A sunset view at Ipanema Beach, February 2020
Rio de Janeiro, meaning the River of January, is a place that pretty much has it all. With beautiful warm beaches, vibrant city life and luscious green mountains, there really is something for everyone. Whether you want to just relax on the beach, surf, hike the tropical mountains, dance at a local nightclub, explore the metropolitan area, or go on a more extreme excursion – Rio can make for an amazing trip.
If I could describe Brazilian culture using only two words they would be lively and inviting. The Brazilian people are super friendly, welcoming and passionate about enjoying life and living it to the fullest! Each year in February, over one million people visit Rio from all over the world to celebrate Carnival. This festival involves multiple parades throughout the country with massive elaborate floats, music, professional dancers, and more! Traditionally, Carnival celebrates the last days before Ash Wednesday – kicking off the Catholic Lent season. You’ll see the streets come alive with people of all ages dressed up in vibrant costumes, dancing to live music all around. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t forget, Rio is also known for their futebol, or soccer. The season is usually around May through December if you wanted to plan a trip during that time.
Brazil does have some issues with crime, but that shouldn’t steer you away from visiting. There are safety precautions and some tips (mentioned below) you should follow before hopping on the plane to head south of the border.
I hope this blog will not only inspire you to take a trip to Rio, but also to venture off the beaten path and maybe step out of your comfort zone. There’s so much to see and learn from this vivacious culture. Below are some recommendations, tips, and fun information to motivate you to visit Rio. Enjoy!
Dancers in the Carnival Parade, February 2020
Places to see & things to do:
- Christ the Redeemer – Statue of Jesus Christ, One of the 7 Wonders of the World!
- Sugarloaf Mountain – Definitely another popular attraction; a fun experience with a beautiful scenic view of the city and open ocean! To get there, you can take the cable car up from the ground station next to Praia Vermelha or you can hike! The hiking trail begins at the bottom of Morro da Urca. For extreme adventurers, you can even rock climb up to the top!
- Relax or surf at some beautiful beaches! –
- The most famous beaches are Copacabana and Ipanema (about a mile and a half apart). You can take a stroll down the artsy boardwalk where there’s a plethora of street vendors; plus there are restaurants right there in the sand! Grab some drinks and a bite to eat and enjoy the live music – everywhere!
- If you’re looking for less crowded beaches with good surf, try Macumbo Curvo, Joatinga, or Tropical Beach!
- Go for a bike ride! – You can rent some bikes (around $5 USD per hour) and explore around the city or different beaches. There are lots of bike trails and routes to take, very walkable and bike friendly!
- Visit the Jardim Botânico – A beautiful botanical garden, bring your camera!
- Explore Lapa – See the “Arcos da Lapa” (Lapa Arches, from when the Portuguese empire colonized Rio) Lapa is an area rich in nightlife if you want to get your samba on.
- Escadaria Selarón- “Selaron Steps” – A set of world-famous steps in Rio de Janeiro. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who described the stairs as his “tribute to the Brazilian people”.
- Take a dance class and learn how to Samba! I recommend booking with “Rio Samba Dancer” and then taking the night tour to the Samba clubs afterwards. Great for beginners and a fun opportunity to dive into the culture! You can search it on google and call the owner, super easy!
- Fill your lungs with fresh air & take a nature hike in the Tijuca National Rain Forest. Explore the luscious vegetation and connect with nature! You could even reach the summit of Corcovado (Portuguese for “hunchback”) – where the “Cristo Redentor” statue sits watching over the city.
Escadaria Selarón – “Selaron Steps”
Small Beach in Buzios, 2020
Tired of crowds? Get off the well-worn path!
If the busy city life is not your taste, just two hours north of Rio de Janeiro there’s a plethora of small towns with gorgeous beaches, good surf and far less crowds. Not to mention, the drive through the country is absolutely breath-taking! Rio das Ostras is a quaint area with small shops and beaches. Other towns nearby include Armação dos Búzios and Cabo Frio. Some of the areas can be popular cruise ship ports with plenty of shops and restaurants, but also a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle city life within the heart of Rio.
During Carnival, some locals even retreat away to relax and enjoy the slower pace. You’ll find the beaches to be more low-key and may encounter even better opportunities to connect with the locals. Deeper into the mountains, there’s the “7 Falls” waterfalls inland of Macaé, another town just slightly north of Rio das Ostras. These waterfalls are breathtaking. The hikes in between are easy to slightly moderate in difficulty. If you want to really connect with nature, you can camp around the area – there’s multiple sites and rentals available.
For a true authentic taste, stop into “Soul Nascente Restaurante” for some delicious Brazilian food. The family that owns it cooks and serves it up right out of their home and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery on their “front porch.” I highly suggest checking out some of these other areas that may be a little less known, and I think you’ll be glad that you did.
Walkway to the beach in Buzios, close to Rua Das Pedras, 2020
Some yummy Food & Drinks to try:
- Pão de queijo (cheese bread)
- Brigadeiro (delicious sweet treat ball)
- Açai (berry – usually mixed in fresh smoothies or as Açaí Na Tigela “Açaí Bowl”)
- Coxinha (with or without catupiry)
- Pastel (savory pastry-like snack, popular street food)
- Quindim (dessert, basically like flan)
- Delicious local fruits! (Jaca, pinha, abil)
- Caipirinha (famous Brazilian cocktail)
- Bobó de camarão (shrimp dish)
- Feijoada (black bean stew)
- Aipim (fried yuca or cassava – similar to fried potatoes)
- Empadão (similar to chicken pot pie)
Brazillian jackfruit “jaca” – delicious, juicy yellow bite-sized fruit inside!
Various Açai and Pitaya treats by Copacabana beach
Culture and Location Specific Tips:
- Portuguese is the official language of Brazil. English is not commonly spoken, so there can be a language barrier. If you don’t know any Portuguese, it would be a good idea to learn a few basic words and phrases before arriving in Rio De Janeiro. Taking the time to learn the language of another culture can go a long way towards making a good impression with the locals. (Some examples- “obrigado” – thank you, “com licença” – excuse me, “bom día” – good morning/good day, etc.)
- DO NOT drink the tap water. It’s not as sustainable to keep having to buy plastic bottled water, but you definitely do not want to get sick. You can also invest in a LifeStraw or another highly effective filtering straw or reusable water bottle. However, sometimes buying bottled drinks is the only option.
- NEVER leave your valuables unattended. Be extra aware at the beaches and popular tourist attractions. Always wear your purse in front of you and don’t put anything in your back pocket.
- Make copies of your personal documents, and keep them in a safe place away from the easy grasp of pickpockets (passport and ID). Some travelers prefer to wear a small money belt underneath their clothes to prevent theft of these documents and other personal belongings.
- Be careful at night. Don’t walk anywhere alone at night and call an Uber or take a taxi, preferably not alone, if you need to.
- Avoid the favelas, unless you’re on a safe guided tour
- Pack clothing that is lightweight and fit for the hot & humid climate. Bring comfortable walking shoes and a rain jacket, just in case!
- Exchange some cash for the local currency (the Real, BRL) before leaving the airport. Exchange fees may be higher in the airport, but it’s nice to have some cash on hand when you arrive.
- Use booking.com or hostelworld.com and read thorough reviews when picking a place to stay. Consider how close you want to be to attractions, as well.
- Have fun!
Have a Wonderful Trip
Rio is a pretty magical place with loads of fun and passion. Hopefully these tips and suggestions can help enhance your trip or inspire you to plan a trip to Brazil! Rio de Janeiro is definitely a place I would like to go back to in the future. I would encourage you to dive into the culture and make the most of your trip down south! Enjoy!