RIO DE JANEIRO GUIDE
From the lagoon's view
Rio de Janeiro, or as its more appropriately known, Cidade Maravilhosa (the marvellous city) is, in the most wonderful way, truly a full frontal assault on the senses. Vibrant colours and beautiful people everywhere you look, funky samba music coming from all directions and the aroma of street vendor’s food and the fresh ocean scent filling the air. With the Atlantic ocean one side and hills rolling as far as the eye can see on the other, Rio’s stunning natural beauty will take your breath away. This is, without doubt, one of our favourite cities on earth.
From Galeao airport you can take a taxi to the centre for 50-60 BRL in about 30 mins or you can take a bus for 25-30 BRL which takes 45-60 mins depending on where in the city you are going.
This was our second visit to Rio and its fair to say that we’ve crammed an awful lot into our time here. There is so much to see and do in this vast metropolis but here are our top picks.
BEACHES – If theres one thing for which Rio is world-renowned it is the miles and miles of beautiful golden beaches. Copacabana and Ipanema are two of the most well known beaches in the world. You could easily while away the whole day chilling on the sand, swimming or playing football or volleyball. Don’t forget to grab a refreshing coconut from one of the beach vendors. There is just as much action along the front avenues in the evenings with markets and live music.
PEDRA DO ARPOADOR – Here is where we shared one of our best memories in Rio. Where the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches meet, there is a rock formation which jets out a little ways into the ocean. Grab yourself a couple of beers and head here to watch the sunset over the Ipanema skyline and the hills of Leblon in the distance. Simply spectacular.
VISIT A FAVELA – “Surely not” we hear you say. Yes, really! We did. We spent four days in Morro da Babilonia and found that most of the negative stereotypes associated with Favelas were utter nonsense. Read more about our time in the favela here.
CORCOVADO – Atop mount Corcovado sits one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Christ the Redeemer statue. The statue took nine years to build and at 2,300 feet high, the view of the city below leaves you at a loss for words. Well worth the 56 BRL admission fee.
SUGAR LOAF – This peninsula in the Guanabara bay was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2012. Take a cable car to the top and make sure you have your camera as here you will enjoy one of the best views Rio has to offer.
CARNIVAL – Unless you've been living under a rock, you may have heard of the Rio carnival. For five days every February, over two million people line the streets of Rio to dance and party. The main event takes place over two days when over 70 samba schools put on incredible performances with large, colourful floats and flamboyant outfits as they dance their way through the Sambadromo to be crowned the best samba school in the state.
SAMBADROMO - This stadium was purpose built to host the samba schools parade during the annual Rio carnaval. The sheer size is nothing short of impressive and well worth a visit.
BOTOFOGO - This charming neighbourhood is packed with chilled out bars, a couple of nightclubs and another beautiful beach.
SAMBA IN LAPA - The cultural heart of Rio. Check out the famous Lapa steps and spend the evening in one of the many bars, clubs or restaurants in the area. Monday nights are big here and there is live samba on the street which makes for great fun.
BOAT TOUR – Whilst we rarely opt to go for tours with the masses, there is always an exception to every rule. Take a boat tour of the surrounding bays to enjoy these otherwise hard/impossible to reach places. As there are so many tour operators, you can get a decent price if you shop around.
It’s no secret that prices in Rio are now on par with parts of western Europe and while you could easily blow a small fortune on seafood and wine in the beach front restaurants, there are ways to make your budget stretch a whole lot further.
COOK FOR YOURSELF – A lot of hostels will have kitchens available to use. We made the most of this as well as Rio’s selection of delicious fresh produce and cooked most of our meals ourselves. The money you save can get you a few extra beers in the evening.
SKIP THE TAXIS – Rio’s bus and metro network covers most parts of the city including the major attractions and at 3.80 BRL a ride, is significantly cheaper than a taxi. You could even walk and take in the sights (and burn off those extra beers).
CHECK THE PRICE – Always check prices first as some tourist heavy places massively over-inflate prices and some don’t display prices at all. In the case of street sellers, never be afraid to negotiate a little, just try not to be disrespectful with silly offers or aggressive bartering.
PLAN AHEAD – If you know you’re going to be out and about all day prepare a lunch and take a few snacks. Simple cheese and tomato sandwiches and packs of peanuts and fruit are a good way to watch your expenses and maintain a fairly healthy diet.
TO TOUR OR NOT TO TOUR? – Think twice before booking a tour as these can often work out poor value for money. Free lunches and transport may make it seem like a bargain but with a little research, you can more often than not see what you want to see at a fraction of the cost.
LOCAL BEER – When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in Rio, drink as the Cariocas drink. Most Cariocas (Rio's natives) drink either Bohemia or Skol. Worth noting that cans from the shelve are a little cheaper than those from the fridge so if you’re looking to stock up for later, take from the shelf.
SAFETY - As always, wherever you are, keep a close eye on your belongings and be weary of any over-friendly individuals offering unsolicited assistance. Keep your wits about you at all times as pickpocketing and scams towards tourists can occur. If you ever feel unsafe make your way to a crowded area or into a shop/restaurant as quick as you can. If in immediate danger, make as much noise and draw as much attention as you can. We have never had a bad experience here but you always need to be aware. Good practice for any country you’re in is to have the phone numbers for the emergency services, tourist police and your nation’s embassy stored in your phone.
FOOD & DRINK
BREAKFAST - We can't start the day without a nice strong coffee and Rio's does not disappoint. Fresh fruit such as banana, mango and pineapple are in abundance and super delicious. Or get yourself to one of the hundred of little bakeries you'll find all over the city for an empanada. These delightful little pastries are normally filled with meat, cheese, potato or any combo of the above and will only set you back 4 BRL.
LUNCH - Lunch on the go is usually the order of the day for us. There is a plethora of street vendors to take your pick from offering up a variety of choice. Meat on a stick, Tapioca, Quiejo Coalport (similar to halloumi) are all inexpensive and tasty options. Our personal favourite is Acai. Frozen and blended acai berries topped with granola and bananas - sooo good. Honestly, we've lost count of how many we've had.
DINNER - For an authentic Brazilian meal, head to one the eat-by-weight joints. This is a buffet style set up where you load up your plate before it is weighed to determine its cost. As with everything, head a few streets back from the main strip for cheaper prices and a more local atmosphere.
Another option is the BBQ joints. Here you help yourself to unlimited salad and sides etc and the staff walk around with various platter of sizzling BBQ meat. You will be given a card when you enter with a green side and a red side. If you have this on your table green side up, they will offer you the meat. If you have the red side up, well, they will probably still offer it to you anyway. If you're really hungry then this is a great way to get your fill as the meat is also all you can eat.
DRINKS - Given the abundance of fruit, fresh fruit juice is available everywhere, much like coconuts. If you crave something a little stronger then Bohemia and Skol seem to be local lager of choice.
Brazil's national cocktail is the caipirinha. Generous servings of cachaca, sugar and lime are what gets these cheeky little devils our seal of approval.
With two stays in Rio already under our belt we can’t wait for the third, whenever that may be. It’s easy to see why they call this the marvellous city. Such a chilled out, relaxed atmosphere set amongst gorgeous scenery and great weather all year round. Rarely does it drop below 20°C and can reach 38°C in the summer. It doesn't get much better.
Go check it out for yourself and don't forget to #lagoonwithaview on your Instagram so we can see what you get up to.
Until we meet again, Rio.
Next stop, Ilha Grande.