Rio de Janeiro

One of the marveloust cities on the planet

This cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city) is one of the most densely populated places on earth. The thick brew of 7 million Cariocas - as the inhabitants are called - thrive on dance, drink, beach, sport and sun. It's a city whose people grab life head-first - just think of the full-scale sensuality of Carnaval. In this city of samba, Cariocas of every shape, size and wallet carry with them a Dionysian spirit.

The international tourist crowd take advantage of Rio's ritzy side - there are innumerable opportunities to be decadent in this fast-paced environment. But Rio also has much to offer the budget traveler. There are cheap hotels and restaurants aplenty, and the beach is a free and flowing entertainment zone.

Unfortunately it's not all sweetness in exuberant Rio. Even tourists will notice the favelas (shantytowns) that blanket the hillsides, providing meager comfort to more than a third of the city's population. Rio's poor lack education and medical care; drug abuse and violence litter the streets; and police corruption is more common than not. With chronic poverty and a stubbornly high crime rate, Rio is not unlike other high-density global centers. The difference is that the extremes in Rio can be difficult to ignore.

Area: 1170 sq km (452 sq mi)
Population: 11 million
Country: Brazil
Time Zone: GMT/UTC minus three hours
Telephone Area Code: 00(55)21


Rio is divided into a zona norte (north zone) and a zona sul (south zone) by the Serra da Carioca, steep mountains that are part of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. These mountains descend to the edge of the city center, where the two zones meet.
Rio is definitely a tale of two cities: The upper and middle classes reside in the zona sul, the lower class in the zona norte.

Favelas cover steep hillsides on both sides of town - Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela with 150,000 to 300,000 residents, is in Gávea, one of Rio's richest neighborhoods. Most industry is in the zona norte, as is most of the pollution.

The ocean beaches are in the zona sul.