And finally in Rio de Janeiro! One of the long time dreams made a reality. In fact, the whole of the trip planned for Brazil was pivoting around Rio, visiting Sao Paulo some days before and then making it our base for getting into magnificent Iguazu Falls.
Once again, and like everywhere you will see over the internet, or the mouth to mouth; what is described as a dangerous city, it does not mean it is. As long as you take care of your belongings and don’t do or go anywhere you should not. It is incredible to hear from people that Downtown is a dangerous area, yet to our surprise, it’s the most beautiful and totally safe place. Maybe some tourists get scared to see that many local people which are on drugs or drunk. Perhaps; yet still, they are harmless as long as you are cautious.
The city is well divided in different areas, all along the coast and within easy reach one to another, either by the very frequent buses, or by metro which runs parallel to the coast and covers all tourist areas in no time. To the south are the world famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. Corcovado Mountain where Christ the Redeemer is at the top; the Sugar Loaf Mountain and Botafogo Beach, which offers amazing views towards the Sugar Loaf. And right behind, the idyllic Tijuca National Park with its wonderful peaks and pristine forests. All of which the city, its landscapes and the national park are listed a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
Towards Downtown, located to the north of Botafogo, are the Flamengo Beach, the historic neighbourhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa, where hundreds of colonial buildings and streets look like if you were in Lisbon; Centro and Guanabara which is the business district, and also home to the Cathedral and Paço Imperial.
Further north it’s the largest favela in the city, the Alemao. Do not be afraid of getting there, of course we are talking about just taking the cable car which runs along 6 intermediate stops over this huge favela. You will get to see the other side of the city. In fact, a nice experience and enjoyable cable car trip, where you will also have the chance to see how people live here or even interact with them while in the cabin. A better and deeper guide of sights is in the next section.
You will need to plan with at least 5 days for this city. Distances are big, and some of the attractions are time consuming, like getting to the Christ and the time you will spend admiring the views from the top; the Sugar Loaf Mountain will also take the whole of the afternoon, sunset and night time in order to get the three views depending on the light. For sure you will want to go to the beaches too, and so on. Unfortunately in our experience, we would have needed one more day as we wanted to do a day trip to Paraty, an UNESCO World Heritage Site village retaining the 100% of the colonial buildings, 4 hours away by bus from Rio de Janeiro.
Food-wise talking, it is the same as I described in the guide for Sao Paulo, plenty of choices everywhere, and many kilo places, where you pay per weight. Most of the worldwide restaurant chains you could imagine are also present in the city.
For more information about the city visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Brazil’s currency is the Brazilian Real (R$). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Rio de Janeiro
- Downtown The traditional old town full of colonial structures and the modern financial district. You can reach it by metro, and the most convenient stop for beginning your tour around it is Cinelandia.
-Cinelandia Square Once upon a time filled with many cinemas, now few remain. The buildings around this big square are of many styles, from classic to art-deco, neo gothic, art-nouveau.
-Teatro Municipal The major space for the scenic performing arts in Rio.
-National Library The largest in Latin America, and 7th largest in the world.
-Paço Imperial Dating from 1743, was the old Royal and Imperial office during the Portuguese colonial times, next to Praça XV. Right next is Travessa do Comercio and surrounding streets, which are one of the most historical and beautiful areas of the city, where time stood still.
-Casa França Brasil Built in 1820 as the first Commerce Square in the city, thereafter a Customs house and lately a shopping centre.
-CCBB Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, built in 1906.
-Candelaria Church Built by the Portuguese from from 1775 and completed in the late 19th century in Neoclassical style. It contains lots of artwork not just in the building but its sculptures, statues, paintings and plenty more.
-Metropolitan Cathedral Built between 1964 and 1979 , becoming a landmark icon itself for its groundbreaking pyramidal shape based on the Mayan pyramids. One of its most impressive fittings are the 4 rectilinear stained glass that goes all the way from top to bottom, creating a magical light inside.
- South The most touristy area of the city, especially coming towards the beaches. The major hotel chains and grand properties are in this area.
-Copacabana Beach No visit to Rio de Janeiro can miss one of the top beaches in the world. Truly a very nice beach, it is in any case, more a name than a top world beach. Certainly beaches in any island is the Caribbean for example are by far more beautiful, but still, you will love in here. The sand, water, people. All.
-Ipanema Beach I have to admit I was not impress at all with the beach. It is smaller than Copacabana, and somehow I did not see any beauty in it, apart from the nice view over the small islands in the front.
-Corcovado Mountain Where Christ the Redeemer is at its top. One of the principal sights and symbol of the city. The funicular train up costs R$46. Train entrance is at Cosme Velho, get by taxi or take the Metro to Largo do Machado where you can get a bus.
-Pão de Açúcar The Sugar Loaf Mountain, Brazil’s top landmark, with a two-stage aerial tramway to the top. A ticket is R$53. The buses number 511, 512, 591 and 592 and the subway buses from Botafogo bring you to the base station. Best at sunset.
-Jardim Botanico Another famous landmark in the city, those very well cared gardens with many tree and palm spices, and great view to the Corcovado mountain and the Christ. If you take the bus note that Jardim Botanico is also the name of a neighbourhood so make sure you take the right one to the entrance. The admission is R$6.
-Rodrigo de Freitas Lake From Jardim Botanico or Parque Lage you will get great views over Ipanema and Leblon, and the beautiful hills.
-Parque Lage By the lake. Near Jardim Botanico.
- Favela cable car ride
-Teleferico do Alemao For the best view you can get of the biggest favela in Rio de Janeiro, there is this new cable car running along 6 middle stops. Totally safe to ride, you do not have to fear for anything, and you will get to see the “other” side of the city. Get the commuter train SuperVia (Saracurana Line) from the main train station Central do Brasil (Metro Central) to Bonsucesso, where there is direct interchange to the cable car . 2.90R$ train plus cable car combo ticket one way. As for the return, you will need to exit the last cable car stop, and reenter it after paying the fare, which in this opposite direction is almost 6R$ for the combo.
There are 2 airports serving Rio de Janeiro, one the international, and the city airport, serving mostly internal flights. From Galeão International Airport, you can get to anywhere in the city with the Real bus 2018 (Aeroporto Internacional to Alvorada via Orla da Zona Sul). This bus goes all the way down to Leblon passing Centro, Guanabara, Santos Dumont Airport, Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema. It runs every 30 minutes, taking approximately 1 hour to reach the city centre, costing R$ 12 for a single ticket.
From the smaller yet central Santos Dumont Airport, you could either walk to/from Cinelandia metro station, merely 15 minutes from here, or get any of the many buses connecting everywhere in the city.
Within the city, there are 2 metro lines, hundreds of buses, commuter trains and cable cars. Taxis are very reliable too, but the taximeter runs really quick. The best is to stick to the metro and buses whenever possible, while walking along Copacabana, Ipanema and the Downtown is the best you can do in order to enjoy the sights. No need for taking any transport around that areas.
Rio de Janeiro comes with a downside, it is quite expensive everywhere in all areas of the city. The best and safest places are Copacabana and Ipanema, where you have all possible hotel chains from small to large, modest to luxurious and hundreds of apartments. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Then, if that is still not convincing you or your budget not met, there is a good selection of properties through airb&b and the likes of course.
We decided to rent an apartment through airb&b, located in Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. This is the main avenue running parallel to the coast line all the way from Leblon. Location was great, but unfortunately we cannot say we had a great experience with the apartment we got. It was incredibly loud, curtains did not fit and the sun could go through from 6am, and was not the cleanest you could expect. Considering the already very high cost per night, then definitely the value for money was terrible. In any case, we decided to treat ourselves for the last night on a hotel where we could use a nice swimming pool too and end the trip in the most comfortable and relaxed way as possible. This was the Windsor Excelsior, right on the beach front, with a small swimming pool on its rooftop. It was really nice in all senses, from the very friendly and helpful staff in all departments, to the nice ans big room, clean and so quiet and great breakfast. The views from the rooftop were also a plus, the entire Copacabana Beach, beautiful.