Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide

Rio de Janeiro Overview

 

Rio de Janeiro really is the Cidade Maravilhosa. The hot and sultry city of Rio de Janeiro deserves the bold title of the Marvelous City not only for the beautiful beaches surrounded by hills, but also for the modern public transportation system, famous landmarks, sexy people and interesting past.
 
Rio de Janeiro has maintained a strong Portuguese influence, evident in the language and ethnic background of many Brazilians today. But there is also a captivating slave heritage that has flowed into Rio de Janeiro from predominantly Afro-Brazilian regions like Salvador da Bahia. The Afro-Brazilian culture has fused intriguingly with the European culture to create an exotic and powerful city still struggling to survive the pressures of growth and urbanization. Rio de Janeiro gives you passionate people who love to eat, drink, dance and be happy. And when you’re in Rio de Janeiro, that’s all you will want to do as well.
 
The iridescent turquoise waters lap onto fine white sand beaches and beautiful Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro locals) laze in the sun watching the surfers and seafood vendors work their magic. The vibe on the beach is uniquely Rio. The fact that you can buy anything on the beach, from a grilled cheese kebab to pirated DVDs, gives Rio de Janeiro’s beaches a raw Latin American feel and the bike lanes filled with dog walkers, joggers and bike riders give Rio a Californian beach feel. Added benefits like underground breastfeeding facilities and free misters along the sidewalk make going to the beach an experience.
 
While you enjoy the picture perfect beaches by day and groove to samba by night, it’s easy to forget about the many problems Rio de Janeiro is facing. Drugs and violence haunt the favelas, the slums that border Rio de Janeiro city, and make those areas forbidden to tourists unless accompanied by a local or organized tour. The Centro, Copacabana and Ipanema are safer for tourists but always exercise caution when walking alone or at night. And never leave bags unattended at any beach. Rio de Janeiro has a harsh reputation for being crime ridden and unsafe for foreigners, but as long as you keep your eyes open and don’t wander where you shouldn’t, Rio is no more dangerous for tourists than Los Angeles or New York City.
 
Rio de Janeiro is the host for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics and the city is undergoing a major clean up. The government is working to rid the favelas of the drug and gang problem, or at least contain the problem to specific areas. The rest of Rio de Janeiro is working on building better sporting facilities and adding to the public transportation system. Now is the time to see Rio de Janeiro before the tourists and sports enthusiasts take over the city and before the city changes into something it’s not. Now, Rio de Janeiro is big not unmanageable, modern yet authentically Brazilian, sexy and still a little rough around the edges – but that’s what makes it marvelous. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but the dangers that come with being a metropolitan Latin American city keep you on your toes and keep the Disneyland vacationers away.   
 
The beauty and energy of Rio de Janeiro and the friendly Cariocas will make you fall in love with the city. Once you’re there, you’ll have a hard time leaving.

Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

Corcovado – This famous peak is home to the stunning Christ the Redeemer statue that has been tainted by mass tourism over the past years. It is hard to enjoy the views and the powerful statue due to the hordes of tourists that move as a single entity stopping occasionally for a photo. Get there early and avoid the crowds.

 
Paragliding over Rio – Take the plunge off Pedra Bonita for some of the best views of Rio de Janeiro. Pricy tandem flights available through Rio Tandem Fly, Tel. (55-21) 2422-6371.
 
Helicopter Tours – Spend the morning at Corcovado and the afternoon in a helicopter soaring high above it. Helicopter tours available through travel agencies in Copacabana and Ipanema. Also available from the lookout across from Corcovado.
 
Rio de Janeiro Neighborhoods
Copacabana
Avenida Atlântica – Beach bars and upscale seafood restaurants line this popular street. The sidewalks are wide and host street performances and impromptu dance parties. Street lights and constant traffic make walking at night safe.
Copacabana Beach – A trip to Rio de Janeiro is not complete without a day at the infamous Copacabana Beach. Families, couples, school children and favela teens share the sand and buff surfer types share the waters. The setting is truly spectacular with the city behind and the majestic mountains jutting out from the crystal waters. Garbage often drifts along the shoreline but hardly spoils the views.
Samba Classes – Customized samba classes or weekly group classes are available at many local gyms or dance academies. Academia Domínio da Dança has great classes and a central location close to the subway and bus route. Private lessons range from $10 USD to $25 USD per hour. Rua Siqueira Campos, 250, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.
 
Ipanema
IpanemaBeach – Another must see when in Rio de Janeiro. Venice Beach style outdoor gym, shower and changing facilities available.
Garota de Ipanema Bar – A tourist attraction that conveniently serves plenty of alcohol. This bar is where the song Girl from Ipanema came to life and merits a visit to honor Vinícius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Arpoador Surfing and Lookout – The Arpoador Beach is small but has good beach break waves. There is also a rock formation separating Arpoador Beach and Ipanema Beach that has walking paths to the top for picture perfect views of Ipanema. Late night fishermen crowd the Arpoador lookout and fish off the rocks into the dark waters. A fascinating sight.
 
Botafogo
Pão de Açucar – For stunning views of the city and the water, hike or take the cable car to the top of Rio de Janeiro’s second most recognizable landmark after Corcovado, Pão de Açucar known as Sugar Loaf in English.
Museu do Indio – A look at Brazil’s African heritage and current day Afro-Brazilian tribes. Rua das Palmeiras, 55, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro.
 
Lapa and Santa Teresa
Lapa Arches – The iconic arches are fabulous day or night. Many street parties happen under the arches and continue afterward to the local bars for late night samba that ends when the sun comes up.
Santa Teresa – This old neighborhood has winding streets, crumbling mansions, boutique hotels and trendy resto-bars. A young bohemian crowd dominates this area.
Santa Teresa Trolley – The Bondinho is a touristic streetcar that takes you up to Santa Teresa. The ride itself is a great way to see the city, but watch your belongings as robberies are common among tourists.
 
Centro Rio de Janeiro
Sambódromo – If you visit Rio outside of Carnival season, you can still walk the Sambódromo runway like a true Carnival star. The concrete runway and bleachers are barren off-season and are open to pedestrians and allow traffic to pass through certain sections.
Maracanã Stadium – Brazil’s top soccer teams play at this iconic stadium. Games are all year round and tickets are reasonably priced. If buying tickets from a scalper beware of fake tickets. Rua Professor Eurico Rabelo and Avenida Maracanã.
Teatro Municipal – Praça Marechal Floriano, Centro, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21)2332-9191.
 
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
The word Carnival is synonymous with the name Rio de Janeiro. Forget Trinidad, forget Colombia – Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is the world’s biggest and best. The date changes year to year and falls on the Friday before Ash Wednesday.  
 
Hotels and nightclubs host extravagant Carnival balls and raves that require costumes and a flexible budget, but the most spectacular Carnival event is the Samba Parade and Winner’s Parade. The Samba Parade is a competition of dancing, costumes and floats. Qualifying samba schools are given an equal amount of time to put together a colorful and exciting performance. Schools choose a theme and use glitter, strobe lights, colors, textures and sounds to win the judges votes. The winning samba school gets the title of Carnival Champions and with it comes the respect of all of Brazil.
 
Months before Carnival you can watch the samba schools practice and prepare costumes for the two night parade and winner’s parade. Some samba schools accept tourist participant in the dance troupe for a price and can make your Carnival experience a very personal one. Popular samba schools open to tourists are Acadêmicos do Salgueiro (Rua Silva Teles, 104, Rio de Janeiro, Tel. (55-21) 2238-9226) and Mangueira (Rua Visconde de Niterói, 1072, Rio de Janeiro, Tel. (55-21) 2567-4637).
 
Tickets to Carnival can be purchased months in advance through Rio Carnival Services. The website is secure and offers hassle free Carnival booking. Be sure to bring water, comfortable clothing and plenty of snacks. If you prefer to buy a scalped Carnival ticket the night of the parade, you will find some $20 USD gems if you go after midnight.
 
Rio de Janeiro hosts fantastic street parties during Carnival – just follow the drums and the crowds and you’ll end up at a bloco (parading band and dance troupes). The Lapa Arches host all night dance parties, Avenida Atlântica has daytime street parades with energetic blocos, Santa Teresa has a young, hip university crowd that down beer and dance to blocos day and night. For costumes, glitter, music and floats head to one of the city organized parade in the Centro. Pick up a street Carnival guide at tourist information booths and take advantage of the free events that are just as spectacular as the samba parade.
 
Rio de Janeiro Beaches
Copacabana Beach – Mountains, blue waters and city. Restaurants, changing facilities and showers available.
Ipanema Beach – A long white sand beach that gets crowded on weekends and holidays. If you dare to hit the beach on a weekend, get there before 9AM and claim your inch of sand. After 9AM you will find yourself sitting shoulder to shoulder with other Cariocas and their families.
Arpoador – This small beach is where the surfers go. During the week it is relatively empty and you can find a quiet spot to sunbathe. Located at the end of Ipanema beach between Copacabana and Ipanema.
Grumari Beach – Undiscovered, unspoiled and environmentally protected. Accesible from Barra da Tijuca.
Leblon Beach – At the end of Ipanema Beach you find the tranquil Leblon Beach. Restaurants and bars are nearby and you avoid the crowds of Ipanema.
Flamengo Beach – You’ll find more locals at Flamengo than foreigners. A bus ride away from Copacabana or Ipanema, but a worthwhile beach nonetheless.
Botafogo Beach – This city beach is less crowded and set among a bay with some great views.
 
Surfing Rio de Janeiro
Arpoador – Beach break with small swell. Weekends are almost impossible to surf due to the families that flock to the waters in masses. Located on the sandy point between Copacabana
and Ipanema.
Copacabana – This spot can be amazing for body boarders and surfers or it can be as calm as a children’s wading pool. Also known as Posto 5 at the end of Copacabana beach toward Ipanema. 
Ipanema – Beach break and crowded waters. Also known as Posto 8 and continues to Posto 9.
Leblon – Beach break with strong undertow and rocky bottom. At the end of Ipanema beach.
Macumba – Reliable waves for beginner to expert surfers. Surf n Stay hostel and surf camp rents boards and beds in the vicinity.
Leme – A prime body boarding location but accommodating to surfers too.
Barra da Tijuca – This sandy beach break locale is usually empty and enjoyable.
 
Rio de Janeiro Nightlife
Rio de Janeiro knows how to party. Cariocas start the night well around midnight and dance their way into the early morning. Ipanema has a trendy night scene but the best bars, clubs and street parties are in Lapa in the areas surrounding the iconic arches.
 
Nuth - The Nuth Lounge and sister club are located across town from each other. Both are frequented by beautiful people who prefer to sip champagne and martinis instead of a draft beer. Nuth Lounge, Avenida Armando Lombardi, 999, Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3575-6850. Nuth Club, Avenida Epitácio Pessoa, 1244, Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3258-9590
Rio Scenarium  - A quirky tri-level bar and club dressed in a kaleidoscope of colors and a whole lot of eclectic antiques and art pieces. A must visit when in Rio. Samba with some of the locals and savor the lively Brazilian vibe. Rua do Lavradio, 20, Rio de Janeiro.Tel. (55-21) 3147-9000
Baronetti - Exclusive, chic and sexy. Open until 5AM. Rua Barão da Torre, 354, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro.
Lapa 40 Grau - Drink specials, pool tables, live music and dancing. What more do you need? Rua Riachuelo, 97, Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3970-1338
Carioca da Gema - A neighborhood bar with a chill out ambiance and occasional live music and samba. Near Avenida Mem de Sá, 79, Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2221-0043
Melt Bar - A classy venue for live music and a dinner beforehand. Check the website for shows and cover costs. Rua Rita Ludolf, 47, Leblon, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2249-9309
Galeria Cafe - Hosts a variety of events such as book launches, theatre performances, art exhibits and private parties. Rua Teixeira de Melo, 31E and F, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2523-8250
La Girl - The lesbian bar of Copacabana. Rua Raul Pompéia, 102, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2247-8342
Le Boy - And its gay counterpart. Rua Raul Pompéia, 102, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2513-4993

Hotels in Rio de Janeiro

Budget Hotels Rio de Janeiro

Che Lagarto - The Ipanema location is a trendy party spot popular among partiers and GAP year travelers. If you’re in Rio to party – the Che is for you. Paul Redfem, 48, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2512-8079

Piratas de Ipanema - Another well-known party hostel for those less concerned with comfort and cleanliness. Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 165, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 8224-6909

Samba Villa - Simple dorms and cozy common areas make Samba Villa a great place to meet other travelers and enjoy all Lapa has to offer. Evaristo da Veiga, 147, and Mem da Sá, Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2232-4607

Casa 579 - In the heart of bohemian Rio with beautiful views from Santa Teresa. Some areas of Santa Teresa are prone to petty theft, avoid walking alone at night. Rua Dr. Julio Otoni, 579, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 323-56480

El Misti - Youthful atmosphere attracting an easy-going crowd most of the time. Praia de Botafogo, 462, Casa 9, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2226-0991

Surf n Stay - About half an hour from Ipanema, this surf camp and beach refuge is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of Copacabana and Ipanema. Rua Raimundo Veras, 1140, Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3418-1133

Vila Carioca - Online reservations are not always honored and can be tricky to book during Carnival time. Rua Estácio Coimbra, 84, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2535-3224

 

Midrange Hotels Rio de Janeiro

Golden Tulip - All Golden Tulip locations throughout Rio de Janeiro guarantee comfort, safety and style. Excellent seasonal specials offered for online bookings. Tel. (55-11) 3191-8000

Casa Mango Mango - Clean, modern rooms with simple decor reminiscent of college student apartments. Rua Joaquim Murtinho, 587, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2508 6440

Caesar Park Ipanema - A high-rise hotel with a dated interior but great location for the price. Avenida Vieira Souto, 460, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2525-2525

Windsor Hotels - With about 9 locations throughout Rio de Janeiro, you are sure to find a Windsor Hotel to suit your style and budget. Tel. (55-11) 3259-5323

Sol Ipanema - A comfortable and stylish Best Western across from Ipanema beach and close to fine dining options and nightlife. Avenida Vieira Souto, 320, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2525-2020

Atlantis Hotel - A great location at the end of Copacabana beach on the way to Ipanema but rooms could use an update and a coat of paint. Rua Bulhoes de Carvalho, 61, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2521-1142

Um Meia Tres - A trendy boutique hotel in the old and fascinating neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. A bit of luxury without spending the money. Rua Aprazivel, 163, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2232-0034

 

Luxury Hotels Rio de Janeiro

Mama Ruisa - Stunning rooms and a tranquil aura in and around Mama Ruisa. Although it is a quiet neighbourhood, exercise caution when wandering at night. Rua Santa Cristina, 132, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2242-1281

Santa Teresa Hotel - The perfect place to sink into pure luxury. The ivory drapery contrasts with the rich woods throughout the hotel and truly captures the warm Brazilian soul through experimenting with earth and design. Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 660, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3380-0200

Copacabana Palace - Luxurious rooms steps away from Copacabana beach, fine dining and shopping. Avenida Atlantica, 1702, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2548-7070

Sheraton Barra - Beautiful rooms and more impressive grounds make the Sheraton Barra a gem. Avenida Lucio Costa, 3150, Barra, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3139-8000

La Maison - This romantic guesthouse offers 5 specialized theme rooms. Opt for the lust and passion of the Shanghai bedroom or the girly touch of romance in the Recamier bedroom. Rua Sérgio Porto, 58, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3205-3585

Sofitel  - A perfectly fine option across from one of the world’s most famous beaches. Avenida Atlantica, 4240, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 2525-1232

Intercontinental Rio de Janeiro - Set on a quiet beach below stunning cliffs. Enjoy all Rio has to offer without having to stay in the heart of all the action of Copacabana or Ipanema. Avenida Aquarela do Brasil, 75, Rio de Janeiro. Tel. (55-21) 3323-2200

Rio de Janeiro Weather

Rio de Janeiro Travel Resources

 

For a virtual guide to everything Lapa, visit Lá Na Lapa (available only in Portuguese).  

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