I have just arrived home after 6 wild weeks in the city if Rio de Janeiro. If you are lucky enough to be going to ‘Cidade Maravilhosa‘ in the coming months to watch the Olympic Games then you are in for an experience of a lifetime. I could spend hours talking to you about all of the amazing things that I did, and concerning even longer talking about all of the mistakes that I made. Instead, I have refined my experience down to give you my top 3 recommendations and condemnations whilst in Rio.
1). Stay in Ipanema or Leblon
Stay in Ipanema or Leblon. If it is possible, try to stay in Ipanema or Leblon. Ipanema and Leblon are the picturesque iconic beachside suburbs, packed with song, dance and beautiful people that are triggered in your mind when ‘Rio’ is mentioned. I can tell you now that once you see these suburbs, you will know why I recommend staying here. Ipanema offers great options for accommodation and dining, furthermore, it is one of the safest suburbs in the city.
2). Hang around with Cariocas
Hang around with Cariocas. Try to link up and hang around with a Carioca, ‘someone born in the city’, or at least with someone that speaks Portuguese. If you are traveling as an individual or with other foreigners, you will likely get charged ‘gringo prices’, gringo prices will come in the form of taxi fairs, market goods, street food, anywhere without a set price advertised. Rio is relatively cheap anyway so you may not even be aware that you are getting charged a different price. However, as soon as you start hanging around with a Carioca, you will understand the concept of ‘gringo prices’. This extra charge can be a mark-up of anywhere from a few percent, to double. Be Aware of ‘gringo pricing’ when in the city.
3). Support Flamengo
Support Flamengo. Even if you are not a football fan, Adopt Flamengo as your Rio league football team on arrival. Flamengo is one of Rio’s most popular and famous football clubs. You will never be far out of site from the Flamengo logo or the famous red and Black colours. Brazilians love to make it clear who they support. The benefit of adopting Flamengo as your football team is that you will gain a lot of respect from fellow Flamengo supporters. The Flamengo Jersey alone allowed me to interact with countless people on the basis of our mutual ‘love’ for the club. Although I couldn’t name one player on the team, I gained instant praise for solely for adopting the club. However, be aware of Flamengo’s rival club’s supporters, although alternate clubs fans are the minority, wearing a Flamengo Jersey will often be more than enough to put a rival team supporter of talking to you. The power of the Flamengo Jersey in Rio is amazing.
1). Don’t stay in Rio the whole time
Don’t stay in Rio de Janeiro the entire time. A few hours south, just off the coast sits ‘Ilha Grande’, an island where the only source of transportation is by foot or by boat. The island is packed with beautiful beaches, jungles, wildlife, as well as romantic beachside bars and restaurants. I think that the island has to be one of the most peaceful and romantic locations in the World. This simple island feels a word away from the crazy circus that is Rio de Janeiro. Being only a few hours from Rio you only need 2 or 3 days to make the getaway worthwhile. I highly recommend that you spend a few days getting out of Rio and onto the island, it will provide you with a much-needed recharge and is also a great way to see more of Brazil.
2). Avoid making card payments
Avoid using your card. Avoid using your card anywhere other than secure bank ATMs. I made the mistake of using my card to pay for everything on arrival and pretty quickly all of my money was cleared from my account, luckily I had a backup card and within two days my bank had refunded my money, however, it was very inconvenient. Instead, get small amounts of cash out from registered banks when needed. Avoid using your card and also avoid carrying around too much cash.
3). Don’t leave without visiting a favela
Don’t leave Rio without exploring a favela. However, don’t explore a favela without a guide. ‘Favela’ is the Brazilian Portuguese term for a slum. You will never be out of site from a favela whilst in Rio, yet many people will never go near them, and for good reason. Exploring a favela will give you the appreciation of what life is like for the majority of people living in the city, it is an eye-opening experience. Exploring a favela doesn’t come without risk, which is why you must go with an experienced tour guide. Despite the danger that the favelas present, the favelas are also home to some of the most beautiful people and sites that the city has to offer. One night a friend and I naively entered a favela thinking that it would be a rush. We had no information on the favela, we just decided to choose one and go. Entering the favela at night and without a guide was one the scariest things that I have done in my life; please just take my word for it and go on a guided tour.
Rio is an incredible city filled with amazing landscape, culture and beautiful people. I have no doubt that you will have an amazing time. If you have any further questions about traveling to Rio leave a comment and I will be happy to answer them based on my experience.