13 tips for traveling to Rio de JaneiroPosted on July 14, 2016.
We modestly assert that this list is based on our own experiences during our 8 day trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Our trip dates: June 10, 2016 – June 19, 2016
1. Do NOT rent a car
We usually spoil ourselves with a rental car during our travels, based on location, ease of driving, and the native language. We strongly advise against this in Rio de Janeiro. The drivers are very aggressive, and the traffic is horrible, especially during rush hour. Further, there are some roads that go one way during the morning, but then go the other way in the afternoon, due to construction.
2. Getting around
We first recommend using the Metro Rio (the subway), especially if you are traveling anywhere between Downtown Rio (Centro) and Copacabana. It is cheap ($1-2 USD each way), clean, and efficient. At the time of this post, Rio was working on adding a 3rd Metro line that will better connect the Southern neighborhoods (like Leblon and Gávea).
The next best option in our opinion is Uber. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes for an Uber to arrive, and it is very cheap. I paid $5 USD for a 30 minute ride across the city–and of course there is no direct cash exchange since the app stores your credit card info. One important note if taking an Uber: unless you can speak Portuguese, make sure to type in your final destination within the Uber app so the driver knows exactly where to go.
Another option would be to hail the classic yellow taxi (about 2-3 times more expensive than Uber). They are everywhere and have the best knowledge of the city, but always make sure that your driver starts the meter. This typically happens when a taxi driver stands outside his car asking for business. Lastly, some taxi drivers accept credit card, but many only accept cash, so make sure you bring cash just in case!
3. Always carry some cash
As I just mentioned, if you take a taxi, some do not let you use a card. Most tour guides and street vendors only accept cash as well. I would always try to carry $100 BRL (around $30 USD). Our most expensive cab ride was $50 BRL.
4. Portuguese – learn the basics
We naively underestimated the amount of English speakers and signage within Rio. Most people understand Spanish, but not English. I used the Google Translate app everyday.
5. Drinking water
We are not sure just how bad the tap water really is, but two locals said to make sure to only drink from taps with filters (this includes water fountains). Bottled water is also sold just about anywhere including restaurants, and it’s cheap.
6. Hire a tour guide
In all of our travels to date, we’ve never hired a tour guide, but we think it’s a good idea in Rio if you do not speak the language. Hiring a local, English-speaking tour guide put us at ease, and gave us a better perspective on the areas we toured, especially within the favelas. We booked two walking tours, both lasting about 6 hours. The first one took us along Ipanema beach, through the Vidigal favela, and into the Tijuca National Park. The second tour took us through Downtown Rio (Centro) to learn about the history. Based on our hosts suggestions, we hired a local man named Vinicius as our travel guide. We highly, highly recommend booking with him, as he’s very knowledgeable and personable. Further, his tours are affordable, with each tour costing about $45/person. His info can be found here!
7. Power converters & portable chargers
Make sure to buy the correct power converter for Brazil – yes, it’s different than Europe. They’re easy to locate and purchase on Amazon. It’s also nice to have a portable charger for your phone while you are exploring the city, especially if you plan to use Google Maps to help you navigate your adventures.
8. Cameras, iPhones, & safety
Don’t walk around with your camera in a vulnerable position. Wear it around your neck and hang on to it. Otherwise, put it away in a bag when not in use. The same goes for your cell phone. If you aren’t using it, put it away so you are not a walking target for theft. iPhones are more prone to be stolen as they are more expensive in Rio than the US. A local once motioned for us to put our camera away and another time our tour guide politely encouraged me to wear my camera around my neck. Yes, Rio is infamous for crime and petty theft, but we truly never felt unsafe at any point of the trip. Just always be aware of your surroundings, and use common sense.
9. Take a day trip
Take a break from the city and go on a day trip, or more realistically, a 2-3 day trip in a neighboring paradise. We researched day trip options that would fit our preference, and ended up deciding on Buzios, just a three hour bus ride away. And Buzios did NOT disappoint. We also heard good things about nearby Petropolis and Ilha Grande. To read about our time in Buzios, click here!
10. Zika virus
It is good to be in the know about Zika, especially if you are pregnant. I don’t want to downplay it too much, as this was just our seven day experience, but I only remember seeing a few mosquitoes. We never found ourselves swatting away at any bugs, even when we were hiking in the forest. It was not something we were fearful of or thought too much about during our trip. Keep in mind we visited Rio in mid June, which is the start of their winter and when mosquitoes are less prevalent.
11. Do not buy advanced tickets
Planning is great but too much of it hinders the spontaneous moments that Rio is bound to provide. Make lists of things of your must sees and dos and leave room for other things! Tickets are easy to buy right when you need them. For example, we bought bus tickets to Buzios, a boat tour in Buzios, and tram tickets to Christ the Redeemer the day of. However, we visited in June when there are not as many tourists. This advice might not be valid if you are traveling to Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics, or in February during Carnival.
12. Don’t underestimate the size of the city
In our hometown of Minneapolis, it takes a solid ten to fifteen minutes to cross the city. In Rio de Janeiro, it can take you well over an hour, depending on traffic. Our tour guide suggested taking the metro during high traffic times (morning and evening) to avoid getting stuck in a taxi. Similarly, he suggested taking a taxi after dark. Makes sense. The point is: Use your noggin and make sure to add sufficient travel time to your plans when exploring such a big city such as Rio.
13. Don’t flush your toilet paper
This is less of a tip, and more of a heads up about toileting etiquette. Rio is one of those places that just doesn’t flush TP due to their delicate plumbing, small piping, etc. Public restrooms provide covered trash bins for your use, and hotels and homes (in our experience) provided fancy spray hoses to use before wiping dry. Ain’t no thang. You get used to it.
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