I’ve always viewed Brazil as a parallel world to United States. Both countries have a similar history with European colonization and both benefited from the free labor of slaves.

Our descendants originated from the same place, which gives us a strong possibility of kinship. Even though Americans speak English and Brazilians speak Portuguese, there are so many other characteristics that remain similar — including the food, music and dance.

In Brazil, Sao Paulo makes the money, Bahia is the black capital — and Rio is the life of the party. My intrigue to indulge in this other world started in Rio de Janeiro. Rio is an extravagantly beautiful city, with its beautiful beaches, tropical landscape and culture.

Rio has many iconic images, but the most dominant is Christ the Redeemer, which is visible on a clear day from most places in the south zone. I believe you should always visit notable tourist attractions, and the statue, designed by French sculptor Paul Landowski, is not to be missed. The soaring 98-foot depiction of Jesus Christ sits at the peak of Corcovado mountain inside the Tijuca Forest National Park. The unobstructed, 360-degree view is picturesque and a great opportunity to utilize your pano mode on your smartphone. Capturing Centro, Botofogo, the Sugar Loaf, Lagoa and Copacabana beach on the south facing view is impressive.

After taking a few selfies with Jesus, I headed to Ipanema beach to mingle with the Cariocas. Cariocas, a nickname for residents of Rio, are a laid-back, free-spirited bunch who live for the beach. The beach culture of Rio influences the Cariocas, who proudly flaunt their bodies. On Ipanema, flocks of women wear the famous string bikini, and the men proudly strut around in speedos. The beach is filled with games of footvolley, a game combing elements of volleyball and soccer, and the ocean waters are packed with surfers and swimmers. In between, people are sun bathing and enjoying the day in true Carioca fashion.

The beauty of Rio is its range of diverse attractions, both man-made and natural. It’s the only city in the world where you can go from a beach to rainforest in a matter of minutes. The Tijuca National Forest is a rainforest that sits in the middle of the city. My friend Amanda, a history teacher with punk rock style, invited me on hike through Tijuca to Cachoeira Dos Primatas. The 40-minute hike was listed as easy on the park map, but I have a hunch the difficulty level was miscategorized.

The hike was reminiscent of a scene from Jurassic Park, minus the velociraptor. After countless steps, small climbs and great conversation, we reached the bottom of the waterfall. At the base of the waterfall, we let out a sigh of relief, but the real treat was climbing to the second level. We were greeted by a 40-foot waterfall pouring fresh water down its facade. The perfectly chilled water was soothing as we bathed underneath — and thirst-quenching.

Rio de Janeiro is unparalleled in this ability to take you from tourist attraction to world famous beach to adventurous hike without leaving its city limits. Welcome to Rio!