Planning Your Time
The many attractions of Rio de Janeiro fan out in all directions from the city itself, so it makes sense to focus your time on one region, whether it be the mountainous inland, the Sun Coast, or the Emerald Coast. Whichever direction you head, trips along the coast invariably merit a few days, especially since driving times each way average between 3 to 4 hours. For remote beaches, wild nature, and limited nightlife, head to the lovely Ilha Grande, although be aware that accommodation options can be more rustic than the mainland and the majority of visitors are often back-packers with endless days to while away.
For a more sophisticated beach destination packed with history and evocative culture, continue a few hours farther down the coast to the colonial town of Paraty. Block off a few days to explore the spectacular archipelago by boat, horse-ride and hike through jungle trails, and visit nearby deserted beaches. Should rain clouds linger on the horizon, Paraty is invariably a better option than Ilha Grande as there is a far greater choice of things to do and places to dine. While the highlights of this historic town can be seen in one day and night, those who can spare the time may well want to head to the tranquil beach village of Trindade nearby.
The highlights of Rio's sister city, Niterói, can be seen in a morning or afternoon, and sun lovers will want to set aside at least a couple of nights to visit the beach resorts that lie farther up the coast. The aptly named Costa do Sol is home to some of the best beaches in the state. Make your base in Búzios, where chic accommodation options abound, and set aside at least one full day to take a boat trip to some of Búzios's best beaches, and another to day trip to the beaches of Arraial do Cabo.
The mountainous north is often visited as a day trip from Rio, taking in the imperial town of Petrópolis, but it's also nice to slow down and relax for a few days, soaking up the stunning colonial palaces, hiking through national parks, and scaling the peaks that surround nearby Teresópolis.