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Two Sides of Rio de Janeiro

By Nicholas Gill

In Rio de Janeiro, the gap between the haves and the have-nots stretches far wider than the distance between Ipanema beach to the hillside favelas (shantytowns). Most travelers end up somewhere in the middle. However, by sticking to the extreme ends of the spectrum, you’ll find this Brazilian city at its most dynamic.

The High Rollers Rio

Stay: Ultra-luxury concierge service Blue Parallel rents out multimillion-dollar penthouses in prime Copacabana beachfront or in massive rainforest spreads near Joatinga. These are the places where Icelandic pop stars come to write songs or slender models are shot for magazine covers.

Eat: Le Pré Catelan in Copacabana’s Sofitel hotel is headed by Roland Villard, a French chef known for his love of Brazilian dishes and ingredients, as evidenced by his 11-course Amazonian tasting menu. The one-of-a-kind feast combines rare ingredients and turns them into contemporary French interpretations such as pirarucu, a local fish, in a cashew crust with a tucupi and jambu consommé.

Do: While most people take the cable car or a bus up to the new world wonder of Christ the Redeemer on the top of Corcovado, those with enough cash opt to see Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa’s Art Deco statue from all angles while circling it by helicopter, also taking in aerial views of the Ipanema and Copacabana beachfronts and Maracanã Stadium.

Night: Electronic music in Brazil moves in and out of musical subgenres and, at least in the case with baile funk, a sort of insane rock-dance-funk combo, incorporates native percussions and rhythms with experimental beats. For the biggest acts and a cool modern atmosphere, the young, sexy and wealthy crowd heads to 00, pronounced zero-zero, housed in Gávea’s Planetarium.

The Backpackers Rio

Stay: While finding a cheap room is Rio is next to impossible, the newish Z.Bra Hostel in chic Leblon has dorms and private rooms reasonable enough for the backpacker to afford, yet has the facilities of a boutique hotel, such as retrofitted furniture and free Wi-Fi.

Eat: While most cannot afford a table at former presidential chef Roberta Sudbrack’s eponymous restaurant, Rio’s flavors come alive at the city’s botecos and botequims, the vibrant pubs and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that dish out cheap snacks and beer to a chatty, laidback crowd. Try Chico & Alaíde in Leblon and opt for fried and salty snacks such as Bolinho de Bacalhau (codfish fritters) or Risolis de Camarão (a savory shrimp stuffed pastry).

Do: In Rio, the wealthy people live near the beach, while the poor live in shantytowns, called favelas, on the hills that backdrop the city. Though they are being integrated into society one by one, many are like autonomous zones with their own laws and gangs controlling security. While access is limited, Favela Tour can take you around, stopping for acai and bbq’d shrimp skewers in the street and to visit a school that the tour fully supports.

Night: On top of the Tavares Bastos–a pacified favela in the Catete neighborhood–hostel and nightspot The Maze Inn plays host to an event called Jazz ne Favela on the first Friday of each month. The live bossa nova and other forms of jazz bring together a mixed hipster crowd of locals and expats who dance the night away, enjoying a fantastic panoramic view of the city.

Photos by Dells Woman’s Entrepreneur Network and eflon @ flickr