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The ultimate Rio sightseeing tour

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In the helicopter over Rio.

RIO DE JANEIRO. When traveling on a budget, there are many things you usually avoid, in a cash-saving effort. You don’t head to the city’s grandest restaurants for dinner. Luxury boutiques are spared your precense. From the airport you chose the bus instead of a taxi.

But if you are in Rio, there is one ride that you should not avoid.

 

Situated between lush green hills with slopes that carry off towards the Atlantic, Rio de Janeiro has one of the world’s most dramatic and romantic settings. It’s all as if picket out of a fairy tale or movie – especially viewed from above. Trying to get a grip on sloping hill sides are the favelas, the shanty towns in which millions live in a parallel society. Often plagued by violence and under control of drug cartels. The favelas, ironically, usually have the city’s best view, with posh hotels, shopping avenues and residential areas gathered in Rio’s lower parts.

The Christo statue viewed from behind.

It is truly a sight to behold, as we head with the cable car up to one of Rio de Janeiro’s best-known attractions, the Sugar Loaf mountain right where city meets sea. There are two cable cars, one taking you to a lower top and the other to the summit, rewarding visitors with stunning views over the south-eastern parts of Rio de Janeiro.

But we want better still. Stopping by at the first cable car station, a helicopter pad can by reached just by taking a few steps off the cable car facility. It is expensive, but a helicopter ride here is worth its money. As we wait in line, helicopter pilots make nerve-breaking starts from the helipad, diving straight down the mountain towards the city down below.

We end up in a Augusta Bell 206 turbine shopper – the pilot, two English ladies, my girlfriend and myself. And so we take off.

The Christo Redentor statue, high above Rio.

The reporter on the helipad.

It is a fantastic ride. At one moment the aircraft hangs in mid-air above the Christ statue, high above Rio, with steep slopes dropping down from the cliff below. We rotate around the world famous statue a few turns, then turn off towards the sea again. Favelas cling to the round hills, covered by greenery, and look almost beautiful from this altitude, despite their true nature of crime and, one can assume, a fair amount of desperation, poverty and lack of future prospects for their citizens.

This is not the cheapest piece of entertainment, seven minutes in the helicopter will set you back about $100. There are air tours ranging up to half an hour, not an alternative for our budget, as there are other helicopter stations around the city, presumably in the same price range.

But as we circle back and close in on the Sugar Loaf for landing, we’ve already decided our money has been well-invested, worth a row of never so expensive Rio dinners or late-night drinks.

 

Looking down at Rio.

The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.