Rio de Janeiro is often described as one of the best open air ‘museums’ in South America; the city boasts a plethora of cultural, historical and natural attractions and must be, alongside Buenos Aires, the most intriguing and eclectic city this side of the Panama Canal. Rio is indeed astoundingly beautiful yet it can also be immensely chaotic, shockingly confronting and yes…even a little scary.
Brazil’s adopted capital (yes we also keep forgetting that status belongs to Brasilia) has suffered from a more than adverse rap over the years, with its somewhat high crime rate attracting international attention on a regular basis. The city’s demographics and deep-seeded problems have created a city that is unlike any other. Whilst most major world cities tend to construct a geographical gap between rich and poor, in this Brazilian gem the line is so blurred as to be almost non-existent. Rio’s most stylish suburbs swim alongside its poorest favelas and this incredibly confronting clash between affluence and poverty can make it enticing AND unnerving, especially to the first-time visitor.
Yet fear not intrepid adventurer! This city of extremes may seem a little daunting at first, yet with a little guidance and common sense there is a great chance you won’t face any major hassles.
Let us guide you through the ins and outs of this fabulous city and don’t forget to check out Rio Nightlife Guide for a few invaluable safety tips.
The ins and outs of Rio
Rio may be a sprawling metropolis home to over six million souls, yet knowing that the best tourist accommodation suburbs lie in a cluster in its southern fringe tends to bring its size down considerably.
Zona Sul is home to world-famous hubs like Copacabana and Ipanema and boasts the best beaches, restaurants, attractions, clubs and shopping options in the whole city. These hoods may be right next door to some of the largest favelas, yet the fact that they are the most visited and populated also make them the safest choice for visiting foreigners. Stay nearby and you can easily reach the most famous sites in Rio, such as Cristo Redentor, Sugarloaf and Corcovado Mountains and, of course, miles and miles of gorgeous beaches.
The city’s Centro is brimming with a variety of shops and eateries and is a great place to explore on foot. An ideal day-trip outing for anyone who wants to see the grittier side of Rio, this centre may lack the bling of Zona Sul yet perhaps it’s this precise point which makes it so appealing. considering the most incredible old colonial mansion are found here, it also makes it a cultural hub par excellence.
Everything here is also much cheaper than in the southern suburbs so it pays to explore! Having said that, do keep in mind that this is still very much a business district, so due to safety concerns and lack of interest, heading here in the evenings and on Sundays is not recommended.
Some of Rio’s most stunning architectural highlights include jewels like the Teatro Municipal, the Museu de Bellas Artes as well as culture-rich avenues like Avenidas Central and Rio Branco.
Rio’s northern and western suburbs hold little appeal aside a few well-know attractions like famous Maracana Stadium, the city’s zoo and a few interesting museums.
Planning a trip down to Ilha Grande, on the western coast on Rio’s edge, should also rate high on your agenda. This bathing and snorkelling haven is planets away from the overcrowded Rio beaches and can gift a taste of the real splendours the country boast…all of them quite far from any major city.
Paraty is another magical destination if you can manage to squeeze it into the itinerary. The small seaside town is an absolute charming postcard-perfect treasure and offers some of the best sailing in Brazil.
Rio’s Galeao International Airport is modern and accommodating and is said to be receiving some minor TLC as the city gears toward hosting two major international sporting events in the next three years. If you’re planning a sleep-over due to your departing flight scheduled for an ungodly hour, do keep in mind that Terminal 2 is the best serviced of the lot, with VIP lounges available on an hourly basis and a quite a few food outlets open till the wee hours of the morning. Wi-Fi is also available for a small fee.
The airport is 15kms north of the city centre (25km from Zona Sul) and the best (ie.safest) way to reach your Rio hotel will be to organize a radio taxi from the booking stalls inside the terminal. At around 100Reals per cab this is by far your best bet; if travelling alone look for like-minded folks loitering about the booths and share the ride.
Getting Out & About:
Taxis are by far the easiest and safest mode of transport and, whilst they may not gift the kind of ‘cultural experience’ found on public transport…that may not always be a bad thing. In Rio you have the option of metered and radio taxis, the latter being more expensive usually due to the fact that they run on a set-fee basis. Having said this, they can be immensely cheaper if crossing the city during peak-hour and offer the comfort of air-con which is priceless on stinking hot days!
Rio’s Metro is rather invaluable too and considering it spreads and far wide and costs merely $1.50 per ride it is also a much cheaper way to get around. The Metro is rather safe during the day but should be avoided at night and during peak-hour jams when pick-pocketing is at its best.
Bus transport is by far the cheapest option and a great one in Zona Sul, considering they ply the route up along the whole beachfront of several suburbs. Ask your hotel concierge for details and info about how to reach your favoured attractions and make sure you carry plenty of small cash to pay for your rides.
Rio Overview via Wiki
Beaches via Wiki
Teatro Municipal via Wiki
Paraty via Wiki