Is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town? (2023)

Posted on 14 November 2019

You look like a Brazilian, except for the eyes. Your eyes are Thai? Right. And you? Your eyes are round, like a Mexican.’ Chef Simone Almeida’s genetic guesswork is as spot on as her caipirinha cocktail recipe. In between instructions during our cooking class – no pith, no pounding, white sugar, one spoon when the cachaça (cane spirit) is this good – she talks about Brazil.

‘This is a country which has always mingled blood lines and given every mix a name. The Portuguese slept with Amerindians to make mameluco, with the Africans to create mulatto and with the Japanese to make the nikkei. We have the highest rate of interracial marriage in the world.’ She shrugs. ‘Of course, this has influenced our cooking.’

Is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town? (1)

Upmarket Leblon, on the western stretch of Ipanema, is just one of many beach suburbs.

Simone starts packing out the ingredients for moqueca, Brazil’s delicious fish stew. While we obediently chop tomato, onion, red pepper, coriander and garlic, she squeezes fresh lime over thick fish fillets, then sprinkles them with cumin and pepper. ‘The tomatoes came from the Andes; the spices and coconut milk the Portuguese brought from India. But for the moqueca to taste right’ – she holds up a bottle of palm oil – ‘we add African dendê. So you see, we are eating Brazilian history here.’

It’s standard for local cuisine to reflect a country’s past – it’s why I like to join a cooking class – but as a South African, this idea of melting into each over centuries strikes a chord. It’s been 10 days since I arrived in the pitch of night, waiting for the dawn to reveal the answer to that long-held question: is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town?

As the light crept in from the east, illuminating the granite islets and distant crags curving into the South Atlantic, the clean, broad expanse of Copacabana beach below, I kept reaching for my camera. I would repeat this action all day. Every angle on the ‘Cidade Maravilhosa’ – the Marvellous City – a new seduction.

Of course, Cape Town and Rio share similar geographical features: perpendicular granite slopes that rise directly from the ocean, an historic heart in the embrace of a mountainous amphitheatre, suburbs fringing a protected park, craggy heights from which to view the harbour, and those picture-perfect beaches.

Is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town? (2)

(Video) RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: Travel Guide to ALL Top Sights in 4K + Drone

From surfing (Brazilian Gabriel Medina is the world champion) to beach games and skimpy bikinis, Rio embraces its beach culture year round.

With almost double the population of Cape Town (6.45 million), I imagined Rio would feel more crowded. But much like Cape Town, the city’s topography creates small pockets, distinct in personality and outlook. Lapa – part of Centro, the city’s historic heart – is the busiest nightlife district and a great budget base. Before engineers tunnelled through the mountains to provide fast access to what is known as South Zone (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon), Santa Teresa, on the cool slopes below Tijuca National Park, was the city’s most sought-after residential area.

Today this charming ’hood draws artists and tourists to its tiny botequim (pubs) and boho shops. Copacabana, lined with Art Deco apartment blocks and high-rise hotels, is like an upmarket Durban or Sea Point – only better, as it’s edged by an expanse of golden sand. At night it’s illuminated by beachfront quiosques (informal cafe-bars), a few of which thump ’til dawn, but nothing beats the two tiny stage-bars of Beco das Garrafas. Here, you can listen to bossa nova in the very space in which this sexy, soothing jazz genre was born.

Pretty as Copacabana is, real-estate prices shoot up as you move further west to the beach bookended by Arpoador Rock and the imposing double peak of Dois Irmãos, behind which the sun sets.

From Arpoador Rock you look across Ipanema to super-affluent Leblon – one long beach divided by Canal do Jardim de Alá, the waterway that links the South Atlantic with Rodrigo de Freitas, Rio’s large inland lagoon.

At night the houses on the slopes of Dois Irmãos glow like embers in a dying fire – Vidigal favela, enjoying some of the most stupendous views of all Rio’s suburbs. This is the other thing about Rio: how equitably the city shares her charms. Well serviced by an affordable metro and public bicycle system, locals stream to the beaches to sprawl on deckchairs under the winter sun; rich beside poor, fat next to thin, vendors weaving between them, selling skewered prawns and caipirinhas.

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Even in winter, Carnival is the heart that pumps Rio’s blood.

Evening is dance time, from capoeira in well-maintained parks to alfresco street parties – none better than those held on Saturdays in Laranjeiras’s Praça São Salvador. The square hops with multi-generational Cariocas (as the people of Rio call themselves) dancing to live musicians, stopping to tenderly minister to the elderly watching in wheelchairs, or to raise small children onto the makeshift stage where they jump in time to the beat. Others bar- hop and samba in Lapa or Botafogo.

The next day it’s back to the beach, maybe cycling the beachfront lane, or around the lagoon. Or heading up into the cool canopy of Tijuca National Park, the lush rainforest draped around the granite peaks, including the one the Portuguese named Corcovado – ‘hunchback’ – from which Christ the Redeemer surveys the city. Erected in 1931, the iconic statue was funded by Catholics who feared that the separation of state and church would unleash a wave of godlessness on the city. Struggling through cellphone-toting hordes all jostling for their Instapost with Christ, arms outstretched in mock parody, one can’t help thinking those fears have been realised.

At 396 metres, Sugarloaf – the granite mound standing sentinel at the mouth of Guanabara Bay – does not offer quite the elevation of the 710-metre Corcovado, but there’s space to enjoy 360-degree views that are both spectacular and informative.

Like a 3D map, the city’s full geographical splendour is displayed: from the broad stretch of Copacabana to forested Corcovado and the sweep of Guanabara Bay, with boats like tiny toys heading out to sea.

(Video) Women like this is what makes Men travel to Brazil

On my last day in Rio, I returned from Santa Teresa to Ipanema Beach and marvelled again at the improbable bikinis. Rio’s women are clearly unfazed by what they see in the mirror. It’s infectious, this acceptance of all shapes, all sizes. Liberated from usual preoccupations, I strode into the ocean – a perfect 23 degrees; cool enough to offer relief but warm enough to remain in its liquid embrace.

I floated beyond the breakers, staring up at the fork-tailed frigatebirds soaring on thermals. Thoroughly seduced; thinking, maravilhosa city indeed. But is it really more beautiful than the Mother City? A beauty queen’s flaws are only revealed on close, prolonged inspection. So I’ll be back.

Is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town? (4)

A sliver of the mural ‘Etnias’, spray-painted by a team headed by Eduardo Kobra to celebrate the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Plan Your Trip

Getting There
The most direct route is with TAAG Angola Airlines, from R7,479 per person return.

Need To Know
South Africans don’t need a visa. Get a local SIM loaded with data in order to use Google Maps and Google Translate – not many people speak English. If you plan your trip with Best Kept, one is included in your package. Working with Rio-based operator BIT, Best Kept specialises in bespoke holidays according to your budget and interests.

When To Go
Rio is a year-round destination – it’s hot and humid from November to March. Carnival (21–26 February 2020) is great fun but the city is gridlocked and prices rocket.

Is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town? (5)

Every Saturday night Praça São Salvador in Laranjeiras turns into a fabulous alfresco street party.

Stay Here

*Selina Lapa is in the nightlife district, walking distance to historic Santa Teresa and 25 minutes from Ipanema. It’s the best budget find in the city, with a kitchen, lounge-bar and rooftop, and neat, comfy rooms. From R392 per person sharing.

Santa Teresa
Mama Shelter is funky and the best bargain in this hilltop neighbourhood. From R696 per person B&B.
Santa Teresa Hotel RJ MGallery was hands down my favourite – an elegant, tranquil, very romantic bolthole. From R1,252 per person B&B.

(Video) Top 10 Most Beautiful Cities In The World 2023 | Travel Video

I loved homely little Ipanema Inn, a block from the beach with warm, quirky staff. From R830 per person sharing.

Hotel Arpoador has the best beachfront location in Rio. From R1,042 per person.

Windsor’s best-value hotels are *Windsor Copa, a block from the ocean (from R526 per person sharing) and Windsor California on Avenue Atlantica (from R754 per person sharing).
If your budget has some stretch, book Porto Bay. From R962 per person sharing.

For a special-occasion splurge, the iconic Belmond Copacabana Palace is worth every cent. From R2,640 per person sharing.

Is Rio de Janeiro more beautiful than Cape Town? (6)

Getting Around

With 450kmof bicycle lanes in the city and South Zone, cycling is a great way to get around. Metered taxis cruise the streets at all times – easy to hail and affordable for short hops; a tip is not expected.

Do This

Stroll through Sitio Roberto Burle Marx in Barra de Guaratiba, 35 hectares of garden named after its creator, Brazil’s famous landscape architect. Entry R140 per person.

Browse the best Brazilian tribal art at Pé de Boi, a marvellous shop in Laranjeiras.

Join a cooking class with Chef Simone in Copacabana. From R1, 065 per person.

Eat Here

For a Brazilian-flavoured fine-dining splurge book at Oro in Leblon (, or Téreze in Santa Teresa ( For the best view of the city, eat at Santa Teresa’s Aprazível ( Capricciosa in Copacabana serves superb pizzas from R136 (

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(Video) Our First Impressions Of Rio de Janeiro (wow)

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Is Cape Town similar to Rio de Janeiro? ›

Of course, Cape Town and Rio share similar geographical features: perpendicular granite slopes that rise directly from the ocean, an historic heart in the embrace of a mountainous amphitheatre, suburbs fringing a protected park, craggy heights from which to view the harbour, and those picture-perfect beaches.

Is Cape Town the most beautiful city in the world? ›

Spend four nights in Cape Town, often voted the most beautiful city in the world, followed by four nights on safari in the world-renowned Kruger National Park, home to a diversity of wildlife larger than anywhere else in Africa.

Is Cape Town the most beautiful city in Africa? ›

Spreading magnificently across the Cape Peninsula, South Africa's most prominent city of Cape Town washes the entire landscape in color from tip to toe. From charming villas to coastal cottages, stunning beaches and a vibrant art scene, Cape Town sits high on any list of the most beautiful cities in Africa.

What is safer Rio or Cape Town? ›

As someone who has been to both Rio and Cape Town recently, I agree that walking around Cape Town "feels safer" than Rio, particularly during the day. In Rio, the danger seems omnipresent, even for a seasoned young male traveler.

What is the most beautiful region of Brazil? ›

Perhaps one of the most beautiful places in Brazil is Paraty, a small town located between the two mega cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Situated on the eastern coast of Brazil, Paraty is a town that has it all. Of course, it has the stunning soft sand beaches and lovely water that Brazil is known for.

What is the finest city in Brazil? ›

Rio de Janeiro

One of the most beautiful cities on earth and the largest cities in Brazil. Tourists say it is the Marvelous City and simply incredible to behold. With the famous Copacabana beach curving gently along the beaches of Guanabara Bay, and Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer stretching towards the heavens.

What is the 1 most beautiful city in the world? ›

1. Rome, Italy. At number one you voted Rome as the most beautiful city in the world. With its thousand-year-old buildings such as the Forum Romanum or the Colosseum, beautiful piazzas and world-class art – not to mention Vatican City – we are certainly not surprised.

What is South Africa's most beautiful city? ›

Cape Town's claim to being the most beautiful city in South Africa is undisputed. And seasoned travel writers readily accept the merit of Cape Town's claim that is indeed one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city is blessed with unrivalled gifts of nature.

What city is considered the most beautiful in the world? ›

Paris, France

We can't talk about the world's most beautiful cities without mentioning Paris.

Why is Cape Town so attractive? ›

The southernmost tip of Africa is one of the most magnificent parts of the world, a paradise full of exquisite scenery, beautiful beaches, two oceans – the icy Atlantic and the warmer Indian Ocean – and a wide variety of attractions to make any holiday-maker happy. This is where Cape Town is located.

Why is Cape Town so pretty? ›

The Scenery

With such a varying landscape - found in very few other places across the globe - Cape Town offers forests, beaches, gardens, mountains, oceans, grasslands, nature reserves, Winelands, as well as one of the most unique floral biomes in the world - fynbos.

Is Cape Town more beautiful than London? ›

Cape Town was voted 7th in's 50 of the world's most beautiful cities list. Paris, France, topped the list, followed by New York, US, in the second position, and London, the UK, in third position.

Is Rio Brazil worth visiting? ›

The Beaches are Gorgeous

For many people, it's worth coming to Rio de Janeiro just for the beaches, as Rio has some of the most famous beaches in the world! Copacabana Beach is huge and very centrally located in the city, and neighboring Ipanema Beach is also a favorite with locals and tourists alike.

Is Cape Town safe for American tourists? ›

Cape Town is a generally safe place for a holiday or a workation. However, like several cities in South Africa, it has its fair share of crime, especially gang-related activity. Cape Town is also home to the South African parliament, so political demonstrations and rallies are also common.

When should I go to Rio de Janeiro? ›

The best time to visit Rio is between December and March, when the weather is warm and sunny enough to hit the beaches.

What city in Brazil has the most beautiful woman? ›

Rio de Janeiro is, without a doubt, home to the world's most beautiful women!

What part of Brazil is most white? ›

The white Brazilian population is spread throughout Brazil's territory, but its highest percentage is found in the three southernmost states, where 79.8% of the population claims to be White in the censuses, whereas the Southeast region has the largest absolute numbers.

What is the posh part of Brazil? ›

It's Brazil's financial hub, flaunting the highest GDP in the nation and positioning among the best ten most costly metropolises to live in, in front of Milan, Paris, and New York City. São Paulo is a city of standouts, where the native mega-wealthy class has the limelight versus a milieu of absolute poverty.

What is the most touristy city in Brazil? ›

Rio de Janeiro, the most visited destination in Brazil by foreign tourists for leisure trips, and second place for business travel.

What are the top 3 cities in Brazil? ›

Major Cities in Brazil
  • Brazil's Capital. Brasilia has been the country's capital since 1960. ...
  • Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janerio, the second largest city of Brazil and South America, means, 'River of January. ...
  • Other Major Cities in Brazil. Manaus is the second largest metropolitan area in Northern Brazil.

What is the #1 most beautiful city in America? ›

1. Washington DC. Washington DC, is not just the capital of the US but also one of the most beautiful cities in the US.

What is the second most beautiful city in the world? ›

2. VANCOUVER (CANADA) Nestled between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is a place of aboriginal lore and global citizenry, of natural beauty and international commerce – a place unlike any other.

Is South Africa more beautiful than America? ›

In a recent Buzzfeed article “The 20 most beautiful countries in the world”- South Africa came in ahead of USA in second place and New Zealand in third place. Other African countries such as Namiba, Kenya and Tanzania also made it into the top 10, Africa is a special place indeed!

Why South Africa is so attractive? ›

An article by Buzzfeed said this about South Africa, 'Unsurpassed wildlife and mountains, whales and waterfalls, architecture and antiquity, the world's most beautiful city, and the world's most stunning Spring, plus a host of natural treasures make South Africa “The Most Beautiful Country In The World”, and a must-see ...

What is the safest city in South Africa? ›

The city of Cape Town, known as the Mother City, is consistently ranked as the safest city in South Africa. While its crime rate is not lower than many other cities in the country, there are lovely safe areas to explore. And like cities anywhere, there are parts that are better avoided.

Which country has most beautiful girls? ›

Sweden. The stunning Scandinavian nation of Sweden is known for surreal forests, coastal islands, glittering lakes and glacial mountains. It is also known for being home to the most beautiful women in the world.

Which country is no 1 beautiful? ›

Nestled in the heart of Central Europe, Switzerland is home to some of the most striking sightseeing places and epic landscapes. The dramatic alpine scenery, heaps of lakes, delicious food, and quaint villages make Switzerland the best and the most beautiful country in the world.

Which is the No 1 most beautiful country in the world? ›

Italy is truly the world's most beautiful country. It flaunts the most inspiring cultural treasures and magnificent scenery, which you cannot find anywhere in the world. Venice, Florence and Rome with their diverse architecture, Tuscany with its rolling hills, vineyards and snow-peaked mountains will mesmerize you.

What are the disadvantages of Cape Town? ›

Con: Finding the perfect place for you to live could be expensive. It is important to take into consideration that house prices are notoriously high, especially in certain parts of the city. Other expensive places to live include near the cities natural landmarks such as the beaches and mountains.

Which part of Cape Town is beautiful? ›

The Atlantic Seaboard is a beautiful stretch of coastline in Cape Town that is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The area is renowned for its stunning beaches, which are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.

What is the best month to go to Cape Town? ›

When is the Best Time to Visit Cape Town? A Cape Town holiday is best during peak summer from December to February. These hot summer months also coincide with local school holidays, so book your accommodation early if you want to visit over Christmas or New Year.

What is the white only place in Cape Town? ›

Descriptions of Orania frequently call it "whites-only", since the town only accepts white Afrikaner residents.

What of Cape Town is white? ›

Largest population centres
PlaceProvincePercentage %
Cape TownWestern Cape15.66%
Port ElizabethEastern Cape37.84%
63 more rows

Why are houses at Cape Town white? ›

Now, you're probably wondering why the houses are painted in all these bright shades. Back in the 1760s, Cape Dutch and Georgian rental houses, known as “huurhuisjes”, were built and leased to slaves. The rule was that all houses, that are aligned by cobbled roads, had to all be white.

What is the most scenic country in the world? ›

  • New Zealand. #1 in Scenic. #11 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Greece. #2 in Scenic. #25 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Italy. #3 in Scenic. #14 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Switzerland. #4 in Scenic. #1 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Spain. #5 in Scenic. #16 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Norway. #6 in Scenic. ...
  • Australia. #7 in Scenic. ...
  • Ireland. #8 in Scenic.

Is Cape Town the third best city in the world? ›

Cape Town has been named the third greatest city on Earth by the flagship UK newspaper, The Telegraph, out ranking top international travel destinations and global heavy hitters like New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, and Venice.

Why do people like Rio de Janeiro? ›

The fact that there are beautiful beaches right in the city makes Rio de Janeiro the perfect city to visit whether you're a beach person or a city lover! You can explore the city all you want and then end the day with your toes in the sand. There are quite a few beaches to choose from too so you can have your pick!

What makes Rio de Janeiro so special? ›

It is most known for Carnival, samba, bossa nova, and balneário beaches such as Barra de Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. It is also unique for its location, architecture, inhabitants, and lifestyle.

How many days is enough in Rio de Janeiro? ›

5-7 days is an ideal amount of time to spend in Rio, although closer to 10 days will allow you to truly see it all. I've written an itinerary based on a 6-day stay in Rio, and added on a 3 day stay on one of my new favourite islands, and a day in a great little colonial town called Paraty.

Can Americans drink water in Cape Town? ›

Can You Drink Tap Water in Cape Town? Yes, you can drink Cape Town's tap water. The City of Cape Town has some of the safest tap water globally. The South African National Standards' regulations require municipalities to monitor their water quality regularly by analysing water samples.

Is it safe for white Americans to travel to South Africa? ›

South Africa has a very high level of crime. Crime is the primary security threat to travellers. Violent crimes, including rape and murder, occur frequently and have involved foreigners. Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also frequent, often occurring in areas that are popular among tourists.

How long can Americans stay in Cape Town? ›

Under the current visa-exemption scheme, American citizens can stay in South Africa for 90 days without a visa. If an American citizen wishes to stay longer than 90 days, for tourism or business purposes, or plans to reside long-term in South Africa, they will require a long-stay permit.

Is 5 days enough for Rio de Janeiro? ›

There is a lot of do in this sprawling city so you want enough time to hit everything without skimping on beach time! We spent 5 days in Rio which for us was a really nice amount of time. We got to enjoy the beach a few times, watch the sunset from different spots and go to a handful of neighborhoods.

Is 3 days enough in Rio de Janeiro? ›

Even if you only spend 3 days in Rio de Janeiro, you can see all the best landmarks and attractions. This Rio de Janeiro itinerary will take you to beautiful beaches and tourist hotspots like the Christ the Redeemer statue. You can also explore Lapa, Catacumba Park, and Tijuca National Park.

Is Rio friendly for tourists? ›

Rio is not the safest city to visit. It has high levels of crime, including violent crime. Tourists are often targets for robbers and pickpockets. However, you can avoid most trouble in Rio by taking a few precautions and avoiding bad areas.

What place is similar to Cape Town? ›

It is said that there are five cities which surpass all others in terms of the natural beauty of their settings. Cape Town; Rio de Janiero; San Francisco; Sydney and Vancouver.

Is Brazil and South Africa similar? ›

Both nations are incredibly culturally rich

Other cultures have found their way to thrive before the first European settled foot on American soil. Same is the case in South Africa. Similarities between Brazil and South Africa include, but do not end with, a rich culture.

What do locals call Rio de Janeiro? ›

Despite the fact carioca is not recognized as an official demonym of Rio de Janeiro State, Brazilians call the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro in general (state and city) cariocas, and most of its inhabitants claim to be cariocas.

What is the alternative name for Rio de Janeiro Bay? ›

Guanabara Bay, Portuguese Baía de Guanabara, bay of the Atlantic Ocean, southeastern Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro on its southwest shore and Niterói on its southeast. Discovered around 1502, it was originally named Rio de Janeiro Bay.

Why is Cape Town the most beautiful city? ›

The stunning nature comes from the most famous landmark, Table Mountain. At almost any location in or around Cape Town, you only have to look up to see the magnificent Table Mountain. At 1100 m tall, it dominates the horizon around the city.

What city is most like Cape Town? ›

Cape Town, South Africa

Rio and Cape Town have a lot in common. For starters, they're both backed by mountains of immense scale and beauty (Sugarloaf and Table Mountain respectively) and lapped by royal blue ocean.

Which is richer Brazil or South Africa? ›

South Africa has a GDP per capita of $11,500 as of 2020, while in Brazil, the GDP per capita is $14,100 as of 2020.

What country is most like Brazil? ›

Colombia is the most similar country to Brazil, despite speaking Spanish instead of Portuguese. Both countries share similar demographics and level of development. In addition, both have significant portions of their territory covered by rainforest. However, Colombia is much more mountainous than Brazil.

What is the richest country in Africa? ›

Seychelles is the richest country in Africa, with a GNI per capita of $14,540. Mauritius follows closely with a GNI per capita of $9,920, while Libya is the third richest country in Africa with a GNI per capita of $8,700. South Africa is the fourth richest country in Africa with a GNI per capita of $6,530.

Why is Rio de Janeiro so special? ›

It is most known for Carnival, samba, bossa nova, and balneário beaches such as Barra de Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. It is also unique for its location, architecture, inhabitants, and lifestyle.

What are the slums in Rio de Janeiro called? ›

favela, also spelled favella, in Brazil, a slum or shantytown located within or on the outskirts of the country's large cities, especially Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Why is Rio de Janeiro so unique? ›

Although Rio de Janeiro continues to be the preeminent icon of Brazil in the eyes of many in the world, in reality its location, architecture, inhabitants, and lifestyle make it highly unique when compared with other Brazilian cities, especially the country's capital of Brasília or the much larger city of São Paulo.

What does Janeiro mean in English? ›

Janeiro is the Portuguese word for January. It may also refer to: "Janeiro", abbreviation for Rio de Janeiro or Rio de Janeiro (state)

What does de Janeiro mean in English? ›

The name Rio de Janeiro, which translates in English to literally 'January River', was the result of a mistake by Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos.

What does Rio de Janeiro translate to in English? ›

From Portuguese Rio de Janeiro (“River of January”). The city was named after the Guanabara Bay (the word rio, which in modern Portuguese means "river", could also mean other water bodies such as bays in the 16th century) and the date it was discovered by Portuguese founders: January 1, 1502.


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