should you fancy the fancy chair you’re sitting in). Specialties here include the superb leg of lamb, and of course bacalao (the famous cod dish Portugese colonizers brought with them across the ocean.)

9 p.m. on … How you spend your evening will depend on when you’re visiting. If you’re there during Carnival—lucky you, you don’t need my advice, the party will be all around. In the months leading up to Carnival (September to January), head to one of the many samba schools to watch a rehearsal, hear the music and possibly join in the dancing. At other times of the year, go to Rio Scenarium , an antique store turned bar (it’s a lovely space) with a large dance floor and live samba music every night. A top nightspot. 

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

The train station to get toCorcovado is at Rua Cosme Velho 512, phone 021/2558-1329; www.corcovado.com.br. Trains going up depart every 30 min. from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily. The last train down is at 7:30 p.m. Admission is R$25 (US$8.25) adults, R$12 (US$4) children 6-12, free for children 5 and under.

For a guided hike within Parque Nacional da Tijuca (and transportation from your hotel to the Park), contact either Rio Hiking (www.riohiking.com.br/)  or Aventuras Rio (www.aventurasrio.com.br/).

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Aipo & Aipimhas many branches across Rio. The ones closest to the tourist areas are at Nossa Senhora de Copacabana 391; and Rua Visconde de Piraja in Ipanema. For more branches go to www.aipoeaipim.com.br/ .

Ipanema Beachlies between the neighborhoods of Leblon and Arpoador.

To learn more about Marcelo Armstrong's Favela Tour phone 021/9989-0074 mobile, or 021/3322-2727; www.favelatour.com.br/.

Antiquarius, Rua Aristides Espínola 19, in Leblon; phone 021-2294-1049. Reservations recommended.

To find out which samba schoolsare rehearsing, either ask the concierge of your hotel to investigate for you; or go to www.mangueira.com.br/.

Rio Scenarium, Rua do Lavradio, Centro, phone 021/2233-3239. Expect a $4 to $6 cover charge.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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