Ok. You are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before you put your speedo on and get drunk on caipirinhas at the beach, please take time to read this. Rio de Janeiro is an amazing city – it is actually known as the “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Wonderful city). You will see. And you will feel comfortable (as you should): you can drink on the streets; you can walk around in your swimsuit. But please read the ‘safety advisory’ and always be aware of your surroundings – at the same time, relax and have fun!
Is it safe to visit Brazil? Yes, and millions of tourists do every year. Think Manhattan and you should be OK in most tourist areas of Rio.
Don’t do the typical gringo thing and go staring at the tall buildings while wearing a camera about your neck, or worst: bring your iPad to the beach. Don’t! This behavior attracts pickpockets. Don’t wear any jewelry, fancy watches, or the like. Blend in.
Please know that 99% of Brazilian people are amazing – just be aware of that 1% and you will be fine!
Common sense is the best precaution. Bad guys in Brazil look like bad guys – no collar shirt thieves. If you see someone suspicious, cross the street. Be aware of your surroundings – especially at night when you are blind drunk!
Don’t allow strangers to assist you at the cash machine and don’t follow them on foot as they guide you to a special bar or restaurant. They may be perfectly fine, but why not be a little more cautious.
Avoid night strolls on the beach.
Use taxis after sunset if you are going more than three or four blocks.
Beaches & To-Dos for 1st Timers
- Ipanema (or Leblon) Beach – These two, for starters, are the best beaches to be. I like staying anywhere between Posts 10 and 12. Post 8 is LGBT – also one of the guaranteed places to get Internet on the beach. On Sundays, the avenue closes for people’s leisure. Highly recommend you to go for a walk – great people watching! Beach stands have chairs and umbrellas for rent (I think its R$20 for the combo); and they’ll serve you beers, caipirinhas, etc. Also, do buy from the beach vendors that will be screaming their offerings non-stop. Love those guys! They are the best. Buy a Globo (cassava flour puffy biscuits) at least.
- Copacabana Beach – Although I never go sunbathing there (not the best looking people), Copacabana has its advantages. It has improved A LOT over the past 10 years and offers SUP rentals, and delightful beach restaurants/bars to sit down and see life go by.
- Barra Beach – Its super nice, feels like Florida’s beaches. Quite far from Ipanema, but luckily since 2016 you can take the subway there.
- Botafogo & Flamengo – both beautiful, with views from the Sugarloaf. Great for pictures and bike rides.
- Visit Christ – Buy your ticket online in advance to avoid line-ups. Get a taxi to Corcovado Train and go see that famous guy that overlooks the Wonder City with his open arms.
- Go UP Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese) – Cable Car ride + amazing views. There’s a small bar up there for drinks.
- Santa Tereza – Ask to be dropped off at Museu da Chácara do Céu, once the mansion of illustrious art collector Raimundo Otoni Castro Maya. It’s right beside Parque das Ruínas (Ruins Park), a culture center with fabulous 360-degree views high up the hill, which hosts exhibits and shows. Walk down (about 30 min) or try to get a cab to The Selarón Stairway, 215 steps decorated with regularly changing mosaics, created by Chilean artist Selarón – the stairs are featured on a Snoop Dogg music video. The bottom of the stairs is LAPA (see below).
- Lagoa (the lagoon) — Perfect for exercising. You can rent bicycles, tricycles, even Swam Rides! – if you get to the Lagoon through Vinicius de Moraes Street, turn right (bordering the lagoon) and walk about 500m. There should be a bike rental guy there. You can also visit the Lagoon Complex Av. Borges de Medeiros 1424 – they have an interesting food court and movie theaters. Or grab a drink at Palaphita Kitch (at the lagoon, Leblon neighborhood, opens after 6pm on weekdays/ 10am weekends).
- Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden) – Another good way to get impressed with the lush nature of Rio de Janeiro. Definitely worthy. From 8am to 5pm. Cab to: Rua Jardim Botanico, 1008.
- Gávea – Gávea is a neighborhood near Ipanema. At night, young people gather in front of the bars. Just a quick reminder that in Brazil you can freely drink on the streets – so grab your CERVEJA de GARRAFA (beer bottle 750ml) and glasses at the bar, and mix and mingle with the CARIOCAS (Brazilians from RIO are called Cariocas).
- LAPA – Lapa is a traditional downtown neighborhood that, in my 15 years of Rio experience, keeps changing from ‘the place to be’ to ‘not safe now’ every other year. Its arches are seen on most postcards, so you should definitely check it out. Best is to try combining pre-drinks on the streets (in front of the arches) to a night out at Rio Scenarium or Lapa 40º — both tourist hotspots, but totally recommendable and guaranteed fun times — or a concert at Circo Voador or Fundição Progresso.
Polis Sucos – Awesome Juices: just ask whatever combination comes to your mind, or go for an Açaí. Eat chicken salad sandwich. No seating. English menus. Corner of Maria Quitéria & Visconde de Pirajá.
Koni Temaki – Japanese Handrolls. Awesome healthy Snack! Several locations, these two in Ipanema: Rua Maria Quitéria, 77 & Rua Farme de Amoedo, 75
Gula Gula – Love it. Av. Henrique Dumont, 57
Venga – Spanish tapas. R. Garcia D’Ávila, 147
Bar Astor – It’s a favorite bar in Sao Paulo, and a few years ago they opened this fancy beachfront location in Ipanema. Avenida Vieira Souto, 110
Bar Lagoa – Very traditional, at the Lagoon. Great food, family style. Love it. Av Epitácio Pessoa, 1674
Pizzaria Guanabara – A classic. The pizza is horrible, but it’s open until 5am, so it is a great place for a nightcap (it’s kind of where people reunite after a night out). Av Ataulfo de Paiva, 1228 – Leblon.
Aprazível – This restaurant in Santa Tereza has awesome reviews and beautiful setting. I honestly never been, but always wanted to go. If you can check it out… please do! And let me know. Rua Aprazível, 63
You’ll find great outdoor shopping on the streets of Ipanema. Walk around Garcia D’Avila and Maria Quitéria Streets, where you’ll find Brazilian designer shopping stores. Not cheap, but super nice fashion! Some of my favorites: Osklen (famous, expensive), Reserva (boy’s), Farm (love!), Redley (like it). Blue Man and Salinas for some Brazilian swimwear; Forum and Ellus have been trending since always. Schutz for awesome shoes.
For proper malls, go to Rio Design, (Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, 270), Shopping Leblon (Avenida Afrânio de Melo Franco, 290) or, the biggest, Rio Sul (Rua Lauro Müller, 116)
SOME Brazilian PORTUGUESE BASICS:
- Oi – Hi
- Tudo bem? – How are you? (answer: TUDO.)
- Uma cerveja, por favor – A beer, please
- Mais uma, por favor – One more, please
- Onde é o BANHEIRO? – Where is the WASHROOM?
- Sim – Yes
- Não – No
- Não entendi – I don’t understand
- Eu sou canadense/americano/inglês – I am Canadian/American/English
- Obrigado! – Thanks!
- Desculpa – Sorry.
- Bom Dia – Good Morning / Good Day
I loooooove Rio. These are really just basic tips, but once you get there let yourself be surprise. The city changes annually (so does carnaval there, a topic for another post), and there are always trendy hotspots that aren’t listed here and it will probably be a better experience than any of my suggestions — don’t blame me! I just put together the classics, and it’s a great way to start.
Please do send your comments with experiences, your favorites and other suggestions.
And have a wonderful vacation life!
Check out this videolog for some images of the traveler-me in 2009 (a lot of blah blah blah in Portuguese, but skip to frames 1’40” and 2’30” for Sugarloaf and Guanabara):