Rio de Janeiro
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.
It is a common mistake to point out Rio as Brazil's capital, as in fact it was until 1960. 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 also the first images to pop up in someone's mind, 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 gathers 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 walking distance from each other (for instance, the Sugar Loaf lies about 5 miles from Copacabana beach). Most hotels and hostels are located in this side of the city, which is compressed between the Tijuca Range (Maciço da Tijuca) and the sea. There are relevant places in other regions as well, such as Maracanã stadium in the North Zone.
The inhabitants of Rio, called cariocas, are known for being easy-going and friendly. Informality rules in dress codes and talking in most situations - with notable exceptions in business and religion, for example.
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 for Portuguese Empire, until gold, diamonds, and ore were found in Minas Gerais in 1720. Then, as the nearest port, Rio became the exit way for the mineral outcomes 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). It retained the post when Brazil became independent, in 1822, and adopted Monarchy as its 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.
Rio is one of the country's major transportation hubs, seconded only by São Paulo.
Distance from some capitals:
Air-conditioned bus service operated by Real departs every 20-30 minutes from 05h30 to 22h00 and runs between both airports, the main bus terminal and further along the beachfront in Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon, and has its terminus at the Alvorada terminal near Barra Shopping in Barra da Tijuca. The full run takes at least 60 minutes, often double. Single ticket R$ 6.50. Plenty of luggage space, comfy. A smaller bus, also by Real , same price, runs directly every 30 minutes from Alvorada to Galeão by Linha Amarela in as little as 35 minutes, traffic allowing.
Taxis, though considerably more expensive (ex: Galeão - Copacabana R$ 70), are also a convenient way to reach the tourist areas.
From the US, there are non-stop flights to Rio de Janeiro only from Washington, D.C. with United Airlines, Houston with Continental Airlines, Miami with American Airlines, and from Atlanta with Delta Airlines. From New York, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and most of the USA, you have to make a stop in Miami or in São Paulo to get to Rio.
The best seasons to travel to Rio de Janeiro with low airfares are from February (after Carnaval) to May and from August to November. Tickets from New York, for instance, can cost as low as US$699.00 including taxes. Buy your flights far in advance, do not wait until the last minute hoping to get a US$300 round trip ticket.
All U.S. Citizens with a passport will need to get a tourist visa from the local Brazilian Consulate (according to the reciprocity law). This cannot be processed by mail; however, a third party can apply for the visa for an additional fee of US$10. It can take up to 5 business days to process the visa and will cost around US$130. The visa must be used within 90 days and will expire 5 years after it was used.
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 located 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 caught just off the bus station. The coaches connect the station to the city center and main hotel areas of Copacabana and Ipanema. Bus companies include :
Rio is connected by many roads to neighboring cities and states, but access can be confusing as there are insufficient traffic signs or indications of how to get downtown.
The main interstate highways passing through Rio are:
Ferries (barcas) connect neighboring Niteroi to Rio de Janeiro and arrive at Praça XV, in the city center.
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 has some of the cheapest taxi systems in the world, so don't bother spending a little more in exchange of speed and safety. Most of the tours in the South Zone will cost around R$15, and 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$20). Major taxi companies include Central de Taxi, Ouro Taxi and Yellow Taxi.
After getting into the taxi, check to see if the taximeter has been started (as of December 2006, it charges R$ 4.30 for the minimum ride, called bandeirada). If not, ask the taxi driver to do so. You may be ripped off by some taxi drivers. Avoid the blue, green, and white taxis as they tend to charge considerably more for the same ride.
Prior to arriving at the airport, it may also be useful to pre-book your airport to hotel transfers. Although there are not many reputable companies offering this service online, some, such as Rio Airport Transfer , allow you to book and pay before you leave home. Alternatively (and even easier) you can buy fixed price tickets for the blue and red taxis from a booth in the arrival hall. Fares vary depending your destination (for Copacabana and Ipanema BRL 72 one-way [October 2007]). Taxi services such as this do cost a little extra but are well worth it for the additional security and peace of mind.
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. In Rio, most road signals are placed after the curve you were supposed to take, and do not help unless you already know how to go there. Buy a map, and have fun.
Buses are a cheap and nice way to get around by day, while still being mindful of questionable characters and one's belongings. By night they are more scarce, and will usually not be running by the time the bars and clubs are full. Buses usually cost R$ 2.10 (as of December 2007), but some 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 roulette. There are no tickets. Some residents and students have a digital card for free pass. Keep an eye out for pickpockets when the bus is crowded, and don't be surprised if your driver goes a little faster than you'd like. Except for minibuses, all buses have two doors: passengers get in through the front door and get off through the back (it was otherwise until 2001-2002).
Bus stops in the South Zone are often 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 of the area you are going to so you can signal to the driver that you want to get off, or he may not stop! There are no schedules nor timetables. Usually buses run no longer than every 15 minutes. However, unless it's daytime and downtown, they may take even an hour or longer. The rule of thumb is: don't schedule your trip based on bus transportation. Prefer the subway lines and subway buses.
There are 831 bus lines in Rio, but while they cover nearly all of the city, they might seem confusing to visitors, especially foreigners. 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 tour. Lines are numbered accordingly 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 could be useless.
By subwayAn Easy print out
The Metrô Rio  subway system is very useful for reaching areas from Copacabana to Downtown, although the rest of Zona Sul is not particularly well-served and it closes after midnight (it opens 24x7 during Carnival). It is the only totally safe transport in Rio. The air-conditioned subway is clean, comfortable, and quick, and in 2006 it received bilingual Portuguese-English signs, maps, and a loudspeaker system to make the life of millions of foreign tourists easier (sometimes in a low volume and difficult to understand or they just forget to announce, so pay attention as if you rely only on the speaker you can miss your station). There are two main lines: Line 1 (Orange) has service to Copacabana, 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 intersect at Estácio station.
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-PRAH-sso", not "express-o") when buying a ticket (price is R$ 3.00 as of June 2007), then keep it after crossing the roulette. 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 wagon 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 still to get 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 wagons. Note that the women only policy for the wagon is valid only in the rush hour.
Rio subway stations
Line 1 (Orange)
Line 2 (Green)
It is also worth visiting the beaches in Paqueta, particularly:
Cariocas have a unique beach culture, with a code of customs which outlanders (even Brazilians from other cities) can misconstrue easily. Unlike many foreigners might think, there is no topless in the 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, but since then wearing bermudas or boardshorts has become more usual. Jammers are less usual but nothing wrong either.
Waves in Rio vary from tiny, calm in 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 to fried shrimp to cooling beverages (try mate com limão, a local ice tea mixed with lemonade). For food, there is also empada (baked flour pastry filled with meat or cheese) and sanduíche natural (cool sandwich with vegetables and mayo). Vendors typically shout out loud what they're selling, but they won't usually bother you unless you call them.
Although beaches are often considered a plural, democratic space, there are still some informal (and not too strict) "social area" divisions. In the South Zone, Copacabana attracts mainly tourists (foreign and national) and lower-classes bathers. Prostitution is also widespread there, even in daylight. Ipanema is the major beach for middle-class, and specifically the Posto 9 section (watchtower #9) is preferred by left-wing, intellectuals, artists, journalists and similar beach-goers. You can easily walk into a politician or someone famous there. The area close to the Farme de Amoedo street in Ipanema is known to get all the gay crowd of the city that show off openly their sexuality. 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, that of the film).
There is also Praia de Ramos in the Guanabara Bay, a popular destination among low-class beach-goers. There the government built an artificial pool on the sand (piscinão). Not recommended for foreigners to visit.
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 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.
The most reliable way to find out what´s on is to check the website Riofesta, it has daily updated information. Only available in Portuguese.
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.
Hang gliding and paragliding
Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro started in the mid-70’s and quickly proved to be perfectly suited for this town due to its geography with steep mountains encountering the Atlantic ocean which provides excellent take off locations and great landing zones on the beach. Operator included:
If you have the money the following operators give you panoramic flights in helicopters:
Favela (Shantytown) tours
The following operators offer tours of Rocinha (Warning: NEVER go on your own). This is often considered an awkward journey by locals, as you will probably go there in a safari like car:
Unlike the US, in Brazil the best universities and colleges are state-owned, being federal (national) or estadual (state proper). They might lack recent equipment and have poor building and housing, though professors are usually top scored. Most private universities are well equipped but have low reputation, except for the PUCs (Catholic universities), more traditional and few others that offer learning in specific areas (such as IBMEC or FGV)
Admission is gained by annual exams called vestibular usually held on Summer (Dec.-Feb.), but some have a smaller Winter one (Jun.-Aug.). There are no application letters, recommendation, interview or such. However, for foreign students there may apply special conditions in international partnerships (convênios) and associate programmes. In Portuguese, graduação is undergraduate level, and pós-graduação is graduate level. Titles such as MA, PhD don't have exact matches in Brazilian system but the Mestrado is close to a MA, and Doutorado is close a PhD.
Contradictorily, private high schools and prep courses are the best in preparing for vestibular, so their students are the ones who score top and get into public universities. On the other hand, public schools are usually poor (except university colleges and the federal-funded system Colégio Pedro II). Therefore, you will notice the middle- and upper- classes youth is well educated, while lower-class students have no university-level education or, exceptionally, they went to a private one, if their parents saved enough to afford it.
If you are staying longer, major universities offer Portuguese courses for foreigners, usually for a very low price and with high educational standards.
For tourists there are also interesting things to learn. Why not take a rainy day in town to have samba (the national rhythm) classes or capoeira, a mix of dance and fighting created by the slaves? 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.
Banks do Money Exchange but only the bigger branches and major currencies. There might be a commission.
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 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. Clerks 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.
A great choice of gift, since it does not take much space in the suitcase back home, are bikinis, a trademark from Rio for its quality and fashion style.
For local crafts store, a great choice is PÉ DE BOI,  in Laranjeiras neighborhood. A lovely store with many great gift ideas. There are two floors, the first one composed of items that are for sale, such as pieces made from wood, ceramic and fiber fit to decorate any living room space. The second floor is where they sometimes have art exhibits, usually related to Brazilian history, culture or customs from various regions that are distinctly scattered throughout the country. If you're looking for a souvenir to take back home, this is the place to go.
Another lovely choice of handcraft is BRASIL & CIA, , a store which the biggest concern is to keep the Brazilian identity in all that its sold. They privilege artists who didn’t become any kind of art education and have difficulties to sell their art.
A good shopping guide to Rio you have on Gringo-Rio.com , there you will find tips on anything from buying trainers to finding farmers markets.
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 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. More information available online .
Don't miss Brazil's national dish, feijoada (fay-zho-AH-da), made with black beans and pork. It is typically served city-wide on Saturdays. An specialized restaurant that serves nothing but the traditional an authentic Brazilian feijoada, is CASA DA FEIJOADA, In Ipanema. Definitely a must try for any tourist in the wonderful city.
A very interesting review from a tourist who just loved the Brazilian "feijoada":
In Rio, they have one of the most typical dishes known as the "feijoada", which will invoke curiosity to anyone coming from anywhere outside Brazil. It´s a black bean stew filled with big chunks of meat, like sausages, pork and beef. And what better place to try it than a local restaurant called "Casa de Feijoada"? This place will fix you up with some of Brazil´s culinary goods. Along with the "feijoada", you will also get some colorful side dishes that come with it, such as rice, cassava (which is roasted manioc, quite popular down here), collard greens, fried pork rinds (trust me, this is very good!), and some orange slices, to sweeten things up a bit. This is bonafide, authentic "Carioca (term used for anything deriving from Rio)" culinary excellence, almost worth the trip alone! Best while sipping down "caipirinia", a drink made from lime juice and alcohol ("cachassa"), good stuff.
For connoisseurs of meat, nothing beats a good rodízio (all-you-can-eat steak houses). Southern churrasco has also claimed its stake (and steak) in Rio. Marius  has arguably the best rodizio in town. Porcão  has 5 restaurants around Rio, whereas Carretão  has a good and cheap(er) rodizio.
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, having been elected one of the best in Rio many times. 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.
Just for a change, the desire for a sophisticated food in a nice environment can wake up. For those moments, many are the options in Rio. In Jardim Botanico, the cute LULU  offers a modern and delicious Italian food. 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 , in Arpoador, very close to Ipanema.
Travellers with fatter pockets may also splash out a bit at the Dias Ferreira street in Leblon, Rio's up-and-coming restaurants row.
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 of an Amazon seed), 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.
There are many specialized juice shops that sell açaí, fruit juices (they make it as you ask, they don't store it ready, so you can ask them which fruit they have and may create a mix if you like) and some make sandwiches and other simple things to eat. These shops usually are cheap and hang fruits and the entrance or somewhere visible.
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 world-class fast food chains (McDonald's, KFC, Outback, and a few Subway and Pizza Hut shops) except for Burger King and International House of Pancakes. Bob's and Habib's are the biggest national fast food chains.
For those who like to go clubbing, Rio has some good options to offers. You'll be seeing lots of flyers and talk about "raves", but those aren't the same as European ones. 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.
While Rio's fancy hotels are along the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, there are lots of small and cheap, but 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 city center 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.
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.
If hostel life is more your style, they are easy to find in Rio. The more expensive ones boast locations that are short walking distance to either Ipanema or Copacabana beach. However if you prefer to stay in Lapa, Glória, Catete, and Botafogo, there are many other choices available. Hostelling has become increasingly popular in Brazil, and many of them are located at walking distance from hot spots. Beware, however, not to be taken to any fraudulent scheme - you might end up being robbed. Look for accredited places with Youth Hostelling International and similar franchises.
Most luxury hotels are in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.
It is strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.
Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunisations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our 'Travelling Well' brochure also provides useful tips for travelling with medicines and staying healthy while overseas.
The standard of private medical facilities in large cities such as Sao Paulo, Campinas, Rio and Curitiba is comparable to First World Countries. Treatment at private clinics and hospitals is very expensive. Doctors and hospitals may expect cash payment prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.
HIV/AIDS is a significant risk in Brazil as in any country. You should exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection. You can find out more information at the World Health Organization website.
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, Rio is as dangerous as it sounds. As a traveler, if you don't leave Copacabana or Ipanema you'll probably suffer nothing worse than some occasional thieves, hassling from hawkers and a few hangovers. If you follow some rules and have some common sense, you will be alright. However, Rio can be a REALLY dangerous city and it is wise to follow these rules even if it seems over exaggerated. It's better to be safe than sorry.
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 it's not entirely safe for tourists that look obviously like tourists at any time. Never go to Copacabana beach at night, you will get robbed. After midnight, you probably want to stay off Avenue Atlantica in general as there will only be prostitutes and beggars out at those times. Also, avoid Avenue Atlantica in front of the Praça Lido park, 3 blocks NE of the Copacabana Palace Hotel. This is the only block without any businesses, making muggings far more likely. Try walking on the beach side, or even better, detour inland. Sunday is a particular day since most shops are closed and their security guards are absent, this means that the neighbourhood Centro is not safe daytime and also that even the bigger streets in Copacabana are less safe after dark, 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). If possible, and not more dangerous, don't leave in the same direction that the muggers went.
In the city center during the rush hour, be aware of pickpockets as in any other big city center. The difference in Rio is that the pickpocket can often be a bit violent: one of them pushing you to the ground 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 danger.
Still in the city center (but also in other parts of the city) you will see lots of people called camelôs in small tables or simply on the ground trying to sell all sort of things like cheap small electronic devices, wallets, purses, pirate software, music and films. People do buy some of these stuff as they can be amazingly cheap, but be aware that most of these camelôs are illegally selling on the street and often the police will try to expel them. You may see lots of them packing their goods and quickly running away right before the police arrives. Be aware... this moment can be a chaos !
In the area around Copacabana beach (and maybe in the city center) 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, 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$2000 is revealed. At this point, muscular friends of the shoeshiner typically appear to "oversee" the completion of the transaction. If you are approached by a shoe shiner, you should shout or state loudly "NO" and walk quickly past. Swearing in your native tongue could also act as a deterrent. Should you be so unlucky as to have been put in a position where you cannot prevent having your shoes cleaned, it will be of some relief to you that the price can often be haggled down to a level suited to the size of your wallet.
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 center they can be quite crowded. Inside a bus, being mugged is always a threat: smaller in the South and tourist zones, but is a threat. Always remember that Bus 174 movie. It happens more often that you may imagine. So often that they don't even go to the news (only weird and big cases where the police got involved such as this Bus 174 go to the news). In the subway, it is quite unlikely though ! 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 centers) 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 aggravated and resort to violence.
Avoid wearing jewelry or other signs of wealth (iPods, fancy cell phones/mobiles, digital cameras, ect.) 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 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, 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 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.
You will notice that cariocas (Rio residents) avoid stopping at the traffic lights after dark, specially at small roads. This is because the boys selling candies and other goods may be something simply annoying... or some of them may be there to mug/rob you. Therefore, you will also notice that most cariocas drive with all the windows shut and doors locked, despite the usually warm weather. Air conditioner is therefore a must and you will probably not see a single convertible car: it is too expensive for a regular Brazilian citizen and even though one could buy such a car, it is again a sign of wealth, which it to be avoided even by locals.
Carjacking can be a threat too, especially if you are outside the tourist areas and after dark. It is perfectly acceptable (but 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 (no other cars). You will even see 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 rented 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 him/her 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 your team (your team is whoever the fans around you are cheering for) 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.