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We thought that a walking tour would be a good idea to get ourselves acquainted with Rio de Janeiro. There are two free walking tour operators in Rio: Rio Free Walking Tour and Free Walkers Tour and we picked the former as it started earlier at 9.30am.
The starting point was at Cinelândia metro station, one stop away from our accommodation. We could have walked there if we wanted to.
Like what was mentioned on the website, the guides were at the meeting point with yellow shirts and umbrellas. Tours were offered in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Naturally we joined the English speaking tour led by Fabiana.
After the usual introduction, Fabiana pointed out the different buildings around Cinelândia. Rio used to be the capital of Brazil so there were quite a few grand buildings dated back to the colonial era.
We made a right turn after the church which had only one bell tower. Apparently, to avoid paying more taxes, the church chose not to build the other tower so that it would remain incomplete.
After Fabiana told us the story behind Selarón Steps, we spent some time taking photos of it. She warned us not to wander beyond the top of the stairs as the neighbourhood wasn’t really safe.
The next stop was Arcos da Lapa, built almost 300 years ago.
We spent some time at a factory-turned-gallery where there were images of the transformation of Rio from its beginning in the 16th century to present time.
We followed Fabiana through downtown Rio de Janeiro and she pointed out some of the buildings en-route.
There was a short stop at Confeitaria Colombo where we could have a snack and check out its interior.
The final stop of the tour was Paço Imperial, the former palace of Brazilian royalty. It wasn’t really grand by any standard and there was a small exhibition of the Portuguese and Brazilian kings who used to live there.
The whole tour took more than three hours and covered quite a bit of downtown Rio de Janeiro. We were pretty satisfied with the tour and left a substantial tip for our guide.
To be honest, the area around Carioca seemed quite messy with many street vendors. While we didn’t feel threatened, we wouldn’t hang around the neighbourhood if we did not have business there.