With its abundant beaches, crashing waves, thick jungle and towering mountains, Rio de Janeiro can be seen as a giant adventure playground, and is the ideal vacation destination for families with a love of the great outdoors. Legendary beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema appeal to all ages, while those with a head for heights will love the dizzying cable car ascent up Sugar Loaf mountain.
The city's parks and gardens are alive with colorful flora and fauna and provide a welcome respite from the sticky heat of the streets, while Tijuca National Park - the largest swath of urban jungle in the world - is packed with opportunities for splashing in natural pools and waterfalls, all while keeping an eye out for monkeys and colorful bird life such as parrots and toucans.
Although beachfront accommodation in Rio comes with a hefty price tag, families may find it's worth paying the extra money for easy access to the sands. It's also possible to get some decent deals outside the peak tourist season (low season is March to November). Hotel Praia Ipanema is reasonably priced by Rio standards, and is a good family option right on the beachfront, close to Ipanema's border with super upscale Leblon.
Start the day early and tuck into a hearty breakfast from the lavish buffet, before heading to the beach for some splashing and sunbathing. Soccer, beach volleyball and frescobol - a bat and ball game - are all popular beach activities, and while the waves make swimming too risky for children, kids love splashing at the water's edge.Rio's beaches are perfect for family fun — Photo courtesy of Sarah O'Sullivan
Cool down with a fresh coconut water and an ice cream at one of the many simple beach kiosks before taking a stroll to Lagoa, Rio's vast city lake, where visitors can hire swan pedal boats and take to the water, or rent bikes and cycle around the five-mile perimeter of the lagoon. There are plenty of places to stop for a drink and bite to eat along the way - ranging from basic stalls selling cold cans and snacks to smart restaurants offering full meals and wine lists.
Take a cab back to the hotel for a quick change before heading out for the night to one of Rio's famous churrascarias (grilled meat restaurants). For fun, informal dining, these places can't be beat - waiters bring a huge variety of meat cuts to your plate until you can eat no more, and a heaving buffet offers any number of salads and sides.
Kids under 12 can usually dine for half the price of an adult meal at these establishments, while children under five can normally eat for free. Porcao is generally considered the best of the bunch, and while there are several branches in the city, the showstopping views at Porcao Rio's, in Flamengo, gives it the edge over those in Ipanama and Copacabana.
Older children and teens can take surf lessons in Rio — Photo courtesy of Sarah O'SullivanThose with older children can spend the following day enjoying surf classes on the beach, or head to Tijuca National Park for jungle treks and monkey-spotting adventures - be sure to bring plenty of water and insect repellent, and always go with a guide or organized tour. The sheer scale of the jungle makes it all too easy to get lost.
After a day of adventures, take a cab along to Urca in the early evening and take the cable car ride up to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain - even the surliest of teens is sure to be overwhelmed by the stunning views that unfurl as the cable car makes its dizzying ascent.