Rio de Janeiro is one of the best cities that I have ever visited. Before I went to Rio I didn’t know what to expect, it was the last stop of my South American trip and I didn’t think that I would love it as much as I did. But I have to say the time I spent in Rio was amazing from start to finish. They only negative I had was that we didn’t stay for longer, we had 4 days and nights in the city but we could easily have stayed for 2 weeks!
Rio de Janeiro’s reputation as one of the world’s top travel destinations is well-deserved; there is so much to do in this vibrant colourful city, from its world famous beaches to its magnificent attractions of Christ the Redeemer and the Sugar Loaf. Also since the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics later this year Rio de Janeiro has become easier and safer to get around.
Below, I’ve outlined what we got up to during our 4 days, they were busy and jammed packed but I didn’t want to leave anything out.
Hang-gliding over Rio’s stunning landscape
The landscape of Rio de Janeiro is truly beautiful and the best way to see it is to go hang gliding. The owners of our B&B (Casa Cool Beans) organised it for us through www.mosquitotandemflight.com. We grabbed a taxi in the morning and headed to the meeting point on San Conrado beach. We were then brought up to the launching pad. After going through safety and launch instructions we took off for our 30 minute flight over the mountains and beaches of Rio, it was such a great experience and by far one of the best things to do in Rio, the views were stunning!
Stunning views from Christ the Redeemer
Visiting Christ the Redeemer is usually number one on many visitors list for Rio de Janeiro, it does get nearly 2 million visitors every year! This 100 foot high statue on top of
Corcovado mountain can be seen from nearly everywhere in the city. Try and go early in the morning, it gets very busy with tourists vying to get pictures with the statue, for stunning views over the city, beaches and mountains. To get here take a taxi to the Corcovado station in Cosme Velho and then catch the tram up which goes through the Tijuca National Park.
Watching the sunset on Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar)
The views from the top of Sugar Loaf mountain are absolutely stunning, especially at sunset. My advice would be to go early, around 3pm, to get a good spot overlooking the city, beaches, mountains and Christ the Redeemer. There are restaurants and bars at the top and half way stop if you are feeling hungry or you can bring your own snacks with you.
To get to the top, take a taxi or buses 500, 511, 512 from Ipanema or Copacabana to the cable car station at Praca General Tiburcio.
Sunbathing on Rio’s Famous Beaches
You can’t come to Rio without hitting the beaches (as often as you can); Ipanema and Copacabana are two of the most famous beaches in the world, however both can get very crowded and you need to watch your valuables. If, like me, you would like to visit a less crowded but just as beautiful beach, grab a taxi and head east to San Conrado Beach.
Partying in Lapa
Friday is party night in Rio and if you enjoy a good party then head to Acros da Lapa for one of the biggest street parties that I have ever seen. There are lots of clubs to choose from or you could just walk a long listening to street music and grab a Caipirinha and a bite to eat from the food and drink stalls dotting the streets.
Exploring the streets of Santa Teresa
Rio’s bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa has so much to offer form great places to eat, drink and shop, I picked up some beautiful art prints at La Vereda. Spend at least a few hours here wandering around the streets and head towards Parque des Ruinas for panoramic views over Santa Marta and the Sugarloaf. While in Santa Terasa don’t forget to walk down the 250 Escadaria Selaron steps towards Lapa and marvel at this magnificent and vivid piece of art by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron.
Admiring the beauty at The Botanical Gardens
The Botanical gardens can be found in the middle of Rio de Janeiro and everyone should come here for at least a few hours to admire the beauty of the gardens. Don’t miss the carnivorous greenhouse filled with Venus flytraps!
Taking a Favela tour
Dotted a long Rio’s mountains you will see Rio’s favelas, most of which have been pacified in the last few years due to the World Cup and Olympics coming to town. A great way to gain an insight into lives in the Favelas is to take a Favela tour. While some people don’t agree with this type of tourism, I found the whole experience very enlightening and educational. We took the tour with http://www.favelatour.com.br which bright us to Rocinha, Rio’s largest Favela and Vila Canoas where we got to visit a community school and see how things are improving in the Favelas.
There is also a nightclub in the favelas called Castelo Das Pedras – some hostels do organised nights out to this club, so if your hostel is organising this consider going as it’s an experience to say the least. Tourists are brought to a VIP area upstairs with bouncers, however there was no sense of danger, everyone was just having a good time. Apparently, the place is run by ex-cops so they manage the place pretty well!
Appreciating the greats at the Maracana Stadium
Another reason lots of people visit Brazil is because of football – the five time winners are renowned for their playing style and skill and because of this, the Maracana is a must see for any football fan. The stadium has hosted two world cup finals and has the world record for the highest ever attendance at a football game, with 199,850 people coming here to see Brazil play Uruguay in 1948.
Visiting the stadium itself, you can check out the changing rooms, walk on the pitch, have a look at the commentary boxes and see the footprints of many of the famous players from Brazils past such as Pele and Ronaldo.
Beaching it in Buzios
After spending time in Rio I’d recommend taking the 2/3 hour trip up to the beautiful beach side resort of Buzios, which is described as both the Hamptons and St. Tropez of Brazil. Buzios is a really relaxing place with lots to offer, great restaurants, super shopping, a buzzing nightlife, spectacular beaches, diving, surfing and snorkelling. There are 23 beaches to visit in Buzios and travelling between them is easy with water taxis. We stayed 4 nights in Casagrande Hotel Boutique where we enjoyed beautiful views over Praia Joao Fernandas. There are plenty of great food options in Buzios, seafood obviously been a favourite.
To get to Buzios you can organise a private transfer with your hotel or you can grab the bus 1001 from Rio de Janeiro, just be aware there is no bus station in Buzios just a stop on the side of the road.
Continue on reading for some tips for visiting Rio, like when to go, where to stay etc.
When should I visit Rio de Janeiro?
The most popular time of year to visit is during Carnival or for New Year’s Eve. Carnival is number one social event on Rio’s calendar, and is the biggest street party in the world with over 2 million people per day coming out to join in the 9 day festival. For NYE, usually a band play on Ipanema beach and a DJ plays on Copacabana – over two million people come to the beaches to see the fireworks, listen to music and bring in the New Year. If you can come for either occasion, do as you won’t forget it! It can get very warm over NYE though too so this should be factored into your plans. However, Rio at anything time of the year is a good idea!
Where should I sleep in Rio de Janeiro?
As safety can be an issue in Rio, most people don’t mind paying a bit extra and staying in a good area. Ipanema and Copacabana are usually pretty good bets, with Ipanema probably getting the nod slightly ahead of Copacabana, as there are a variety of accommodation types there from hostel to high end hotels. If you can, try stay close to the beach as a lot of your time will be spent here and restaurants, ATM’s, taxis tend to be more plentiful nearer the beach. Santa Teresa is another area to consider, while it might be a bit away from the busy tourist areas there are still plenty of bars and restaurants options in the area.
We stayed in Casa Cool Beans in Santa Teresa, it’s a really cool B&B ran by two Americans, if you do decide to stay there make sure to go to Bar Gomez for a caipirinha, they were the nicest ones we had in Brazil. You can expect to pay 20-25BRL for a dorm to 100BRL for a double room in a nice budget hotel or B&B in Rio.
What the easiest way to get around Rio?
While there is a bus system in place in Rio, it can be slightly confusing to navigate especially if you don’t speak Portuguese. If you want to use the buses just have you destination written down to show to the driver. I found taxis the easiest way to get around the city, make sure to use the yellow cabs with a blue stripe. There is also a metro system that costs 5BRL per trip, its best used when trying to get to Copacabana through to Downtown Rio. The trains and stations are very clean and safe.
Do I need a visa for Brazil?
No, not if you are coming from the EU, Iceland, Russia, New Zealand, Colombia and various other countries. Citizens of the USA usually need a visa to enter Brazil but Brazil has waived visa requirements for the 2016 Olympics! So if you are a US citizen thinking of visiting Rio de Janeiro, now is the time to do it!
If you are unsure of your visa requirements you should check with your local Brazilian embassy.
I hope you found the guide to roaming around Rio de Janeiro helpful. If you have any questions or any other tips for travelling around Rio please let us know.