Rio de Janeiro Travel Tips

Updated on January 31, 2017

Quite a few people have read my post A Freelancer Moving to Rio and that has lead to a lot of questions about working in Rio and living in the city in general. So I though I would share my experiences from my stay in Rio – hopefully you can use some of these tips if you too are thinking about visiting this wonderful city. This might be a long post, but I have divided it into sections so you can skip ahead if you like.

Packing up and Going to Rio

First of all I don’t live in Rio anymore – I had a 6 months stay in the city along with my girlfriend. She was actually the reason we moved there in the first place as she had gotten an internship with the UN in the city and I decided to move my freelance business with me.

When you take what is essentially a long vacation more than an actual relocation you don’t need to bring as much stuff as you might think. We learned that the hard way and I think we could have left about 60% of the things we brought along. Especially we had brought a lot of clothes that we did not wear – partly because it was too warm but also because we bought a lot of new clothes trying to blend in with the Cariocas (that is what you call the people of Rio). On the subject of blending in I have to recommend a great book that I suggest you read before you land in Rio: “How to Be a Carioca – The Alternative Guide For the Tourist in Rio” written by Priscilla Ann Goslin who has lived in Rio for more than 30 years. It a humorous approach to describing the different carioca stereotypes that you will come across while visiting. If you were to buy any book on Rio then this is the one, as it will help you understand the Rio culture better. Below I have collected some of the books that helped us during our stay.

Where to Stay in Rio

Ok so the first thing we need to do is getting you a place to stay in Rio. This of course all comes down to personal preferences, purpose and budget.

We began our stay in Rio by booking 3 days at Casa Beleza in the Santa Teresa neighborhood and that turned out to be a great decision. Casa Beleza is what is
Casa Belezacalled a pousada, which is what you might call a bed and breakfast. The Place in run by Bindu & Antoine who are loveliest couple you will come across. The Caza Beleza mansion if beautiful and surrounded by trees, humming birds and small monkeys. Learn more about Casa Beleza here.

Santa Teresa is a nice neighborhood but most tourist just visit the place and then go live in either Ipanema or Copacabana. Personally I prefer Ipanema compared to Copacabana, which is way too touristy for my taste. With the steady stream of tourist come the usual problems with crime, prostitutes, drugs and so forth. I might get into trouble for this, but go see Copacabana beach if you like and then find somewhere else to stay in Ipanema. Take a look at trip advisor or perhaps go for an apartment via Airbnb.

Going to the Beach

Lets face it – the beaches of Rio are world famous and I’m sure that a lot of you are visiting Rio for this exact reason. The two main beaches are Copacabana and Ipanema and once again I prefer Ipanema as it is less touristy than Copa. On each beach you will find numbered life guard towers and it is important to take note of these numbers as different crowds hang out in different places. On Ipanema/Leblon the tower numbers go from 7-12 and here is rundown of the different crowds:

  • Posto 7: Surfers and kids from the nearby favela.
  • Posto 8: This is the gay scene – you can’t miss the rainbow flags.
  • Posto 9: Was the intellectuals hangout back in the days. Today youngsters, backpackers and ganja lovers hang out here.
  • Posto 10: This seems to be more of the upscale Ipanema crowd – right across from the Rio de Janeiro country club.
  • Posto 11: Not sure if there is any special crowd here – fill me in the comments.
  • Posto 12: Mixed crowd with famous novella stars (novellas are the Brazilian soaps) and people from the nearby favela Vidigal. The beach is the most democratic place in Rio.

So now that you know what the different sections of the beach represent it is time to go to the beach, so lets take a look at what you need to pack.

What to bring and not to bring to the beach

  • Money – you need it for beach chairs, food and drinks
  • Sunscreen – don’t take any chances with the stuff sold on the beach. Take it easy with the sun. You will get tanned but not if you get red first.
  • For the men: Sungas – Brazils famous bathing wear for men. Just get over your inhibitions and wear them. Everyone does and only the teenagers will wear board shorts. If you are 25+ and wear board shorts you are NOT cool. You do not need a six-pack to wear sungas as you will soon learn and Brazilian women love a man in sungas.
  • For the women: Take that bikini or bathing suit you brought from home and get a pair of scissors. Now do a cut across, then another and then another. Keep going until what ever you started with is in 100 pieces. Then take a deep breath and go with the flow and go shop for a Brazilian style bikini. My girlfriend needed a bit of convincing but felt so liberated once she had taken the plunge. You will feel out of place in your bath rope of a gringo bikini.
  • Bring a canga and NOT a towel. A towel on the beach is not cool as it brings home tons of sand – cariocas know this. So if you bring a towel you are not a carioca and therefore not cool. Simple logic right?
  • Don’t bring anything of value, as you need to take care of your belongings in the crowded summer months.

The beaches of Rio are where the cariocas meet and hang out and they are a melting pot of everything that goes on in the city. Relationships start and end here, business deals are made, stories are told and most importantly beers are drunk. Ah how I miss the beach.

One word of caution – the surf at the Rio beaches can be rough and the lifeguards and choppers are there for a reason. Stay close to the shore as the under current can be pretty strong. Ipanema means “bad water” in the native language and was named as such because of the waves making the area difficult to fish.

How to get Around Rio – Transport

I come from Copenhagen, so the traffic situation and most of all the cariocas interpretation of the traffic rules of Brazil makes me shake my head. I think most cariocas look at the rule sets as suggestions more than actual rules (goes for a lot of things in Brazilian society). That said I will be the first to admit I started walking red lights in true carioca style within a month. You don’t want to be that gringo standing there left behind just because of the color of a sign now do you?

Most tourists will get around by taxi and it is both affordable and apart from missing seatbelts in most taxis it is also safe. Other alternatives are the busses and the metro and once again both are affordable and rather safe – depending on the area. I used to take the buss all the time but you have to be prepared for waiving down the busses, as they will not stop for you unless you do. This does take some time getting used to and that is why a lot of tourist go for the taxies (make sure to go by the meter)

The metro works pretty well and it is expanding at the moment. As of this writing then end station is Zona Sul is Ipanema and you will have to take busses to go to Leblon if this is where you will reside.

You can also rent a bike to ride along the beach, but down ride it anywhere else as the traffic is not suited for bikes.

Learn how to Speak Portuguese

Ok this is perhaps a little bit of an overstatement, but be prepared for some seriously lacking English skills when you visit Rio. If you know Spanish you will do ok, but I really do suggest that you do put in a little effort to learn a bit of Portuguese before you go. Besides it is just not cool showing up without knowing just a little of the language of the country you are about to visit. I ended up studying Portuguese at the PUC University during my stay. Read my post about learning Portuguese here.

What to do in Rio

I won’t dwell on the obvious places to go mentioned in every guide book. Instead here is a small list of things you should try once while in Rio.

  • Watch a sun down from Arpoador
  • Go for a morning run at the beach – end with a fresh coco
  • Have a churrasco
  • Visit a samba school
  • Eat acai
  • Take the buss
  • Enjoy the street art
  • Walk by Ipanema beach on a sunday
  • Sunday street market in Ipanema

What I liked to do the most was just to wander around the city. The pulse of a city is in the streets – not a museum.

Rio Nightlife

There are a lot of clubs in Rio but there is only one name you need to memorize: Lapa. This is the best place to party and you will find a very diverse crowd here. There are tons of old samba clubs, clubs with Funke, House, Reggae and everything in-between. You can buy cheap drinks from the stands in the street but keep in mind that the ice they use is not filtered, so if you get the runs don’t blame me.

Get some food and a handful of good caipirinhas from one of the bars and get ready for some of the best people watching you have done in your life. I recommend the drinking game “guy or girl?” There are a lot of the famous Brazilian trannies partying in Lapa as well and the more caipirinhas you get the harder the game gets.

In general the hot spots of the city changes a lot and I suggest taking a look at the flyers handed out at the beach or taking a look at the nightlife guide of Rio Times Online.

Eating out in Rio

Ah the food of Rio. The cariocas love to eat out and there are a lot of options around. One thing that is worth noticing is that Cariocas love eating buffets and they go under the name “kilos” as you take what you eat and then weigh the food before paying. This is actually a great way to eat as you can see what you get and trust me when I say that the Brazilians know how to arrange a buffet. You get everything from fresh seafood and sushi to delicious grilled meats, lovely salads and mouthwatering desserts.

Brazil is also famous for churrasco, which is a special kind of barbeque. Often the churrascarias have a buffet where you select the non-meats you like and then the waiters walk around will spears of different kind of grilled meats. You will be handed a small chip with a red side and a green side. Green side up and the waiters will stop at your table offering you whatever cut he is carrying around. You are free to pass and pick the next thing coming. Red side up and the waiters will pass you by but more often than not they will try to eat you full on the cheaper cuts and insist you try.

You have to try a churrascaria once on your trip and also don’t forget to have a feijoada, which is the Brazilian national dish – it is a lovely dark stew with black beans served with rice, farofa (manioc flour), oranges and fried cabbage. Wash down with a caipirinha and you are in heaven.

Carriocas love to eat snacks with their beers and there are a lot of different options. The book a partiers guide to Rio has a great explainer inside and you discounts with the coupons inside.

Rio Carnival

The biggest party on earth is what the Rio carnival is often known as, and to be fair it is damn close. Most of you have most likely seen pictures of the big parade from Rio. This part of the carnival is held at the Sambadromo, which is a stretch of street build for the specific purpose of these parades. The special group of the samba schools parade on Sunday and Monday of the Carnival and Monday is known as the big night. I suggest getting tickets ahead of time by booking them at this site , which has all the latest info on the program, schools and more.

The street parties known as blocos are becoming more and more popular as the prices for the parade at the Sambadromo goes up. Besides the blocos are not a spectator sport as much as the Sambadromo events. The last couple of years you have been able to find apps in the appstore showing a map of Rio with all the blocos, times and themes. This is a great way to stay on top of what is going on and once again Rio times is also a great resource for the non Portuguese speaking crowd.

How to Stay Safe in Rio

As you might know Rio has sort of a bad rep when it comes to crime. This is both well deserved and misleading at the same time. Yes there is a lot of crime and violence is the city, but as a tourist you will not see any of it unless you wander off into a crime-ridden favela at night alone – so don’t.

Follow these tips and you should be good to go

  • Don’t walk Copacabana by the water at night – period!
  • Don’t leave the house with anything you can’t afford to loose.
  • In the extremely unlikely event that you should get robbed then give them whatever they want and don’t look at their faces (robbers are scared too and by not looking at their faces they will feel less at risk of getting caught).
  • Don’t walk down small unlit streets at night
  • Dress like a local!
  • Don’t get completely wasted – caipirinhas are good but they will get you wasted quickly.
  • Don’t go to Centro at night or in the weekends.
  • Don’t be an idiot – seriously I have seen tourists in Rio that I even wanted to rob just to give them a lesson. Being loud and obnoxious will get the attention of the wrong crowd.
  • To the guys: Don’t pick a fight in Rio – cariocas love steroids and Brazilian jiu jitsu. You do the math.

Lastly Rio has a hidden “danger” in form of dengue fever, which is a disease transferred via mosquitos. There is no cure for dengue and while only few cases end with fatal consequences dengue is no joke. To protect yourself from dengue fever you should use mosquito repellant and get a spray for killing mosquitos in your room or apartment. If you find yourself with symptoms of dengue contact a doctor right away and start drinking plenty of water (your only and best defense against the disease). My girlfriend had the “pleasure” of experiencing dengue first hand and we used this clinic in Copacabana, which were very helpful.

With that out of the way – Rios is an awesome city and I’m confident you will have a great time visiting the marvelous city. Don’t let mosquitos and rumors of robbers scare you off. Rio is without a doubt one of the most fantastic cities on earth and if you have to chance you should treat yourself to this marvelous city.

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  • Fuckyoutourist

    Lol, idiot turist, if i catch you in Rio, or Sao Paulo, or whatever city in Brazil i will rip you off jackass.
    Get your ass out of ower country, are not like here.

  • thomasfals

    If you disagree why don’t you point out the mistakes so I
    can correct them? The above is written from my perspective and from my own experiences.
    I’m glad that I did not run into you while I lived in Brazil. Most Brazilians I
    meet were nice and open-minded people who welcomed me to their country. I guess you are just a bitter little “man”. By
    the way thank you for proving my point about the English skills J