I went to Brazil and Argentina in March 2011. I had never been to South America before and was really excited to go on the trip which I booked in December the previous year.
I flew via Madrid with Iberia airlines. The flight to Madrid was only 2 hours and then it was 11 hours to Rio De Janeiro. I would not recommend flying with Iberia, there was just one hot meal the whole journey and there were no individual tv screens so there were only three videos shown during the flight.
Best things to do in Brazil
1) Go to Carnival
I arrived the day of the last carnival. Next time I go, I will make sure I attend the 4 day event. It takes place 40 days before Easter and starts on the Saturday, finishing on the Tuesday. My friend went to the Samba drome which is where the dancers finish their samba parade. It is best to book your trip to Carnival at least 6 months in advance as hotels/hostels get filled up quickly.
2) Stay by Copacabana Beach
I stayed in the Hotel Atlantico Copacabana which is right on the beach. It was about 100 pounds for a night and breakfast and dinner was included. If you do any tours of Rio, the tour company will pick you up at the hotel and drop you off. It is right in the centre of all the activity.
3) Sugar Loaf Moutain (Pao de Acucar)
As I was only in Rio for one full day, I decided to go on a tour which took me to Sugar Loaf Mouton and also Christ the Redeemer. It took about 30 minutes drive to Sugar Loaf and we had to get two different cable cars up to the top. Once we were up there, we had stunning views of Rio and could also see Cristo Rendtor as my photos show. We had about an hour at the top where we took lots of photos and bought over priced drinks to quench our thirst. It was such a hot day, I was not complaining.
4) Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor)
I had a day tour of Rio and after our lunch stop which was an all you can Brazilian bbq, we went to Crist the Redeemer. I would recommend taking the tour bus as they have the tram tickets to get you up to Christ the Redeemer reserved. This saves you a lot of time waiting in line. You should visit Cristo Rendentor when there are no clouds, but sometimes it is not possible, hence my cloudy photos.
5) Stay for at least 5 days
Rio is definitely a place I will visit again, I did not spend enough time there. I would suggest spend at least one week in the city and then you can also go to the smaller towns such as Paraty which is where I went after my short stay in Rio.