Rio de Janeiro: the ultimate travel tips!

Aaah, Rio de Janeiro! A name and place that leaves nobody indifferent! I planned on spending 4 days here, I ended up staying eight! A lot has been said or written about Brazil’s most (in)famous city. But how exactly do you “tackle” Rio? By all means, read on!

1/ Is Rio safe?

Rio de Janeiro:  a name that evokes “beach, sun and sex”.  To some…
To others Rio apparently evokes “crime, favela’s and hold-ups.  “Oh, be careful!  Are you sure it’s wise to go on your own?  Don’t go out at night! “: these are just a few of the “useful tips” I received. By the time I was ready to set off, my initial enthusiasm had turned into proper fear. I was convinced I was going to get robbed.  Or stabbed or even murdered!

How I’d love to give the middle finger to these scaremongers now! Cause no, Rio isn’t the horribly dangerous city portrayed in the click-bait media.  I enjoyed lingering on Ipanema beach, visited the city on my own for 8 days and went out at night until the early morning hours. No, I didn’t go wander off in the favelas, yes I took a taxi at night and no, I didn’t swing any expensive camera around my neck.  Vigilance and common sense are the key words in Rio, just like they would be in any other city!

Of course I am not oblivious to the fact that crime IS a major problem in Rio. I saw a guy getting robbed at the beach and I nearly got my phone stolen, but should that stop you from visiting this gorgeous city? Definitely NOT!!!

2/ How do I get around?

Rio is big, but manageable. The public transport system has benefitted from a big boost thanks to the World Cup and the Olympics, so it’s really easy to get around. The metro is safe and gets you to the city centre in no time.  If you are planning to use the metro a lot, it’s cheaper to get a “Metro Card”.  If you are staying in Ipanema or Copacabana, frequent buses will take you to all major attractions (Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, Lapa…) , bus routes are displayed at most stops and on the front window of the bus. There’s no time table (hey, this is Rio, why would you be in a hurry?) but you’ll never have to wait longer than 20 minutes during the day!
Flag down the bus, pay the guy behind the turnstile and off you go!

Oh and don’t be fooled by the “small distance on the map”.  Copacabana beach alone for example is 4 kilometers!

3/ Where should I stay?

When in Rio, chances are you’ll want to stay near the beach, right? Well, you’re lucky, because Rio has over 7km of beaches! The most popular areas are no doubt Copacabana and Ipanema. The first one has still preserved its glamorous name since the 1970’s, but to be honest, it’s the most touristy part of Rio and can feel quite gloomy in the evenings.  Ipanema, although pretty touristy as well, is more upmarket and I felt generally safer there.

If you can do without the beach, then I’d definitely urge you to stay in Santa Teresa. It’s the “bohemian artistic” neighbourhood of Rio and feels like a village. There are plenty of nice cafés around, cobbled streets and there are some gorgeous views over the city!  A bonus point is that you are near Lapa, THE nightlife district of Rio!

4/ How long should I stay?

I’m a great devotee of slow travel, but even if you’re not, I’d definitely recommend you to take time to explore Rio! Yes, you can probably “do” the must see’s in 2 days, but you would miss out on so much!  I stayed in Ipanema, where it’s very easy to while the day away having a fresh fruit juice for breakfast, perfect your tan for a few hours on the beach, only interrupted by some fried shrimp or coconut juice, and explore some of the back streets later.
Take a walk or cycle around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (should take you +/- 1h30), stroll along the Claudio Coutinho trail near Sugar Loaf or discover the gorgeous Santa Teresa neighbourhood.  Don’t rush! Rio deserves your time!
Check out these local things to do in Rio to totally blend in!

5/ What’s the weather like?

All images of Rio display sun-soaked beaches and clear views of Christ the Redeemer.
Rio de Janeiro is synonym to sun, right? WRONG! Although I visited in summer (January), I had to wait for 6 days before I could get a proper view from Christ the Redeemer. The statue is situated at an altitude of 700m above sea level and surrounded by mountains, which means the clouds get free play! I’m not lying when I say that out the 8 days that I stayed, 5 days were cloudy and during some of them I had the “joy” to discover tropical downpours. Another reason to take your time: if you wait long enough, the sun will eventually break through!
One word of warning though: even if it’s cloudy, UV-rays still get through, so by all means, wear sunscreen!!

Rio de Janeiro travel tips

Any other Rio de Janeiro travel tips you would add? Planning a trip to this gorgeous city and have questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments!

7 Replies to “Rio de Janeiro: the ultimate travel tips!”

  1. Zach Angarano

    Gah! My dream that is still unrealized. I cannot WAIT to get to Rio, but I’ll admit I’m waiting till the hubbub of the international events slow down…

    This post got me right in the feelings!

    • Els Post author

      It’s a fantastic city indeed, but yes maybe wait until after the Olympics might not be a bad idea, prices will probably drop then 🙂 Glad my post got you into the spirit!

  2. mark wyld

    South America always looks so green and beautiful. And yes Rio always bring images of beaches and cocktails to my mind. Glad you had a great time and did not get robbed or mugged.The area you stayed looks very authentic and thats what i like about travelling. South America is not on my To Do list just yet maybe one day, but if it was Rio would be right up there.

  3. Vicki | MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld

    Great tips – and i’m so pleased you felt safe throughout your visit! We were robbed whilst visiting Rio but it wasn’t violent – more like a crime of opportunity(!) We stayed between Copacabana & Ipanema and it was great but would have loved to have visit Santa Teresa – the artistic vibe looks cool!

  4. Joanna

    I have also heard that Rio is pretty dangerous but, as a tourist, you won’t get too much of attention. I would go to visit a favela, definitely with a local. I am interested in the local life and way of living and I think that would be an amazing experience.


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