travel to Rio de janeiro
April 6, 2005 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I am going to Rio de janeiro, Brazil next week for a 4 day vacation. I am not quite prepared for this and welcome advice on what to do, where to stay and how to keep safe while I am there.
posted by blueyellow to Travel & Transportation around Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Rio is beautiful. People are relaxed, very nice. the beach, esp Ipanema, is fabulous. Gorgeous people, gorgeous bodies, it will be a great experience.

The food tastes good, the little bars have wonderful music (esp in the neighborhood of Lublon)... but prices can be outragreous, particularly if you are shopping near the tourist hotels.

The sights not to miss - Corcovado (large statue overlooking the city), the SugarLoaf (two islands just off the beach), the beaches at Rio...

Some areas are more dangerous than others. When I was travelling to Rio on business in the 90s, Copacabana was the place to avoid, esp at night.

My advice - leave all your jewellery at home, as well as your expensive camera. Don't be a target. Beware of 'swarming' esp on beaches (a mess of kids surrounds you, and suddenly you find yourself without your valuables...or injured)

4 days in Rio is a SHORT time, esp considering how far you will fly to get there (an overnight flight from Miami!) I don't have any current news about what to see or do - Carnival is already over - but I am sure that others will fill that in. Have fun!
posted by seawallrunner at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2005

Get a hotel directly on Ipanamena or Copacabana; even one block in from the beach the quality gets uneven.

You'll have a lot of great dinner choices -- try to do one traditional barbecue joint, one regional Brazilian cuisine joint, and one Continental joint.

We're not nightlife people so I can't give you firsthand data on that, but secondhand data suggests that this where you need to be careful. Rio is full of highly inauthentic clubs, great if you want to pay a stiff cover and per-drink charge to hang with a bunch of drunken Germans and Australians, and too authentic lcoal clubs, great if you want to take your life into hands.
posted by MattD at 11:52 AM on April 6, 2005

When I was travelling to Rio on business in the 90s, Copacabana was the place to avoid, esp at night.

I stayed there in 2001 (hotel right on the beach) and it was fine -- not as nice as the beach around the corner though.

I thought Rio was going to be a lot grittier than it was -- basically you'd have to go out of your way to find sketchy places there if you're staying where the tourists stay -- but i was only there a week, so take my advice with a grain of salt. We mostly did a lot of drinking and not too much sightseeing, and we totally stuck to the tourist places (went there with my company, and they weren't interested in seeing much else).
posted by fishfucker at 12:22 PM on April 6, 2005

Expanding on MattD's suggestions for food and drink:

rodizio - all you can eat BBQ presented at your table by the waiter, poultry, veal, beef, pork... it keeps coming until you flip the little cube on your table to 'red' which tells the waiter to stop (until you flip it back to green)

feijoada - typically eaten one evening a week (wednesdays or thursdays) it's a delicious stew with pork, beef and vegetables. very traditional brazilian.

Drinks - if you drink alcohol, you must try a capirinha, a very potent alcohol on ice with crushed sugar and mint (it's NOT a mojito)
posted by seawallrunner at 12:47 PM on April 6, 2005

Just spent the winter there, this is off the top of my head. Email if there's any specific questions:

Don't miss Corcovado and Pãao de Açucar - they're worth putting up with the tourists for a little bit. The little islands in the bay are super beautiful. See the cathedral - it's different from any other you've seen, I guarantee - and walk or take the train along the aqueduct. Go to a craft fair - there is a huge one in Ipanema - and go to the Feria do nordeste, a fair with foods, goods, and entertainment from the Brazilian northeast.

Totally try the feijoada. Drink at juice bars all the time, and eat any fruit you don't recognize (there is a supermaket there with a name something like hortifruti that sells all fruits and fruit juices and nuts from all around the country - go there and try everything!). Buy a caipirinha on the beach. Eat the pão de queijo, and eat at the per kilo restaurants (you pay /100 g of food. There's a great one called 686 on the Rua Nossa Senhora de Copacabana).

I'm not a drinker/night life person either, but the people I went with had a great time at the little stands on the beach in the evenings, and a good time in the Lapa neighborhood. There are formal bars and clubs there, as well as lots of stands that set up late at night right on the street.

The beaches were really nice. Really. Copacabana was fine as long as you stayed towards the big streets and the beach. Ipanema was nicer, beachwise, because it was less crowded. There are other nicer beaches further out, but you'll have to cab it to get to them. The guys selling stuff (sarongs, whatever) can get really tiring. Don't ask to look at the stuff they're selling unless you are planning to buy it - they can be hard to get rid of.

If you're a budget traveler but still want to stay in pretty good places, check out the Hotel Angrense. The staff are friendly and all speak English, the rates are good, and it's just a block or two off the beach at Copacabana. The rooms are relatively simple, but who cares?! You'll be outside all the time.

It's true there's a big problem with both petty crime and violent crime in Rio. Don't be a dumb tourist, and things will probably be great. Leave jewelry home, put your camera somewhere it's not showing all the time. Pack like you won't bring any of it back, cause it might happen. Watch by map where cabs take you, cheating cabbies are not uncommon.
posted by whatzit at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2005

Another food note - there's a natural grocery called Mundo Verde that sells a lot of dried Amazonian fruits and their jams. Excellent things to bring back to wherever you're from.
Try the little local candies - the brigadeiro and casadhino come to mind immediately.
posted by whatzit at 1:11 PM on April 6, 2005

"Caipirinha" -> it's not a mojito because it's lime not mint. None the less, they are tasty
posted by AllesKlar at 1:21 PM on April 6, 2005

I spent 10 months in Brazil and the only time I came close to being robbed was at the beach in Rio. Take only what you need to the beach -- keys, suit, towel, flip flops, disposable camera, lotion, and money for a drink and to get back to the hotel. Get a plastic grocery bag from a local shop for carrying your stuff around town.

For food -- try as much fruit as you can. Mangos, papayas, cashew fruit (if it's in season, I forget when), melons, guavas, tiny bananas, etc. etc. Also try freshly made juices and shakes -- you'll see plenty of places with blenders and stacks of fruit. But I warn you, fruit will seem bland and pointless when you get back home.

Try a guarana shake -- it's a red berry from the amazon that's a stimulant with a nicer buzz than caffiene. There's also delicious guarana soda (Pespi makes 'Guarana Antarctica') and guarana pep pills, but don't get too carried away.

If you eat meat you'll want to go to a churrascaria - the big BBQ mentoined by seawallrunner. If you're a veggie or just want a good deal look for all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffets for lunch. Some apply the concept liberally and serve fish and chicken.

On preview, what whatzit said.
And another note on cabs: sit in the front passenger seat. (I startled a few cabbies when I kept doing this out of habit when I got home.) Make sure the meter is running. If not, protest loudly and haggle a price you think is good. The cabbie may be trying to cheat his company, not you.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:27 PM on April 6, 2005

Rio's wonderful and the crime stories are overblown. I spent a couple weeks there last year and walked all over the place, also taking buses, the subway and taxis, mostly by myself and frequently at night and never had a single problem. It's no worse than any other big city. You can sit in the back of taxis (wtf?), and unless you're in a favela, going into the wrong club will not put your life in danger (though you may get mobbed by hookers).

My favorite things:

The Floresta de Tijuca. Miles gorgeous well-marked jungle trails, streams and waterfalls. You can spend hours hiking in there without seeing another soul.

The tram to Santa Tereza and strolling/lunch in the neighborhood.

Renting a bike on the boardwalk in Copacabana and riding along the beaches and around the lagoon.

Lapa at night for dancing/drinks.
posted by prambutan at 1:46 PM on April 6, 2005

If you drink, definitely try the caiparinhas, if they don't make it using a pestle, than make sure you order it at another place. Real caipirinhas should take a while to make but trust me it is worth it. Also you can pick up some real cheap bottles of cachaca, the sugar cane rum used to make the above drink.

If you are looking for something kitchy to do, check out the Carmen Miranda Museum. You get to see her tiny shoes, it's neato.

I'll once again recommend the beaches. Brazil is such a beach country (i think 75% of the people live within 30km of the beach) that is truely a great place to see Brazilian culture. Just follow the advice above, if you don't look flashy rich you should be fine. All the little Cabana bars near the boardwalk are a good way to spend a little time resting from walking.

As far as advice about cabs all i can say is hold on. The idea of individual lanes on a 4 or 5 lane road doesn't make sense to brazilian drivers, it's all one big lane where any opening is fair game. Quite the experience.

Have fun, i'm jealous, Rio has energy that only few cities in the world have, and they have the sexiest people alive, can't get better than that.
posted by lips at 2:38 PM on April 6, 2005

AllesKlar - of course you are right! capirinhas are made with lime, not mint. My mistake!!

Re guarana, it's a mild stimulant. My introduction to guarana was on a night flight from Quito to Rio. I had a delicious can of Antartica Guarana, not knowing what it was, and was awake all night as a result (saw the controlled fires in the Amazon, down below, and saw the sunrise, so it was not all a loss).

It's not a jittery high like caffeine - but you gently but firmly stay awake. I am a bit disappointed to read that it's a Pepsi product now.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:13 PM on April 6, 2005

> how to keep safe while I am there

Maybe take a cheap personal stereo that has anything on it but Peter Allen singing "Rio," because if you get Peter Allen singing "Rio" stuck in your head you will jump off a high balcony. In Rio, De Janeiro, my-oh-me-oh...
posted by pracowity at 3:22 AM on April 7, 2005

You will almost certainly spend most, if not all, of your time in the Zona Sul (South Zone), this is essentially a tourist playground. It is where all of the famous beaches are and many of the sites listed above.

Accommodation: I have no idea of your financial situation, age or whether your travelling alone, but you could consider staying in a hostel rather than a hotel. It is cheaper and you will meet a bunch of other tourists. This doesn't mean you need to travel in a pack of 50 gringos, but you will get some good advice from other travellers and the hostel staff will help point you towards whatever is happening in Rio that week.

Food and Drink: definitely hit the sucos (juice) bars. Make sure you try acai (pronounced a-sigh-ee), its packed with energy and makes a wonderful breakfast (often served with granola and/or banana). Caiparinhas are incredible (but realise that they pack a solid punch, especially if your drinking them in the sun). definitely eat at a rodizio restaurant and somewhere offering feijoada. Per Kilo restaurants offer great value for money. Antarctica guarana is the best local soft drink - the Coca Cola version is Kuat and is inferior.

Safety: Take only what you need (especially, as mentioned above, when going to the beach). Walking around Zona Sul is generally pretty safe, but I strongly advise you to avoid walking through the long tunnels which connect different areas. Dress casually and walk confidently and you will almost certainly have no problems, however, if you are unlucky and somebody attempts to rob you, you would be wise not to put up a struggle. Rio's reputation for violence is far in excess of the reality, especially when tourists are involved.

Activities: I highly recommend either hang-gliding or paraponting, as it is reasonably priced and the views are incredible - Rio is an amazing sight from the air. You can book through hotels or hostels, or alternatively go down to the beach where they all land and book directly with one of the pilots for a discounted rate.

You could consider a favela tour. Although it initially sounds horrible and exploitative, I don't think it necessarily is. Middle class Brazil seems to have the idea that all favela dwellers are gun-toting, drug-selling criminals, but that is simply not true. 99% of the residents are hard working honest people who simply can't afford to pay for accomodation in the richer parts of Rio. If you go with a good guide then a favela tour is an illuminating and interesting couple of hours which will open your eyes to the realities of life for the majority of Cariocas.

On a clear day it is worth going up to Corcovoda (the famous christ statue). You can either negotiate with a taxi driver a fixed rate (probably in the region of 70 reals) for him to drive you up there, wait an hour, and then drive you home, or alternatively you can get the historic train (which by all accounts has great views). The train is better value for one person, but if you're in a group then a taxi is cheaper.

Take the bonde (pron. bon-jee, it is a little tram) up to Santa Teresa. It is a great ride through an incredible area of the city (old mansions built between 1900-1920 which were effectively abandoned and are now owned and lived in by all manner of artists, hippies and randoms).

Nightlife: Leblon is good if you like glitzy (and relatively expensive) nightlife. You will see a lot of tourists in Leblons many clubs, but you will also meet a good proportion of Brazillians who speak English (as Leblon is a very rich neighbourhood).

Ipanema has some good places. Its similar to Leblon, with the glitz dialed back a notch.

Lapa used to absolutely amazing - it was effectively a street thronged with people partying and dancing and laughing all night long, with a sucession of ramshackle bars and clubs playing everything from reggae records to performances by incredible samba bands. The city authorities have, sadly, decided that it was a little too raucous and have effectively removed the street party side of it, but Lapa still has a number of good bars and clubs, with some great live music still to be found.

There is a weekly listings paper which details the upcoming events. The music in Brazil is pretty incredible, so you should think about attending a show, be it samba, bossa nova, tropicalia or whatever.

Have fun and post a follow up to let us know how it went.
posted by urban greeting at 3:59 AM on April 7, 2005

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