So you’ve booked your flight, got your visa and found the best place to stay in Rio. You’re well on your way to jetting off on holiday, but there’s more to do than simply pack your suitcase. Now, it’s time to find out 10 things you need to know before you visit Rio de Janeiro.
1. Learn some Portuguese
Many travelers can speak English now and most of the time, that’s enough to be able to communicate. In Europe and most of the tourist spots in Asia, you can use English and be easily understood. But when you visit Rio de Janeiro, it’s different.
Only a small part of the population speaks English. As a result, even small things like menus are often not translated, which makes ordering dinner a bit of a guessing game. That’s why it’s good to know some basic Portuguese, or for a short trip, a few phrases like ‘Obrigado’ will be enough. That was the only word I managed to repeat!
You might not be able to ask someone on a bus if it’s your stop, what time the restaurant closes or whether there is any seafood in your dish. You’ll probably have to show a taxi driver a photo on your phone with a destination but hey, it’s an adventure! Some people are very kind and will try to teach you some simple words. Knowing Spanish is also helpful, but not everyone speaks this language in Brazil either.
2. Copacabana beach isn’t as crowded as some say
I’ve seen so many articles that say “this place is beautiful but in reality it’s full of tourists”. Copacabana beach tends to be grouped with landmarks like Stonehenge, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Trevi Fountain and the Great Wall of China in this respect, and it tends to come with a photo of Copacabana so packed that you can’t move.
I’m sure some of these pictures are real, but when I visited Rio, there was barely anyone at the beach. Visit for New Year’s Eve or the Carnival and I’m sure it will be extremely crowded, but for me the quietness was a lovely surprise. Plan your beach trips for weekdays to avoid the weekend rush.
3. Stay away from most favelas
If you asked me a little while ago, ‘what is a favela?’, I would have no idea. Today, I know that these are the Brazilian slums and they tend to be hotspots for crime. If you have seen the movie, “City of God” you probably have an idea.
Sometimes when we travel, we try to explore more than just the main tourist attractions, get to know local life and hunt out hidden gems. When we came to Rio, I tried to avoid those areas because of the crime. Some tours organised trips with a guide, but even that is not 100% safe.
4. When I visit Rio de Janeiro, will it be expensive?
I was expecting South America to be cheap, however I started my journey in one of the most popular cities in the world. Choosing a hotel can be challenging, as it was either very expensive or cheap but ugly.
When it comes to food, local supermarkets aren’t expensive but dinner out falls into more of a London or New York price range. You can find many little stands where you can grab beer, coconut or acai bowls, though. Taxis and Uber were very cheap, and I’ve heard that public transport isn’t bad either. Expect prices to be higher around key tourist areas, like Copacabana, than in the city centre.
5. Do I need a lot of cash?
When we first arrived, our first instinct was to look for the nearest ATM. We were starving but we assumed we wouldn’t be able to pay without cash. We were wrong – almost every restaurant and shop takes card! Of course, you won’t pay for souvenirs on the street this way, but you can definitely find places to take your Visa or Mastercard. There are plenty of banks nearby too, but it’s better not to carry too much cash on you.
6. Party ’til early morning when you visit Rio de Janeiro
Rio is known as a one of the best cities for nightlife in the world. Scenes of beautiful girls in a stunning outfits dancing in the street during the carnival are iconic. But partying in Rio doesn’t stop when the carnival ends.
The most popular area for nightlife is Lapa, with some of the best nightclubs in the world. There are lots of bars, but the party often spills onto the street, where you could even pick up a free salsa lesson! If you’re looking for something a little quieter, check out the bars near Ipanema Beach.
7. Taste coffee the Brazilian way
Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world. Although the best coffee beans are exported to Europe, it is worth trying the original. Brazilians like to drink coffee black with sugar. You’ll see them sipping it all day long!
8. Remember to get your vaccinations before you travel
I wasn’t planning to visit the Brazilian jungle, so I wasn’t worried about getting any vaccinations. I didn’t find any information about what was required when you visit Rio de Janeiro, but someone recommended I have a Yellow Fever vaccine.
Thank God I did because if I hadn’t, I’d have been put back on a flight to London when I reached Colombia. They asked me for my yellow book to prove I had been vaccinated. So, I believe that this vaccine has to be done if you travel to other South American countries. Here you can read more about other recommendations.
9. Changing voltages and adapters
Here again, information I found online was confusing. Apparently the voltage in Brazil changes depending on which state you’re in. We spent our first night in an airport hotel, where you have two options – 110vt and 220vt – but they both needed some strange adapter that we got from front desk at the hotel.
Our second hotel had only 220vt sockets and I was able to use my UK adapter. Leave your hairdryer at home as it might get burned, and most hotels and Airbnb accommodations provide them anyway.
10. Have dinner in a steakhouse
Just like the coffee, you can’t go to Brazil and not have dinner in a traditional steak house. We chose Churrascaria Palace near our hotel and it was very delicious. At first we were a little confused because, as you walked in to a fancy place, they take you to your seats and ask what would you’d like to drink. And there was the catch: there was no menu!
If you ask for beer, they will tell you what they have. If you ask for wine, they will show you a list on a tablet. Drinks ordered, we were given a piece of paper on which you have to mark what you’d like to eat. We weren’t sure what everything on the list was. There was everything from appetizers to different meats and some vegetarian options. It turned out that this is just a list for the kitchen to make sure they know you will be able to try everything you like and they don’t cook dishes that people won’t eat.
There’s also a buffet nearby with salads, some sides and sushi. The whole dinner is served as long skewers of meats. I don’t know much about steak, so I asked for tiny pieces of everything. The price for dinner here is fixed (around £20 per person), plus drinks and dessert. It goes without saying that the food was sensational, as was the overall experience.
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