RIO DE JANEIRO, A CIDADE MARAVILHOSA • A LOCAL TRAVEL GUIDE (2020)
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
A job fills your pocket, but an adventure fills your soul.
Jamie Lyn Beatty
During our 3 months in Brazil, we had to include a trip to Rio de Janeiro. Pedro and I aren't city lovers, we kind of avoid the crowded and touristic places... But well, that's Rio we are talking about here. You need to visit it at least once in your life.
We went there for the Carnival, which was an amazing one-lifetime experience. And as Pedro has a good friend of his there, we arrived a few days before the festivities to see her and to enjoy a touristic tour around this wonderful city.
Therefore, in this article, we are going to give you the best guidance through Rio's streets.
Put some Bossa Nova music on and come enjoy your tour with us !
No place in the world combines such a succession of bays, superb beaches and peaks like Rio. This is a true geographical puzzle, a masterpiece from Mother Nature.
That's on those same tropical beaches that the famous Bossa Nova music was born in the 50's and became such an emblematic symbol of the Brazilian culture. Rio is all about colors and sounds, going there is an incredible experience for your senses. Sensuality and romance are the fabrics of the city's daily life, which makes it a perfect gateway for couples as well.
Its soul comes also from the Cariocas, its inhabitants. They are always full of life and super friendly. The atmosphere of Rio is filled up with positive energy, which makes this place so bubbly and refreshing. This is the kind of place that puts sparkles in your eyes and leaves you with this "Wow" effect.
↠ Currency - Brazilian Reais (BRL)
↠ Best time to go - Carnival (end of February) is pretty crowded of course and an expensive moment of the year to be in Rio, but the atmosphere makes it worth it, it's an unforgettable experience. Otherwise, from April to June is also a great moment to visit Rio, as the temperatures are way cooler and there are fewer tourists.
↠ Prices - Mid-range to expensive (especially during Carnival's week)
↠ Airport - Rio Galeão International Airport
↠ Best way to travel - Avoid the taxis, it's known worldwide that taxis propose expensive rides, but in Rio, that's another level. Especially when you are "a gringo", they will take even more profit out of it. You better take a ride with a Uber or simply use the subway, avoiding the rush points though (from 5 pm to 8 pm), otherwise, you will end up squeezed in the middle of thousands of Cariocas.
Top 10 things to do
1 - Vista Chinesa
It's a charming little Chinese structure in Tijuca National Forest. This monument was created as a tribute to the planters from Macao and the tea farming industry, brought at the beginning of the 19th century.
This less-known viewpoint offers its visitors a unique panoramic view of the Zonal Sul, from the Corcovado to the Pão de Açúcar. It’s less busy than most of the famous lookouts of the city and that's why we recommend it so much.
2 - Pão de Açúcar
Also known as Sugarloaf Mountain, it's one of the most iconic landmarks of Rio de Janeiro. Right at the entrance of the Guanabara's Bay, the peak is surrounded by the ocean and raises at 395 meters.
It's particularly known for its cableway that can bring you up there to enjoy one the most magical view of Rio. The locals even say that is the best sunset spot of the whole city when it's sunny. Therefore, we recommend you to go up there on a clear day, if it's too cloudy, you might not be able to appreciate the view at its true value.
The entrance's fee is 110 Reais (roughly 25 euros) and the site is open every day from 8 am to 9 pm.
3 - Escadaria Selarón (Selaron's stairs)
A beautiful and colorful part of Rio, located between the bohemian neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa.
These vivid mosaic steps are the masterpiece of a Chilean artist : Jorge Selaron.
He moved to Rio in 1983 and randomly started renovating the dilapidated steps across from his house. At first, he covered them only with blue, green and yellow tiles, to honor the Brazilian flag. With time, Selaron’s work became more famous and people began to send him tiles from all over the world, leading today to this incredible staircase, composed of tiles from more than 60 countries.
The surrounding streets are also filled with those magnificent pieces of street arts, Bossa Nova singers and Samba dancers. This is an animated neighbourhood of Rio, offering a great overview of the rich and warm Brazilian's culture.
4 - Jardim Botanico
Founded in 1808 by D. João VI, the Botanical Gardens of Rio are an important touristic side of the city. From the wildness of Amazonia to the zen gardens of Japan, this tropical place offers an abundant range of trees, plants and flowers. It's the house of rare collections of orchids, bromeliads, many exotic plants and not to mention some trees that are a hundred years old.
It's not an environment with only a rich flora but also a rich fauna. Indeed, this place is highly visited by searchers, as the gardens are hosting hundreds of different species. While you are wandering into those immense green gardens, you can encounter many colorful birds and butterflies.
This is so enjoyable to explore. To get inside, there is an entrance fee of 15 Reais (3,5 euros).
5 - Praia de Ipanema
Located in the south of Rio de Janeiro, in the neighbourhood of the same name, this white sand beach is one of Rio’s most popular tourist spots. Ipanema Beach became famous by influence of the greatest Bossa Nova composers, Carlos Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes, who composed the song : A Garota de Ipanema (A girl from Ipanema).
The beach is also bordered by a lot of shops, cafés, restaurants, art galleries, theatres and clubs. This is an alive and decadent place, all day and all night long. Besides, Ipanema is a famous spot where some of the city's greatest pop artists gather, every Sunday, since the 80's.
It's also one of the safest part of Rio and the reason being is that it's filled up with "Gringos", which is a kind way Brazilians call us, the outsiders. You can hear people around speaking Spanish, English, German, French, Portuguese... It's an international place, both eccentric and very chic at the same time, where people can dress and behave the way they want, without any social pressures and ignoring all the etiquette conventions.
6 - Pedra do Arpoador
Wedged between Copacabana and Ipanema, this 500 meters long beach is popular among families and surfers. It's indeed known locally as the birthplace of surfing.
The beach’s main attraction is the vast and mainly flat Arpoador Rock, a perfect place to chill and enjoy the sunset. You can even take few snacks, maybe a bottle of a beverage of your choosing (please don't leave anything behind) and enjoy your evening over there, watching the sun setting up on the Dois Irmãos Moutain.
It’s a chill place that has this really romantic vibe in my opinion. Definitely perfect for couples.
7 - Praia de Copacabana
Located in the Zona Sul, Copacabana Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Brazil.
The atmosphere is very vibrant and the locals seem to enjoy it as much as the tourists. Equally as popular as Ipanema, Copacabana has however this more fancy and trendy vibe.
There are historic forts at both ends of the beach : Forte Copacabana at the south end and Forte Duque de Caxias, at the north end.
The landscape of Copacabana is marked with fancy hotels, such as the famous Copacabana Palace, built in 1923 and designed by the French architect Joseph Gire, in a style that follows the line and model of the great beach hotels of the early 20th century.
All along the promenade, there are also plenty of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and residential buildings, facing the Avenida Atlântica.
8 - O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
I guess this one doesn't even need an introduction, as it's basically the symbol of Rio, the image that pops in every traveler minds when you talk about this city. This 30 meters height colossal statue dominates Rio's skyline.
Perched at 710 meters above the sea level, on the top of the Mount Corcovado, it was elected one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
The view is breathtaking and makes it an unmissable activity while you are in the city.
You can reach the top by train (bondinho in Portuguese), by car or by van.
The Christ has been developed by the engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, over 5 years of intense labour, and the site finally opened its doors to tourists in 1931.
During the low season, the entrance fee combined with the way-return train tickets is 65 Reias (14 euros). Count 79 Reais (17 euros) during the high season.
9 - Pedra Bonita
Even though this spot is less known than the Corcovado or the Pão de Açúcar, its hill offers one of the most amazing views of the Cidade Maravilhosa.
The trail up takes about 20 to 25 minutes and it's an easy one.
Once at the top, hikers can see the whole south area including Ipanema, Lagoa and Leblon regions.
For those that want to avoid the long queues of the Christ or the Pão de Açúcar, but still want to enjoy an amazing viewpoint of Rio, this one is a great alternative and it's for free.
10 - Pedra do telegrafo
This place is about an hour drive west from the tourist area of Rio de Janeiro.
Technically, it's still in Rio, but far past several neighbourhoods. It’s a very popular lookout point among Brazilians. Its notoriety comes from the daring photos that you can take on its big stone (Pedra means stone), overlooking the ocean. Those pictures got viral on the social media for few years. People seem to be hanging from this big stone over a cliff while in reality, the abyss below the stone is just a visual impression.
Where to stay ?
Fancy - Copacabana Palace, the famous 5 stars hotel, facing Copacabana beach.
Mid-range - For an authentic local experience we recommend Guesthouse Bianca, located in the city centre of Rio.
Don't break the bank - For a more backpacker vibe, give it a go at Beach House Ipanema.
Where to eat ?
Restaurante Rayz - R. Prudente de Morais, 416 - Ipanema
Le pulê - R. Jangadeiros, 10 - Ipanema
Aprazível - R. Aprazível, 62 - Santa Teresa ♥︎
Teva - Av. Henrique Dumont, 110 - Ipanema ♥︎
Gaia Art & Café - R. Gustavo Sampaio, 323 - Loja A
Prana - R. Lopes Quintas, 37 - Jardim Botânico
Where to get a drink ?
Boteco : noun for traditional Brazilian bar. They don't seem that attractive from the outside, but once you are inside, you get to dive into the true atmosphere of Brazil. A perfect place to enjoy (very) cold and refreshing light beers alongside some delicious local fried snacks.
Cabana - Av. Atlântica, 1702 - Copacabana ♥︎
Bar das Quengas - Av. Mem de Sá, 175 - Centro
Boteco Belmonte - R. Teixeira de Melo, 53 B - Ipanema
Safety Tips in Rio
Rio is known worldwide for being a dangerous city, due to its favelas, drug dealing and gangs. However, it doesn't mean that you have high chances of getting murdered or kidnapped while visiting this city, like the media show.
Most of the tourists in Rio experience a crime-free stay. The only threat you might consider is pick pockets, but it's more or less like in any big cities of the world : You have to be careful with your belongings. Avoid to wander by night, especially alone and get informed of the good behavior to adopt and the places to go and not to go. If you have a minimum aware, Rio ain't particularly unsafe. I will share below some of those "good behavior practices" with you.
- If you want to take a dip in the water make sure that your bags are with a friend / partner. If you’re alone we recommend you to buy a waterproof bag to put your belongings and have it with you in the water. Or not to take anything valuable with you, just yourself, while going on the beach.
- On the beaches, like everywhere in Brazil, people will come frequently to you, trying to sell you things. But in Rio, especially in Copacabana, be aware that some will use this as a distraction to steal you, so take your precautions.
- Avoid the desert streets in some neighbourhoods, like Santa Theresa. As you know, we are highly in favor of wandering around and avoiding the most touristic and crowded places. But in Rio, it might be better to be more prudent and stay in these touristic places. Especially because in Rio, you can innocently and easily get in the middle of a favela if you wander a bit too much and it would be better to avoid it.
- If you want to take pictures with your phone, find a calm spot (don't stay in the middle of the crowd), do it fast with both of your hands on the phone and stay focus on the picture. Don't give a look around if someone calls you, wait for it, put your phone back in a pocket or bag and then give your total attention to the person talking to you.
- We had those little "satchels" we could wear under our clothes around of our waists to carry our phone, IDs and some cash. The less you tempt people, the best. Having no apparent bag or filled pockets help a lot in not bringing the interest of the pick pockets.
To sum up, if you stay prudent, nothing will happen to you. I personally never felt in danger or risking for my belongings. Plus, traveling in Rio with the metro is actually way safer than using the Parisian one. There are even some compartments dedicated only for girls, which I found great.
- For Pedra do telegrafo, we highly recommend you to go there the earliest possible in the morning, as people can queue up to 6 hours to make their own version of this famous spot.
- Every Sundays and during the holidays, one side of Avenida Atlântica is closed to cars. This gives residents and tourists more space to enjoy their activities along the beach of Copacabana.
- If you seek for a quieter beach than Ipanema or Copacabana, give a try to Leme Beach, north of Copacabana. This a chill spot, frequented mainly by locals. Have a walk along the Caminho Dos Pescadores (Fishermen Way in english), until you reach the scenic lookout of Mirante Copacabana, where you can admire the powerful waves collapsing against the cliffs.
- Enjoy a delicious traditional breakfast in Bakery and Confectionery Duque de Caxias, near Leme Beach.
- Get a coffee (or a beer) break in Confeitaria Colombo, in Forte Copacabana, while enjoying a nice over the beach and Pão de Açúcar.
- Give a try to some tapioca, a traditional wrap made of tapioca flour. The filling possibilities are endless, sweet or savoury. For the sweet tooth, we recommend giving a try to their emblematic Doce de Leite, simply delicious. More into a savoury snack ? Taste one with Catupiry, a typical Brazilian cheese.
- Our special Eco Tip
Pick up a sunscreen not harmful for fishes and marine life.
In 2015, it was estimated that around 14 000 tons of sunscreen ended up in the world’s coral reefs, causing irreparable damage. Global warming isn't actually the first cause of reef death, pollution caused by sunscreen is.
That's why some countries have been recently banning the sales of unfriendly ocean sunscreens. On the other hand, more and more brands are developing significantly more ocean friendly lotions as well.
We are personally recommending you Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen, enriched with honey and other nourishing oils that moisturise and soothe your skin. You can also go for Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen, it costs only 10 euros.
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Thanks a lot for reading this article, hoping you had a good tour around, discovering the city by our side.
See you really soon, for another adventure.