I don't think I've ever seen a city which has been built around so much natural beauty. If one was to take away all the manmade structures from Rio, it would have been a beautiful spot to come for a hike. It could so easily have been designated a national park. Somehow, the urban planners have crammed in a huge city of 6 million (about 12 including the suburbs), and it's got a very unique character.
The city's very naturally divided along 2 zones - north and south - by the mountains. The 2 major zones have 2-3 neighbourhoods each, which are again naturally divided by the beaches, the forest and a huge lake. It's very green and surprisingly fairly clean for a city of its size and density. The weather's mild throughout, so if you enjoy the outdoors it's possibly the most amazing big city to live in.
The instt has arranged a nice flat for me in Copacabana, which is 2 minutes from the beach. The 2 major beaches - Copacabana and Ipanema - are next to each other and are always busy. They're public beaches, but I've found them to be pretty clean and safe. Copacabana beach is full of small football and volleyball courts, so there are dozens of games going on all day. Some of the games are played pretty seriously with teams wearing uniforms, a referee and the evening games are played with lights on. Both beaches are connected with a wide running/biking trail, streetside cafes and streetvendors. I'd expected the night time to be a bit shady, but in the evening there are a lot of people running, walking and biking, so I've had a nice time heading to the beach after *work*.
In the morning, while a lot of people in my neighbourhood head for work, a large number of people head to the beach dressed in their swimming costumes, carrying a surfboard. The beaches are reasonably busy early in the morning, and since the cafes and vendors seem to be pretty busy, it's probably a big part of the economy. Since I never lived in a city with beaches, I was never a beach person. But over the last 2-3 months, it's become such a big part of my day, that if I end up not going for a run or a walk or a beer along the beach, I feel as if my day was a bit empty. A few professors in IMPA actually spend their morning on the beach, before heading to the instt.
What makes Rio so unique to me, is how it seems like a huge number of people enjoy the outdoors. Last weekend, I went on a hike with a professor from the instt up to Corcovado (which has the huge statue of Christ) and even though it's a steep climb, there were quite a few people hiking up. The professor I went with studied in IMPA as well, and said a major chunk of his student life was spent hiking and climbing the various peaks and cliffs in Rio. Apparently there are a few books about the hiking and climbing spots in Rio. The instt is next to a rainforest, where no construction is allowed. That means it's a lovely spot to go for a walk. After lunch, or late in the afternoon if I'm a bit sluggish it's a nice way to get some fresh air. Then, of course, there's the beach in the evening.
Here are a couple of pictures I took from Corcovado. I'll try taking more while I'm here, but it's nice to explore the city without carrying anything valuable on me.
Copacaba beach is the one on the right in the first picture, and in the second picture, the instt is on the hill overlooking the huge lake in the centre. A few more can be found here.