Difference between revisions of "Rio de Janeiro"
Revision as of 14:19, 23 March 2013
Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil, on the South Atlantic coast. Rio is famous for its breathtaking landscape, its laidback beach culture and its annual carnival.
The harbour of Rio de Janeiro is comprised of a unique entry from the ocean that makes it appear to be the mouth of a river. Additionally, the harbor is surrounded by spectacular geographic features including Sugar Loaf mountain at 395 meters (1,296 feet), Corcovado Peak at 704 meters (2,310 feet), and the hills of Tijuca at 1,021 meters (3,350 feet). These features work together to collectively make the harbor one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World ).
It is a common mistake to think of Rio as Brazil's capital, a distinction it lost on April 21st 1960 when Brasilia became the capital. Beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema, the Christ The Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue, the stadium of Maracanã and Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) are all well-known sights of what the inhabitants call the "marvelous city" (cidade maravilhosa), and are also among the first images to pop up in travelers´ minds, along with the Carnaval celebration.
Sadly, most people also know Rio for its violence and crime. The drug lords and the slums, or favelas, are the tip of very old social problems. The favelas are areas of poor-quality housing, slums usually located on the city's many mountain slopes, juxtaposed with middle-class neighborhoods.
The South Zone holds most of Rio's landmarks and world-famous beaches, in an area of only 43.87 square km (17 square miles). Many of them are within walking distance of each other (for instance, the Sugar Loaf lies about 5 miles from Copacabana beach). Most hotels and hostels are located in this part of the city, which is compressed between the Tijuca Range (Maciço da Tijuca) and the sea. There are important places in other regions as well, such as Maracanã stadium in the North Zone and the many fascinating buildings in the Centre.
If you plan on staying in Rio for more than a couple of days it would be good to invest in a copy of ``How to be a Carioca``(Priscilla Ann Goslin, Livros TwoCan Ltda, R$32). This is an amusing look at the people of Rio and will help you enjoy the city as well as appear less of a `gringo` when you hit the streets.
Rio was founded in 1565 by the Portuguese as a fortification against French privateers who trafficked wood and goods from Brazil. Piracy played a major role in the city's history, and there are still colonial fortresses to be visited (check below). The Portuguese fought the French for nearly 10 years, both sides having rival native tribes as allies. For the next two centuries it was an unimportant outpost of the Portuguese Empire, until gold, diamonds, and ore were found in Minas Gerais in 1720. Then, as the nearest port, Rio became the port for these minerals and replaced Salvador as the main city in the colony in 1763. When Napoleon invaded Portugal, the Royal Family moved to Brazil and made Rio capital of the Kingdom (so it was the only city outside Europe to be capital of a European country). When Brazil became independent in 1822, it adopted Monarchy as its form of government (with Emperors Pedro I and Pedro II). Many historians and Brazilians from other places say cariocas are nostalgic of the Royal and Imperial times, which is reflected in many place names and shop names. In 2009, the city won their bid to host the games of the XXXI Olympics in the summer of 2016. This was the fifth bid by the city, whose 1936, 1940, 2004, and 2012 bids lost.
Rio is one of the country's major transportation hubs, second only to São Paulo.
Four bus lines operated by Real  depart from right outside the arrival section of Galeão and Santos Dumont. Buses are air-conditioned and comfy, with ample luggage space. They run rougly every 30 minutes from 5:30 AM to 10 PM.
There are two types of taxis. As you leave Customs you will see booths of different companies offering their services. These are considerably more expensive (ex: Galeão - Copacabana R$70; Galeão - Ipanema R$99) than the standard yellow taxis that are outside the terminal building but the quality of the cars is generally better. These taxis can often charge double the price of those ordinary taxis which are located about one hundred meters from the arrivals exit and should cost you about R$50 (October 2012) on the meter to reach Ipanema or Copacabana or R$50 to Jardin Botanico. The price can go up by R$10 or more if you get stuck in a traffic jam. It is possible to pre-book airport transfers. Rio Airport Transfer , allow you to book and pay before you leave home.
Money exchange facilities are limited and high commissions are charged. Slightly better rates can be obtained, illegally, at the taxi booths but they may want you to use their cabs before exchanging money for you. In any event, don´t exchange more than you have to as much better rates are available downtown.
From Europe, TAM Airlines offers direct flights from Paris (daily), London and Frankfurt (both three times a week). Alitalia flies five times a week from Rome, Air France flies twice a day from Paris, British Airways three times a week from London, TAP twice a day from Lisbon and on fridays and sundays to Porto, Lufthansa four days a week from Frankfurt, KLM four days a week from Amsterdam and Iberia daily from Madrid. From Africa, Taag conects Rio to Luanda four times a week, and from Asia, Emirates has a daily non-stop flight to Dubai, where is possible to continue to many Asian destinations (also, from Rio this flight continues to Buenos Aires).
From North America, there are non-stop flights to Rio de Janeiro only from New York and Miami with either American Airlines or TAM Airlines, Washington, D.C. and Houston with United Airlines, Charlotte with US Airways, Dallas with American Airlines and Atlanta with Delta Airlines. Travellers from elsewhere in the region have to make a stop in the aforementioned U.S. cities or in São Paulo to get to Rio.
A number of carriers (including TAM, Gol, LAN, TAM Mercosul, Emirates, Pluna and Aerolineas Argentinas) connect Rio de Janeiro to Argentina (Buenos Aires and Cordoba), Venezuela (Caracas), Paraguay (Asuncion), Uruguay (Montevideo) and Chile (Santiago). Avianca, TACA and Copa Airlines connect Rio with Bogotá, Lima and Panama City, respectively, offering forward connections to Central America or other South American cities. LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas offer connections from their respective hubs to Australia and New Zealand.
Rio's glorious Central Station, or Central do Brasil, made famous by a movie of the same name, serves mostly local commuter lines (SuperVia ), so it's unlikely that you'll arrive through here. It's worth a visit just to see it, though, you can get there either by bus or subway (subway is better; get off on Central station, line 1).
The long-distance bus depot, Rodoviária Novo Rio, is in the North Zone's Santo Cristo neighborhood. Taxis and coach buses can get you to the South Zone in about fifteen minutes; local buses take a bit longer. Frescão air-conditioned coaches can be found just outside the bus station. The coaches connect the station to the city centre and main hotel areas of Copacabana and Ipanema. Bus companies include Itapemirim , Penha , Cometa , 1001 , and Expresso Brasileiro .
Several companies offer bus passes from Rio to the rest of the country. The Green Toad Bus  also offer bus tickets online for buses from Rio de Janeiro to Ilha Grande, Paraty, São Paulo, Florianopolis, Campo Grande, Foz do Iguacu and some other destinations in Brazil. They have bus passes to take you to other countries as well.
Rio is connected by many roads to neighboring cities and states, but access can be confusing as there are few traffic signs or indications of how to get downtown.
The main interstate highways passing through Rio are:
Ferries (barcas) connect neighbouring Niteroi to Rio de Janeiro and arrive at Praça XV, in the city centre.
International Charter Group: - Yacht charter and sailing, one of the worlds largest acht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed in Rio de Janeiro. Operating from nine offices worldwide (USA, Spain, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Honk Kong and Dubai).
A cab is one of the best ways to move around Rio. All legal cabs are yellow with a blue stripe painted on the sides. Taxis not designed like this are special service cars (to the airport or bus stations) or illegal. Rio taxis are not too expensive on a kilometer basis but distances can be quite considerable. A journey from Zona Sul to the Centro will cost around R$20, and from the airport to Copacabana is around R$50 for example. The car can usually hold four people. You can ask a cab for a city tour, and arrange a fixed price (may be around US$20). Major taxi companies include Central de Taxi, Ouro Taxi and Yellow Taxi.
After getting into the taxi, check to see if the meter has been started, it charges R$4.40 (March 2011) for the minimum ride, called bandeirada), and R$1.60 per kilometer. If not, ask the taxi driver to do so. You may be ripped off by some taxi drivers.
If you want to avoid being ripped off then it may be worthwhile taking a 'radio-taxi', particularly when arriving at the airport. Radio Taxis, such as Rio Airport Transferand others are usually the blue, green, or white taxis and they do cost a little more than the typical yellow taxi. The advantage of a radio taxi is that you pay a fixed rate regardless of the time of day or if there's heavy traffic etc, this means that you do not risk the price increasing at the drivers discretion.
While many of these companies do have websites, they are generally in Portuguese and do not provide you with prices. The exception to this is Rio Airport Transfer, www.rioairporttransfer.com, which allows you to choose your arrival and drop off points and will quote you a price, you can then pay for your transfer online from the comfort of your armchair. Other companies such as Holiday Taxis also offer transfers in Rio, however they tend to be very expensive.
For those travelling to Rio for Carnival it's worth using a company that allows you to book and pay in advance, and to try and pay as much in advance as possible as prices tend to increase a few weeks before Carnival.
Be aware that traffic jams in Rio can be terrible at times. A taxi ride from Ipanema to the bus terminal for instance can take an hour and a half if you get seriously stuck, so make sure you have a time margin in case you really can´t afford to be late.
Traffic within some parts of Rio can be daunting, but a car may be the best way to reach distant beaches like Grumari, and that can be an extra adventure. Avoid rush-hour traffic jams in neighborhoods such as Copacabana, Botafogo, Laranjeiras, and Tijuca, where moms line up their cars to pick up their children after school. Buy a map, and have fun.
Note that Rio has an interesting program of traffic management. Between 7AM and 10AM on weekday mornings the traffic flow of one highway on the beachfront roads of Ipanema and Copacabana is reversed, i.e. all traffic on those roads flows in the same direction, towards the city. Note also that on Sundays the highway closest to the beach is closed to allow pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, skaters and others to exercise.
Buses are still the cheapest and most convenient way to get around the South Zone (Zona Sul) of the city due to the high number and frequency of lines running through the area. There are designated bus lanes in most streets that make travel times shorter. For the adventurous or budget traveler, it is worth asking your hotel or hostel employees how to navigate the system or which routes to take to arrive at specific locations. However, you should be mindful of questionable characters and your belongings. By night buses are more scarce, and most lines will usually not be running by the time the bars and clubs are full. Buses start at R$2.75 (Sept 2012); buses with air conditioning charge higher fares. The fare is paid in cash to a controller or the driver inside the bus, by passing through a turnstile. There are no tickets, and try to have change/small bills. Some residents and students have a digital pass card. Keep an eye out for pickpockets when the bus is crowded, and don't be surprised if your driver goes a little faster and brakes a little more suddenly than you'd like. Except for minibuses, buses now have two doors: passengers get in through the front door and get off through the back (it was otherwise until 2001-2002).
Some bus stops in the South Zone are equipped with a shelter and a bench, but sometimes, far from tourist areas, they are less obvious and have no signs at all - you might have to ask. As a general rule in most parts of Brazil, buses stop only when you hail them, by extending the arm. If you don't hail and there are no passengers waiting to get off, the bus simply won't stop. The same can be said if you are on the bus wanting to get off at a particular stop. You should know the surroundings or the name of the intersection of the area you are going, or inquire to the employee operating the turnstile, so you can signal to the driver that you want to get off, or he may not stop! There are no schedules or timetables, but there is an invaluable book called Ruas de Rio de Janeiro (The streets of Rio de Janeiro) that has maps of Rio and lists bus routes by bus line. Although it does not list the exact schedule of arrivals and departures, it lists the bus stops, and one can easily orient oneself and navigate the city using it. Usually buses run at least every 15 minutes. However, they can run just once an hour or more infrequently late at night or in remote areas of town. Google Maps and the Maps app also has the Rio bus system in it, allowing you to plug your location and destination with step-by-step instructions.
There are a baffling 1000+ bus lines in Rio (including variants), covering nearly all of the city, operated by about a dozen independent operations. (At least 6 operations ply the streets of Copacabana and Ipanema.) The  website contains a catalog of the lines, but is of little help unless you know the line number or can enter exact street names. Many lines differ only a few streets from each other in their itineraries, and some even have variants within the same line. Bus lines with a * or a letter means that this bus has a variant. It means that there may be a bus with the same name, same number, same origin, even same destination but with a complete different route. Lines are numbered according to the general route they serve:
Most popular lines for tourists are 583 and 584 (from Copacabana and Ipanema to Corcovado railway station), as well as 464 and 435 (from Copacabana to Maracanã). Buses 511 (Ataulfo de Paiva) and 512 (Bartholomeu Mitre) are also popular as they take you to Urca for the station to take the cable car up the Sugar Loaf mountain. Typically bus drivers and controllers won't understand any foreign language. If you can't speak Portuguese at all, use a map. Trying to speak Spanish is usually not helpful.
The Metrô Rio  subway system is very useful for travel from Ipanema through Copacabana to Downtown and beyond, although it closes after midnight (24 hours during Carnival). The air-conditioned subway is safe, clean, comfortable, and quick, and has much better signage, etc., than most transport in Rio, making the lives of foreign tourists easier. There are two main lines: Line 1 (Orange) has service to Ipanema (General Osorio), the Saara district, and much of Downtown, as well as Tijuca. Line 2 (Green) stops at the zoo, Maracanã stadium, and Rio State University. The two lines are integrated between Central and Botafogo, so check the train's destination if you board within the integrated section for a destination in the Zona Norte. A one-way subway-only "unitario" ticket is R$3.20 (May 2012). The ticket window will give you a card that you insert in the turnstile; do not pull it out unless you've purchased a multi-trip or transfer pass. Rechargeable IC cards (minimum charge R$5, no deposit required) are also available and definitely worth getting if you'll be in town for a few days.
Since 2003, the Metrô company operates bus lines from some stations to nearby neighborhoods which are not served by the subway system. This is particularly helpful for places uphill such as Gávea, Laranjeiras, Grajaú and Usina. Since the city grew around the Tijuca Range mountains, these neighborhoods will never be served by the subway, but you now can take the integração (connection) minibuses. The company calls it Metrônibus and Metrô na Superfície (literally, Subway on Ground), but actually they are ordinary buses in special routes for subway commuters. You can buy tickets for these - just ask for expresso (pronounced "eysh-PREH-sso", not "express-o") when buying a ticket, then keep it after crossing the turnstile (prices range from R$ 2.80 to 4.40, depending on the transfer you want, as of Sep 2010). When you leave the subway, give the ticket to the bus driver (who shall be waiting in the bus stop just outside of the station). If you buy an ordinary ticket, you won't be able to get this bus for free - then it will cost a regular fee.
Recently the last car of each train has been marked women-only with a pink window sticker, in order to avoid potential harassment in crowded trains. Some men, however, are not yet used to this separation (since it is very recent) and many women, who are accustomed to hassle-free everyday travel in Rio's subway, also think the measure is unnecessary. Anyway, if you're a man, avoid getting into trouble with local security staff and stay off the pink-marked cars. Note that the women-only policy for the last car is valid only during rush hour.
Even the most seasoned tourist will find the beaches here quite amazing. They are wide and clean, with soft white sand. The main beaches from Leme to Barra have plenty of services for the beach goers, including free showers at the beach, wet trails to walk on cool sand, clean pay toilets, life-savers and police, tents and chairs for rent, soft drinks and alcoholic bars, food.
The beaches are from East to West (Downtown outwards):
Abricó is the only official nudist beach in the area of Rio de Janeiro, it lies next to Grumari beach. Only accessible by car/taxi. An option is taking the bus numbered S-20 (Recreio) that passes along Copacabana/Ipanema/Leblon, and from the end of the line (ponto final) take a cab, for a travel time of almost 2 hours.
It is also worth visiting the beaches in the island Paquetá, particularly:
Cariocas have a unique beach culture, with a code of customs which outlanders (even Brazilians from other cities) can misconstrue easily. Despite what many foreigners may believe, there are no topless beaches. Girls can wear tiny string bikinis (fio dental), but it doesn't mean they're exhibitionists. For most of them, it's highly offensive to stare. Until the 1990s, men and boys wore speedos, then wearing bermuda shorts or trunks became more common. Speedos ("sungas" in Portuguese) and square leg suits are now making a comeback. Jammers are less common but still accepted.
Waves in Rio vary from tiny and calm in the Guanabara bay beaches (Paquetá, Ramos, Flamengo, Botafogo, Urca) to high, surf-ideal waves in Recreio. In Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Ipanema, and Leblon, there's a popular way of "riding" the waves called pegar jacaré (pe-GAHR zha-kah-REH; literally, "to grab an alligator"). You wait for the wave to come behind you then swim on top of it until it crumbles next to the sand.
Commerce is common in Rio's beaches, with thousands of walking vendors selling everything from sun glasses or bikinis to fried shrimp to cooling beverages (try mate com limão, a local ice tea mixed with lemonade, or suco de laranja com cenoura, orange and carrot juice). For food, there is also empada (baked flour pastry filled with meat or cheese), sanduíche natural (cool sandwich with vegetables and mayo) and middle eastern food (Kibbehs and pastries). Vendors typically shout out loud what they're selling, but they won't usually bother you unless you call them. All along the beaches there are also permanent vendors who will sell you a beer and also rent you a beach chair and an umbrella for a few Reais.
The beaches in Barra and Recreio (Quebra-Mar, Pepê, Pontal, Prainha) were favored by surfers and hang-gliders until the 1980s, but now they are outnumbered by the middle-class and nouveau riche from the suburbs and also West Zone favela residents, such as now world-famous Cidade de Deus (City of God, made famous in the eponymous film).
There is no shortage of things to do on a rainy day. In addition to a wide range of museums, Rio has many cultural centres, which are run by banks and other organizations and usually host free exhibitions. Details of what is on can be found in the Segundo Caderno section of the daily O Globo newspaper, which provides more detail in a weekly Friday supplement. Also very useful is the Mapa das Artes Rio de Janeiro, which provides detailed bi-monthly listings as well as detailed maps of the city. This is free and can be picked up at most museums.
In addition to Jardim Botânico and Parque Lage, mentioned above, other parks worth a visit are:
Still the greatest reason for visiting Rio seems to be the Carnaval. This highly-advertised party lasts for almost two weeks and it is well known for the escolas de samba (samba schools) that parade in Centro, on a gigantic structure called Sambódromo (Sambadrome). During Carnaval, Rio has much more to offer though, with the blocos de rua, that parade on the streets. There are now hundreds of these street "samba blocks", that parade almost in every neighborhood, especially in Centro and the South Zone, gathering thousands of people. Some are very famous, and there are few cariocas that have not heard of "Carmelitas", "Suvaco de Cristo", "Escravos da Mauá" or "Simpatia É Quase Amor".
The rest of the year, samba shows are popular with tourists, and are held at several venues like Plataforma and Scala. These are expensive and not really representative of Brazilian culture, they present a lot of almost naked women and bad musicians, a tourist trap (much like the real thing.) Much more interesting and genuine, though, are the night practice sessions held by the various samba schools in the months leading up to Carnaval. You will find only a small number of tourists here, and you will be served the best caipirinhas of your trip! These go on into the wee hours of the morning, with the fun really only starting at 1-2 A.M. A good cab driver should be able to hook you up, and cabs will be available to take you back when you are samba-ed out. Salgueiro and Mangueira are good choices, as they are two of the larger samba schools, and are located relatively close to the tourist areas in a fairly safe area.
Note that a change is afoot that may make this genuine experience a thing of the past (or more convenient, depending on your viewpoint) for all but the most savvy tourists. The local government built a complex of buildings (Cidade do Samba) where many of the samba schools are moving their practice halls and float-construction facilities from the gritty warehouses typically located in or near their home favelas. One can expect many more tourists, and shows made-up for the tourists as the tourist bureau milks this facility for all it's worth year-round.
Here is a list of some of the samba schools:
The newest addition for tourists is the Samba City .
Rio was the cradle of three of Brazil's most important musical genres: samba, choro, and bossa nova. In recent years, there has been a boom of traditional samba and choro venues. A lot of them are in the downtown district of Lapa. There are good and cheap nightlife options, where you will see some of the best musicians of the country. Any of the city newspapers provide pointers to the best shows.
If you're not such an anthropological type of tourist, you can check out the same papers for tips on other kinds of music. Being a big city, Rio has big and small clubs that play almost every kind of music. The major mainstream clubs mostly play whatever's on the Radio - which is usually whatever's on the USA radios and MTV - but the underground scene has a lot to offer on Rock, E-Music, Rap and such. The best way to find out about those are the flyers handed or left at hostels, cinema and theater lobbies, nightclub lines, etc.
New Year's Eve celebrations
Rio hosts the country's largest and most popular New Year’s Eve celebrations. The huge fireworks display and music shows attract 2 million people to the sands of Copacabana beach every year. People dress in white for luck and toast the arrival of the new year. It's usual also to have some national and international concerts on the beach for free.
Rio de Janeiro is the main destination for lesbian and gay travellers from all over Brazil and the rest of the world. The city has been chosen as the best lesbian and gay international destination in 2009, and the sexiest gay place in the world in 2010 and 2011.
Sodomy is virtually illegal in Brazil, however you may find free treatment for the AIDS on the public healthcare system once you acknowledge your homosexuality and having sex with another person (Brazilian) of the same sex.
Brazilians take good care of their young children (toddlers and infants) and thus any contact with them must be avoided at all costs.
Hang gliding and paragliding
The Hangliding and Paragliding flights have found in Rio de Janeiro, the ideal land for its high hills and favorable wind. Different from other places in the world, in Rio, the sport could be done in urban areas and landing on the beach! These conditions naturally attract many tourists who get the courage to enjoy a flight. And even the most inexperienced person can flight since there´s no training or special gear needed. Operator:
Hiking and Trekking
Not surprisingly, a huge city that has an actual forest within its limits has lots to offer for hikers. It's always advisable to have a local with you when trekking in Rio (Couchsurfing's Rio de Janeiro group usually organizes hikes around the city), as some treks are not very well-marked. Since the early 2000s there hasn't been any reports of violence/burglary on the city's trails (a problem in the 90s), but the rules on the Stay safe section apply as anywhere else in the city. Some of Rio's hiking trails include:
The trek is fairly demanding and steep, and takes about 1h30/2h to complete, but yet very popular among locals - it's normal to see whole families doing it, as well as groups of friends and foreigners. Ask the park's staff or look for signs that say "Trilha" to get to the start of the trail, just behind the ruins of an old house. From there you have two paths: going straight ahead leads to a waterfall that is usually full of families on the weekends (it's a good spot to stop on your way back if you go back the same way), and left leads straight to the main path of the trek. Along the way there are 3 waterfalls (just one you can actually bath in, though) and a small path where you have to hang on to a chain to pass through some rocks. Until this point you will be going up, but always surrounded by forest. The first views of the city will start after the chain (about 1h/1h30 in). Then you get to the train tracks, which you can follow up to the Christ (another 15/30 minutes). Views from here on are breathtaking. June 2011: Hiking up to the Christ is possible, but at the top you must get in a van and take it a about a half mile down the mountain. From there tickets can be bought for 25R (this includes the van rides).
This is a short and fairly easy hike, taking about 20/30' to complete, also very popular among locals, specially because you can go up for free then hitch a ride back on the cable car (after 6pm, it's free to return on it). The hike begins at Pista Cláudio Coutinho in Urca, and is very popular among the locals. If you ask the guards they'll point you to the start. It's uphill, but just the first five minutes are really steep and will need you to use your hands. From there on just keep to your left. There are amazing views of Urca and the Guanabara Bay during the final 20 minutes, some of which are angles you don't get from the vantage points above. The trek actually ends on top of Morro da Urca, the smallest of the two. You have to buy a ticket for the cable car if you want to go up the other hill.
If you have the money the following operators give you panoramic flights in helicopters:
Favela (Shantytown) tours
A number of operators offer tours of Rocinha, the largest (but not the safest) in Rio. Many tours are done by outside companies in safari-like buses, which can lead to awkward interactions with the locals. Try to go with someone who lives in Rocinha on a walking tour. It is also possible to arrange tours to other favelas, although Rocinha has a longer history of tourism and is one of the more developed favelas.
You may hear stories about people being invited by locals to visit their home in a favela. If you receive such an invitation do think carefully about it and perhaps ask around about the person that has invited you. Many of the favelas are rife with drugs and guns so think carefully about how much you trust the person that is inviting you. A search on the Internet may reveal some accounts of tours others have taken. A visit like this will obviously be more authentic than a book tour and could be the highlight of your visit to Rio; on the other hand you are taking a risk.
For tourists there are many interesting things to learn. Why not take a rainy day in town to have samba (the national rhythm) classes (http://www.riosambadancer.com) or capoeira, a mix of dance and fighting created by the then enslaved African community. Is not as hard as outsiders may think, and it's original and fun. At Casa Rosa Cultural , an antique house in Laranjeiras neighborhood, they offer special classes for the beginner tourists.
If you are staying in Brazil for an extended time, major universities offer Portuguese courses for foreigners, usually for a very low price and with high educational standards.
Banks do Money Exchange but only the bigger branches and major currencies. There might be a commission. Better rates can be found at shops with the sign ´´Cambios`´ which base their rates on a semi-official ´´Parallel`` rate, which is slightly higher than the commercial rate and thus better than you will get with a credit card or ATM. These are usually found on the main commercial streets, i.e. Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, one block from the Copacabana sea front, and Rua Visconde de Pirajá, two blocks from the Ipanema beach. Rates vary, so ask around. The shop offering the best rate today may not offer the best rate tomorrow so if you are changing money more than once ask around again.
Machines have different features, listed in Portuguese above the machine, and do not all return money for foreign cards. The features can vary between machines at the same bank. If you are trying to use a foreign card look for Visa/Mastercard logos on the terminals themselves and international banks (HSBC, Citi) as the best starting points. Also beware that in Rio specifically, most ATMs are closed between 22:00 and 6:00 (10pm and 6am) so plan accordingly. ATMs from Banco do Brasil works with most foreign Visa cards.
When shopping in street commerce, always bargain; this can lower prices considerably. Bargaining in stores and malls, though, is usually impolite. But naturally merchants won't bargain unless you ask, especially if you are clearly a tourist. To tourists, items can easily be overpriced by a factor of 20% especially in highly informal markets such as Saara or on the beach.
Great bargains can be had on Brazilian-made clothing, as well as some European imports. Most imported items, however, such as electronics, tend to be insanely expensive due to protective import duties. For example, you will find digital cameras sell for about twice what they sell for in Europe or the U.S.
Store managers in Rio often speak some English, as this gains employees an almost-automatic promotion. But "some" can be very little, so it is useful to learn at least some very basic Portuguese. Just knowing basic greetings, numbers, and how to ask directions and prices will get you at least a "B" for effort, and despite finding that store clerks may know more English than you Portuguese, it can still come in handy to know a bit of the language. Don't be afraid to resort to writing numbers, pictures, or resorting to pantomime. Shop assistants will often tap out prices for you on a calculator. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Brazil, with American Express to a significantly lower degree. But beware that many stores will accept either Visa or Mastercard, but not both! If you carry only one, look for the sign in the store window before attempting to buy.
A great choice of gift, since they do not take much space in the suitcase back home, are bikinis, a trademark from Rio for its quality and fashion style.
Shopping malls can be found all over town, with the cheaper ones in the Zona Norte like Shopping Tijuca and Shopping Iguatemi and popular upscale shopping malls concentrated in the Zona Sul like Shopping Rio Sul and Shopping Leblon and Sao Conrado Fashion Mall and BarraShopping in Zona Oeste.
In Rio de Janeiro you can probably find something to fit any craving. A good approach to local food is "comida a kilo" - buffet style restaurants where you pay by the weight of the food on your plate. An excellent place to go with your friend or even with your partner is the Fellini restaurant. Located in Leblon, the place has a "pay for what you eat" buffet, with really good and beautiful food. Great for all tastes, it has even Asian food on the menu- approximately R$5 per 100g. More information available online . Another one is Ming Ye, Rue do Lavradio 106, near Lapa. Ming Ye offers a wide range of Chinese stir-fry and delicious sushi, as well as brazilian dishes for cheaper prices (around R$3 per 100g).
Don't miss the Brazilian most famous dish, the feijoada (fay-zho-AH-da), a black bean stew filled with big chunks of meat, like sausages, pork and beef. Along with the "feijoada", you also get some colorful side dishes that come with it, such as rice, cassava (roasted manioc), collard greens, fried pork rinds, and some orange slices, to sweeten things up a bit. This is bonafide, authentic carioca culinary excellence, almost worth the trip alone! Best while sipping down a "caipirinha".
For the hungry, nothing beats a good rodízio (all-you-can-eat service). These are available in numerous types, although the most well-known are the churrascaria, all-you-can-eat grilled meats. Marius, in Leme has arguably the best churrascaria in town. Porcão  has 5 restaurants around Rio, whereas Carretão  has a good and cheap(er) rodizio. At various restaurants around town, you can also find rodízio style dining featuring seafood, pizza, or various appetizer-style snacks. The defining element of rodízio is that unlike an all-you-can-eat buffet, the servers continuously bring skewers of various meats.
If you like meat but want an alternative to the rodizios, a good place to eat at is Filé de Ouro (Rua Jardim Botânico, 731, Jardim Botânico; phone: 55 (21) 2259-2396; see Google Maps for directions). The place is simple and cozy. During the weekends there are usually big lines, but the steak is delicious. Try "Filé à Oswaldo Aranha", with toasted garlic.
Brazil has the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan, and sushi has become widely popular in Rio too. If you are a sashimi and sushi lover, you will find a great deal of options in Rio de Janeiro. If you are in Ipanema or nearby, a great tip is Benkei , that has an "all you can eat" buffet, with high quality products, great environment and staff for nice prices.
As a former ex Portugal colony, Brasil has maintained many influences of this country on its culinary. Therefore you will find great authentic Portuguese restaurants in Rio. A good option, from the localization to the ambiance, and naturally the food, is the CBF Restaurant, in the Tiradentes Square, a lovely area full of antique architecture.
In Leblon, the best choice is the hip and contemporaneous Zuka,  where chef Ludmila creates many original recipes. In Ipanema, Zazá Bistrô  is a trendy, sexy and exotic place with great South Asian dishes. Good to go as a couple.
Because its huge coast, many Brazilian specialties are in the seafood area. They are very rich in shrimps, lobster, calamaris, shellfish, clams, mollusks and many other tasty fishes. So, once in this land, don't miss the opportunity to order those lovely dishes. An option of restaurant very well known is Azul Marinho which is located below the building of Arpoador Inn , in Arpoador, very close to Ipanema. However, expect to pay at least R$100 per person, and set menus go about R$120 per person, excluding drinks.
The highest recommendation for a decently priced superb meal is at Sobrenatural, that has the some of the freshest fish in Rio. Go on Monday, Wendesday or Friday, when they have live samba and chorinho music by renowed artists. Try their moqueca dishes. It is located at Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 432 Santa Teresa.
For sophisticated people who enjoy simple life, Via Sete  is in the heart of Ipanema, on Garcia D'Ávila. This grill restaurant offers a great bang for the buck: from their veranda you get to people-watch pretty Brazilians. There you can enjoy tasty wraps and sandwiches.
Felice  is one of those tasteful places you can just hang out all day and all night: it has a great breakfast, a healthy lunch, varied gourmet ice-cream flavours at the palour, and a hip sunset after hour vibe. St.Tropez inspired dinner menu with a fair cost benefit and a lounge crowd after 11PM.
Travellers with fatter pockets may also splash out a bit at the Dias Ferreira street in Leblon, Rio's up-and-coming restaurant row.
There are many places to get pizza and lots of restaurants also offer pasta.
Rio is also famous for its pastries and street food, heritage from Portuguese and old European culture. In most cafeterias (lanchonete; lun-sho-NETCH) you can have a pastel (pahs-TELL) or salgado (saw-GAH-do; local pastry) for less than R$2. Typical pastries are coxinha (ko-SHEEN-ya; chicken nugget shaped like a chicken leg), and unique Rio's joelho (zho-EH-lyo; rolled dough filled with ham and cheese). Also try pão de queijo (pawn-deh-KAY-zho; cheese baked dough), typical from Minas Gerais but very common in Rio as well, and tapioca (typical from Bahia), a kind of crepe made out of manioca flour.
For drinking, ask for guaraná (gwa-ra-NAH; soda made from the seed of an Amazon fruit, also available as a strong drink), mate (MAHTCH; sweet ice tea; not like Rio Grande do Sul or Argentina's hot and sour mate), água de coco (ah-gwa-djee-KOH-ku; natural coconut water) or caldo de cana (caw-do-djee-KAH-na; sugarcane juice). There is also a common fruit called açaí (ah-sah-EEH), with a dark-purple pulp out of which are made juices, and ice-creams. Typical cariocas eat it like cream in cups or glasses, mixed with granola, oats or other flakes. The best place for such drinks are one of a number of Rio's open juice bars. Very often, these are located on street corners and have long, curved bars offering you juices from pretty much every fruit you can imagine. The best option is a small chain of juice bars called "Big Bi's". The juices are astounding value alongside their good selection of salgados and sandwiches. Their açaí is one of the best in terms of value and taste and the staff are excellent. On top of all this, if you leave a tip, you get a big "Obrigado" from all the staff. For the best Big Bi's experience, try the Tangerina ao Limão juice along with the famous Bauru sandwich for a total of a mere R$13. Finish it all off with an açaí to go. Perfect. Big Bi's has a few branches dotted around Copacabana and Ipanema, one of which is on the corner of Rua Santa Clara and Rua Barata Ribeiro in Copacabana. If you then cross the road of Rua Barata Ribeiro, you will land at an exquisite ice cream parlour.
There are many specialized "health food" shops that offer an incredible variety of rich meat and vegetable sandwiches, plus an awesome variety of fruit juices, many of them delicious and usually unknown by foreigners. Among them are graviola, fruta do conde, jaca, açaí, guaraná, pitomba, mango, coconut, orange, lemon, papaya, melon, etc. (they make it as you ask and all food is 100% organic and fresh. The meal is often prepared as you wait, so you can ask them to mix whatever fruit you want and create a customized mix if you like). You must try açaí and guaraná, Amazon fruits which are famous to be the strongest energizers and anti-oxidants of the world. They also offer Brazilian snacks (including many Italian and Oriental delicacies), and other simple but delicious things to eat. I never got enough of them! These shops usually are cheap and hang many fruits at the entrance or somewhere visible to display their quality.
Warning: look for clean places, as hygiene can be poor in many street shops.
If your palate is homesick for more familiar tastes, Rio has most of the fast-food chains found around the world (McDonald's, KFC, Domino's, Outback, Subway, Pizza Hut and Burger King). Bob's and Habib's are the biggest national fast food chains.
Many foods that in other countries are simply picked up in the hands and eaten, are either eaten with knife and fork (such as pizza) or are picked up by wrapping a napkin around the food so that it is not touched with the hands (such as sandwiches). You will undoubtedly notice napkin dispensers on the tables in most restaurants for this purpose.
Leaving a club or a bar, late in the night? The best option is Cervantes in Prado Júnior Street, in Copacabana. It closes only with the sun raising. The menu is composed by big sandwiches, with whatever you want: ham, salami, cheese, tenderloin and so on, with one home special ingredient: a big pineapple slice. It's a tropical taste to the end of your night. Look out for the legendary "Penguin Waiter", who've been working there forever. You won't have a problem to find out who he is.
Being in Rio and not going to one of the countless samba live music bars, certainly you've missed a lot on your trip. In Lapa, the nightlife district of Rio, there are many nice bars with great atmosphere where locals go for dancing and meeting people. There are a couple of them in the Zona Sul as well. Most of these bars work with a kind of consumption card, which is handed to you when you enter. Everything you consume is marked on this card, and losing it means you'll have to pay a really high fee of sometimes more than R$200,00! So take good care of it.
For those who like to go clubbing, Rio has some good options. You'll be seeing lots of flyers and talk about "raves" Usually Rio's raves are devoted to trance, which is pretty popular, especially with the upper-class youngsters, though some electronic parties do have good djs and live acts from around the world. The night in Rio is pretty much divided between mainstream and underground.
Mainstream would be such "raves" and big electronic festivals, as well a nightclubs like Bombar (Leblon and Barra da Tijuca), Baronetti (Ipanema) and Melt (Leblon) that are devoted to pop, dance and variations of house and trance. Those are not, however, places you go for the music. They are usually packed with "patricinhas" (tanned, long soft-haired girls with gym-built bodies) and specially "pitboys" (upper/middle-class boys, known for having various degrees of martial arts training and a certain tendency for violence). Yes, fights are one of the major problems with the mainstream clubbing scene in Rio. It's also fairly expensive. You'd be expecting to pay between R$30 and R$50 to get in a club (girls pay less, but all those clubs will have an f/m proportion around 1/3) and between R$50 and R$100 for a "rave" or electronic music party being held at spots like the Marina.
Though with far less options, the underground clubbing scene is more available and interesting than the mainstream. Most of the underground clubs are on Zona Sul and offer different parties for each day of the week. The underground club scene has a more diverse public, from goths to punks also with strong hedonistic tints. It's very gay-friendly and most of the parties and clubs have almost the same m/f proportion. It is also far cheaper than the mainstream clubs, with tickets starting as low as R$5 and not going further up than R$25. Some good alternative clubs are Fosfobox (Copacabana), Dama de Ferro (Ipanema) and Casa da Matriz (Botafogo).
For a real "carioca" experience, try Mariuzinn Copacabana. Brazilian Funk and eletronic music, with a eccentric crowd. It just finishes when the last dancer gives up. Which means early in the morning. It will be an unforgettable experience.
In the Zona Sul, you will find Rio's fanciest and most popular hotels along the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, but there are lots of small, cheap, clean hotels around Flamengo and Catete. The street in front of the strip of tourist hotels in Copacabana can be seedy, due to both garishly-dressed tourists, and a few opportunistic locals ready to take advantage of them. The apart-hotels in Ipanema are a much more pleasant alternative, being both better appointed and in a nicer neighborhood with fewer tourists.
Accommodation in the lower Centro can be convenient for business travellers. The surrounding areas, however, are far from pleasant at night, being nearly deserted and lacking decent restaurants and leisure options. The central Santa Teresa neighbourhood, however, is quite departed from the city centre life and has plenty of pleasant bed and breakfasts and a significant nightlife.
Given Rio's rise as a fashionable destination with creative and fashion people, some hotels that cater to the design-conscious crowd have also been popping up at the most upscale neighborhoods. The city also has a large selection of apart-hotels, which provide apartment-style accommodations with kitchen facilities. Private condominium apartments can also be rented short-term at reasonable rates, and can be found on the internet. This is probably a preferable means of finding one of these than the notes that will be passed to you by anonymous persons on the street. These apartments generally have a one-week minumum, or two weeks during Carnaval or New Years holidays.
Accommodation in Rio is probably Brazil's most expensive. There is a relative shortage of hotel rooms on the cheaper range and booking in advance is recommended. Moreover, prices for most accommodation can more than triple during New Year's and Carnival. Those are very busy periods and booking well in advance is recommended. Note that most hotels in tourist areas will only sell 4-day packages and charge in advance - even if you want to stay only for a couple of days during those events. Other than those, the busiest month is January - summer holidays in Brazil.
Motels, that you will see mainly on the outskirts of the city, are not motels in the North American sense. Rather, they are places you go with your lover for a few hours. One famous motel, overlooking the Sheraton in Leblon, was taken over by the US Secret Service when George Bush Sr stayed at the Sheraton. It is not recorded whether heart-shaped beds, mirrors on the ceiling and on-tap porno movies affected their work!
Rio is vulnerable to epidemics of dengue fever, particularly during the late summer months of February and March. Dengue can result in a serious illness. It is spread by a specific type of mosquito that often bites unprotected ankles, hand and parts of the face during the evening hours. If an epidemic occurs, be sure to take the appropriate precautions by using insect repellant and, if you happen to be staying at a place with a balcony, make sure there is no standing water around.
Here is a list of medical clinics and hospitals in Rio de Janeiro that accept international traveler´s health insurance:
It is important to note that while the following information may panic you and also make you question whether to go or not to Rio, most visitors to the city have a great time with no incidents.
As a traveler, even if you don't leave the "Zona Sul" (which include Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Gávea, Jardim Botânico, Flamengo, Laranjeiras, Botafogo, Urca) or Western Suburbs (Barra, Recreio), you may experience a palpable tension over security.
Generally, tourists (gringos) and teenagers are considered "easy" targets for criminals. Day-to-day living has also been affected by this. For example, regular banks all have fortress style security doors and armed security men. Rio can be a dangerous city and it is wise to follow these rules even if they seem over exaggerated.
In order to fully enjoy your trip the traveler should pay attention to simple things. Avoid the downtown area, especially Saara, after dark. Although downtown is a relatively safe place during the day, after-dark all the people who work there have already gone home. If you are going to a theater or a show, it's all right; but do not wander in those dark streets by night. Go to Ipanema beach, all lighted and policed during the night, though even there is not entirely safe for tourists who look obviously like tourists.
Sunday is a particular day since most shops are closed and their security guards are absent so the neighbourhood Centro is not safe in the daytime. Also, even the bigger streets in Copacabana are less safe after dark so the beach walk is probably the best option.
Should you find yourself being mugged, the normal advice applies:
Don't resist or do anything to aggravate the muggers. Try not to stare in their faces as they might think you are memorizing their appearance. Eyes to the ground is probably your best bet. Let them take anything they want (keep your arms limp). Afterwards, leave the scene quickly but calmly (don't run in panic screaming for the police).
In the morning, especially before the police arrive, if you are walking or jogging on, Copacabana should be considered unsafe. Even with people around, joggers are popular targets for mugging. If you plan on jogging make sure not to wear anything that may tempt a mugger (watch, ipod etc) and if you can, wait until after 10:00 AM.
When in downtown during the rush hour, be aware of pickpockets as in any other big city centre. The difference in Rio is that the pickpocket can often be a bit violent: one of them pushing you forward in the bus or to the ground in the street while another one takes your wallet and runs away. It's not that usual or as bad as it sounds, but try to avoid being in real danger by reacting strongly as these guys often operate in armed groups (2-5 people), some unnoticed by you.
In the area around Copacabana beach (and maybe in the city centre), the tourist should be aware of a shoe shining scam. The tourist will be approached by a shoeshiner and to his astonishment discover a large, dirty blot on his shoes (which is actually shoe polish or mustard but looks like quite something else). The tourist is typically shown to a chair and has his shoes or sandals cleaned in the best manner. Only after this service is rendered, the outrageous price of somewhere around R$1000 or more is revealed. At this point, muscular friends of the shoeshiner typically appear to "oversee" the completion of the transaction.
The subway is fairly safe, so it is recommended to use it if you want to go from one place to another. Although you may be used to taking the handy and good trains in Europe or even in North America to go across many places, you won't need to take a train in Rio. If you do, it can be a fairly nice trip to the suburbs or a chaotic journey to a bad neighborhood in a train where people sell all kinds of weird stuff, where everyone will look at you in a way you will feel you are a alien, about to be mugged. Buses on the South Zone are fairly safe as well, but, in the city centre, they can be quite crowded. Inside a bus, being mugged is always a threat: less so but stil possible in the South and tourist zones. Always remember that Bus 174 movie. It happens so often that they don't even go to the news (only homicides or big cases where the police got involved such as this Bus 174 go to the news). In the subway, it is quite unlikely though, which is one extra point to the subway!
Don't walk around with lots of money in your pocket. ATM's are everywhere (prefer the ones inside shopping centres) and credit/debit cards are widely accepted. But don't walk around without any money: you may need something to give to the bad guys in case you are mugged. Not having money to give a mugger can be dangerous as they may get angry and resort to violence. An excellent idea is to buy a "capanga" (literally meaning bodyguard), that is, a small frontal unisex pouch, normally used to carry your wallet, checks, money and car keys.
Avoid wearing jewelry or other signs of wealth (iPods, fancy cell phones/mobiles, digital cameras, etc.) if possible, at any time of the day, as these attract attention. Thieves have been known to run past targets and tear off necklaces, rings, and earrings without stopping. Earrings are particularly dangerous as tearing them off often harms the owner.
There are around 700 favelas in the city and most of them can potentially be unsafe in Rio: and there is always one near you (by a couple of miles or just a few yards). These are easily recognized by their expansive brick walls, and are often on a hillside. The slums grew from being impoverished neighborhoods but are now large areas ruled by drug lords. If you want to keep your nice vision of Rio, you don't need to go there. However, some favelas are amazingly huge, and a new experience for some -- there are some travel agencies who take people on tours there. If you want to go, pay one of those agencies. NEVER go to a favela by yourself, or with an unknown guide. The tour operators have "safe-conduct pacts" with the local drug dealers. If you don't have one, you'll be in BIG trouble. You'll most likely be approached by the drug baron's guards and asked what you are doing there (and these guys typically don't speak English). If you don't have a good reason (and you probably don't), the consequences could be dire. Don't count on the police to help you, as they don't like to enter the favela either, except in special circumstances, though most likely they will check if you are carrying any drugs upon leaving the favela.
In Brazil, every state has two police forces: the Civil (Polícia Civil) and Military (Polícia Militar). Only the latter wear uniform (in Rio, it is navy blue). The city of Rio also has an unarmed Civil Guard, dressed in khaki. Policemen can usually be trusted, but corruption in Brazil is still rampant and a few officers may try to extort you or demanding a little bribe. When this happens, it is usually very subtle, and the officer may typically say something about "some for the beer" (cervejinha). If you are not willing, refuse and ask for another officer. Don't ever try to bribe a policeman on your own--most of them are honest and you might end up in jail.
The local emergency dial number is 190.
At night, especially after traffic has died down, you may hear what sounds like fireworks and explosions. This is not as menacing as it sounds, though it is still indicative of somebody up to no good. These are often firecrackers set-off as signals in the favelas. It might mean that a drug shipment has arrived and is in-transit or that the police are making a raid into the favela. It is a signal to gang operatives who act as lookouts and surrogate police to be extra-vigilant. However, real shoot-outs may occur, especially on weekends. If you are on the street and you hear a shooting, find shelter in the nearest shop or restaurant.
For your safety, cross at the crosswalks, not closer to the corner, and watch for cars regardless of traffic lights.
Carjacking can be a threat too, especially if you are outside the tourist areas and after dark. It is perfectly acceptable (even if not exactly legal) not to stop in the traffic lights if there is nobody else on the street and you feel it's okay to go (if there are no other cars). You will see even police doing this. Some major motorways such as Linha Amarela (Yellow Line: connects the west zone(Barra da Tijuca) to the north zone - may be your way to Norte Shopping for example) and Linha Vermelha (Red Line - the main connection from the International Airport) are strongly avoided late at night. Both motorways are surrounded by favelas so carjacking is usual and shoot-outs may occur between rival drug lords or between drug lords and the police. If you rent a car, be aware of all these issues. As a tourist, it may be better not to rent one anyway, as if you get lost and go to a bad neighbourhood (and again, there will always be one near you), you will most likely be in trouble.
If you want to go to a traditional escola de samba (samba school), Mangueira is a good place. This is close to a favela, so you should go with a guide accordingly. If you do have a trustful Brazilian friend that can take you, that's excellent. Ask the friend to take you to Maracanã as well to watch a football (soccer) match! Yet exercise great caution if you go by yourself especially if two of the local Rio teams are playing (Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, and Vasco). These matches can be very exciting but also very dangerous especially if between Flamengo and Botafogo or Vasco. If it looks like the team for which the fans around you are cheering is losing, it is wise to leave the stadium before the match ends. You don't want to be in the middle of a very angry bunch of football fans when they all cram out of the stadium.
Rio For Partiers is Rio de Janeiro's most helpful travel guide. They cover not just parties, but everything from how to prepare for your trip, how to fit-in different situations in Rio (beach, nightclub, bar, restaurant). It also covers all the tips you would expect from the best travel guide around, like day attractions and tour options, restaurant recommendations, what to eat on the street and of course, a detailed nightlife guide for all tastes. Their highly visual design makes the reading easy to absorb and reference. Also available in ebook, epub (iPad) and app for the iOs and Android platforms. Visit Rio For Partiers