Why Go To Rio de Janeiro
While the Northern Hemisphere transitions to winter in December, Rio de Janeiro enters its peak summer season. And although this is one of the wettest times of the year here, you’ll still enjoy optimal warmth and mostly sunny conditions. As such, there will be plenty of opportunities to see must-visit sights like the Christ the Redeemer statue or Sugarloaf Mountain. If you’re keen on experiencing Rio’s lively party scene during your visit, be sure to time your trip around Réveillon. This popular New Year’s Eve celebration on Copacabana Beach draws millions of people annually with its music, dancing, and fireworks.
Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), this glimmering Brazilian metropolis has certainly earned its title. Resting at the mouth of a bay harbor, the city is lined with white-sand beaches and surrounded by staggered green mountains covered in a lush tropical forest, Rio de Janeiro boasts dramatic views from nearly every angle. From the slopes of Corcovado Mountain, you’ll admire the striking 124-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer, who overlooks Rio’s pristine beaches. And from the shores of Copacabana and Ipanema, you’ll marvel over the picture-perfect backdrop that has charmed Cariocas (native Brazilians born in Rio de Janeiro) and visitors alike for more than 500 years.
But there’s much more to Rio than scenic vistas, tropical forests, and cerulean seas. Here, diversity, exuberance, and a laid-back attitude dominate the city’s character. Stroll along Avenida Atlântica in Copa, and you’ll find a city brimming with bikini-clad beachgoers. The city is also known for its love of sport. From Maracanã Stadium (home of the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Olympic Games) to beach volley at Flamengo Park (known as Aterro do Flamengo), the city is alive with activity. At night, you’ll hear the energizing beats of samba pulsating through the city streets in Lapa. And if you visit in February — just in time for Carnival — you’ll witness Brazil’s vibrant parades and heaving blocos (street parties) that draw revelers from across the globe.
Note: Rio de Janeiro isn’t without its share of problems, although most violent crime occurs on the outskirts of the tourist areas. In general, low-income urban areas, known as favelas, should be avoided due to gang-related violence. However, Vidigal, a favela near to Rio’s affluent neighborhood Leblon, is a popular tourist spot and is widely considered safe (you will have to go through Vidigal to reach the entrance to the very popular Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) hike, which dozens of tourists do daily, often without a guide). Visitors should consult the U.S. Department of State’s website for the most up-to-date travel advisories.
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Rio is between December and March, when the weather is warm and sunny enough to hit the beaches, although there may be quick but heavy downpours in the evenings. The city’s seductive samba beat and incredible panoramic views last year-round, but arrive in February to experience Carnival. This five-day festival leading up to Fat Tuesday brings tens of thousands of visitors and locals to the streets for parades and parties. Finding an affordable place to stay during Carnival can be difficult; you should consider booking your hotel and flight up to a year in advance. Between January and March, daytime temperatures can sometimes surpass 90 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you prefer more moderate conditions, visit during autumn (April and May) or spring (October and November), when temps fall back to the 70s and low 80s during the day and the 60s at night.
Culture & Customs
Cariocas (native Brazilians born in Rio de Janeiro) are known for their easy-going demeanor. Friendly, hospitable and always up for a celebration, Cariocas relish eating late, dancing late and dressing up in glittery costumes for Carnival — Rio’s most riotous and colorful party.
Portuguese is Brazil’s official language. While there are some English speakers near tourist attractions, it’s helpful to bring a Portuguese phrasebook. We also recommend writing down the addresses of attractions you want to visit for taxi drivers.
You’ll fit in by wearing shorts, T-shirts or a vest top and cover-ups or dresses while walking along the beaches. The classic string bikini is the typical attire on the beaches, but there’s no need to feel shy – Rio celebrates all body types and there’s zero judgment. Being topless is strictly prohibited on the beach, except for one designated nudist beach called Praia de Abricó. Dress code is usually casual in restaurants and along the main streets in the Zona Sul district. However, it’s not unusual to spot lavishly dressed locals rummaging through clothing racks in São Conrado Fashion Mall’s high-end stores or in top-end restaurants and bars in neighborhoods Leblon and Jardim Botânico.
As far as tipping goes, it is considered polite to add gratuity; however, most restaurants already include a 10% service charge on the bill. Most restaurants accept credit cards.
The real (BRL) is Brazil’s official currency. The favorable exchange rate makes this South American city affordable for U.S. travelers. Check what the current exchange rate is before you go.
What to Eat
Rio de Janeiro is a culinary paradise. Its food scene reflects the city’s diverse culture and demographics, blending Indigenous, Portuguese, African and immigrant influences with a mix of traditional and new to create a unique gastronomic experience.
To start your day and finish off your meals like a local, drink an espresso sweetened with heaps of sugar. A must-have dish is feijoada, the iconic black bean stew infused with pork, sausage, and herbs. Modern versions cater to vegetarians, replacing the meat with hearty root vegetables. Seafood lovers will love moqueca, a fragrant fish stew cooked in coconut milk and dendê oil, a staple of Bahian cuisine with a distinct African flair.
A popular dining experience is the all-you-can-eat meat option, called rodízio, where you can indulge in an endless stream of skewered meats. Must-tries include picanha, a prime cut of beef, and chicken hearts, which feature at every Brazilian barbecue.
Truly Brazilian street food includes pastels (deep-fried pastries that can be savory or sweet) served with ice-cold sugarcane juice; coxinhas, deep-fried dough filled with shredded chicken; and pão de queijo, cheese bread made with cassava. On the beach, sip iced tea (mate) and lemonade paired with the airy crunch of Globo cassava-based biscuits.
Brigadeiro, chocolate truffles rolled in sprinkles, or a bowl of açaí mixed with your choice of toppings will satisfy a sweet tooth. Don’t forget to wash your food down with a classic Brazilian beer served extra cold or a caipirinha, a potent yet refreshing cocktail made with sugarcane liquor (cachaça), lime and sugar and poured over heaps of ice.
The tourist area – known as Zona Sul (the South Zone) – is generally safe, although exercise caution when walking around at night, especially downtown (Centro), Santa Teresa and Lapa. In all areas of Rio, remain vigilant with valuables due to pickpocketing, and keep in mind that some tourists have been involved in armed robberies (in these cases, always hand over your belongings). Carnival street parties can be a hotspot for petty theft, so keep your possessions zipped away in a secure belt bag and leave at least one backup bank card at your accommodation. Although rare, robberies have been reported on the city’s hiking trails, so consider going with a reputable guide (such as Hike in Rio) or in a group, especially during the week when the hikes are quieter.
Favelas are misunderstood places, and some are perfectly safe to visit (such as Vidigal), or with a guide, such as Rocinha. That being said, most favelas are not tourist-friendly and are best avoided. If you do visit one, be respectful at all times, especially when taking photos (after all, these are people’s homes), and avoid straying off the main road. Visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for more details.
Getting Around Rio de Janeiro
The best way to get around Rio is by foot, subway or taxi or Uber. Major attractions – such as Lapa, Santa Teresa and other popular sites – can easily be reached by Uber or a taxi, which are not difficult to hail on the city’s main streets. The beaches are easy to reach on foot and a cycle path follows the coastline from the neighborhood Glória to Leblon. For a hassle-free means of transportation from Rio de Janeiro International Airport (GIG), you’ll want to get an Uber or taxi. The subway is another affordable and safe way to get around the most popular neighborhoods in the South Zone. City buses are also convenient, but unfamiliar riders can be thrown off by the non-English-speaking bus drivers. Renting a car isn’t the best mode of transportation around the city, as traffic is heavy and the roads are packed with disorienting street signs and pedestrians.
You’ll find walking is easy and pleasant in the Santa Teresa, Centro, Lapa and South Zone neighborhoods, especially during the day. You’ll have to rely on Uber or a taxi, a bus or a subway train to reach Santa Teresa and Centro, but once there, definitely peruse the art galleries, shops and museums on foot. For more adventurous expeditions to difficult-to-reach places like Maracanã football stadium, Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain, plan on taking an Uber or a cab.
The Rio subway system is cheap, clean and easy to navigate. Single subway tickets are priced at 6.90reais (about $1.40) and doesn’t expire after purchase. A variety of metro-bus combination ticket options are also available. Combination tickets are particularly useful when visiting far away attractions like the Jardim Botânico that require a bus-metro transfer. The easiest way of traveling by metro is to use your credit card and tap it at the entrance of the turnstile – it will save you from having to buy a ticket each time or purchase a rechargeable card to top up. Subways operate from 5 a.m. until midnight Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. Sundays and holidays. Overall, the subway is an affordable transportation option and a great way of getting around the South Zone of the city.
Light Rail Transport (LRT)
The LRT is Rio’s tram system, which connects the city’s port to Santos Dumont airport. It’s environmentally friendly and doesn’t emit greenhouse gasses. The tram costs 4.30 reais (less than $1). The LRT operates daily from 6 a.m. to midnight, except for the line from Central to Praia Formosa (in city center) which operates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Taxi or Uber
At night, it’s best to travel by taxi or Uber. Taxis are abundant, easy to flag down and have a standard meter rate regulated by the city. The meter should read “1” Monday through Saturday between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and “2,” after 9 p.m. and all day on Sundays. Depending on the destination and route, rates can range from 10 reais (around $2) to 60 reais (about $12). Uber tends to be cheaper than a taxi and is more commonly used in Rio. Keep in mind most Brazilian taxi or Uber drivers do not speak English. We recommend that you write down your destination’s address to prevent confusion.
Buses are frequent throughout the South Zone, although going by subway tends to be quicker and safer. Take care when taking the bus late at night, especially waiting at bus stops in empty streets. The bus fare is 4.30 reais (less than $1). Credit or debit cards are not accepted – you must pay in cash or with a Rio Card Plus (you can purchase these at some subway stations). To get from Copacabana to Corcovado train station (the entrance to go up to the Christ the Redeemer), take the metro to Largo do Marchado and then the 422 bus. To get to Sugarloaf Mountain, take the 519 bus.
Note that when catching the bus, you must indicate for the bus to stop even if you are standing at a designated stop. Premium coach buses are also available for certain routes and airport transportation for up to 19.95 reais (approximately $4).
Rental cars are easy to reserve, but driving throughout the city is not recommended. The main roads have confusing street signs, weaving cars and traffic jams. Popular rental car companies are in the city, including at the airports. Daily rates can start at $20 to $30, but you’ll also have to pay for parking throughout the city. Rental cars are useful for weekend trips outside of Rio to places such as Búzios and Petrópolis.
Start Saving with iTravelDirect’s Exclusive Travel and Lifestyle Benefits Membership
CLICK HERE to Test-Drive our Guaranteed Savings
We offer a 110% Price Guarantee – Find a lower price anywhere online and we will refund you 110% of the difference.
CLICK HERE for a full list of services and Membership Discounts.
When you join iTravelDirect, you’ll have full access to all club benefits.
Your membership gives you the freedom to travel when you want, to where you want.
And you won’t find lower rates anywhere, guaranteed. So, pack your bags and start planning that vacation of a lifetime today!