While Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s favorite destinations for beach lovers, party people and culture lovers who like it hot, not everyone comes prepared to make the most of their visit. A little preparation can save you time, money and make a great vacation spectacular.
Of course, there are times when you’ll need to plan almost every detail of your visit well in advance—specifically, Carnival. Rooms fill, rates rise, and everything from restaurant reservations to car rental bookings becomes a major hassle. Plan accordingly. Other festivals, such as those during the Christmas and New Years high season, may not be quite as jam-packed, but you’d do well to make major decisions early on.
1) Don’t Get Ripped Off Right Out of the Airport
Make sure you know how you’re going to get to your hotel from the airport before you arrive. The cheapest way is paying $4 for the bus, while there are private shuttles run by Viator and other operators offering door-to-door service; these must be reserved in advance. Anything to avoid paying the hefty cab fares, particularly on Sundays, holidays and during December, when fares rise. It you simply must take a taxi, contact your hotel in advance about how much it should cost, and don’t let anyone overcharge you.
2) Brazil Isn’t a Third World Country, and Doesn’t Charge Third World Prices
Sure, the favelas and abject poverty in the indigenous regions of the Amazon are still very much part of the “developing world,” but keep in mind that Brazil just eclipsed Great Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy. Brazil is no longer cheap, and Rio can be downright expensive; check costs and budget accordingly. If you’re a US citizen, don’t forget about that $140 reciprocal visa fee either.
3) It’s Tough to Get By on Spanish Alone
Spanish and Portuguese may look similar on paper, but the pronunciation is radically different, as is a surprising amount of vocabulary. And, while you might expect everyone in South America to speak some Spanish, you’d be wrong—Brazil is a big country and Portuguese speakers have plenty of options for travel and work right at home. Spanish speakers should prepare like everyone else: Bring a phrasebook, learn key phrases and practice pronunciation before arriving.
4) There Are Hotter Spots than Copacabana
Most hotels are close to Copacabana Beach, which is a perfectly acceptable stretch of sand in its own right. Just be aware that it’s not the cleanest, or safest, beach in Rio, simply because it caters to the tourist crowd. Most Cariocas prefer Ipanema, others like Leblon, and there are other beaches as well. Note that each “posto” has its own feel; for instance, Posto 8–9 on Copacabana is the gay area.
5) Keep Your Top On, and Beware of the Sun
Your bikini can be as itsy bitsy as you like, but it’s simply polite to keep your top on while sunbathing; this isn’t Europe. Instead, head to Abrico, the nude beach, where anything goes. Don’t underestimate the tropical sun either; it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen and a hat at all times. Also consider renting an umbrella by the beach—as an added bonus, you’ll have someone to keep an eye on your stuff.
6) Keep Your Risk Assessment Realistic
For years, Rio was one of the most dangerous cities in South America, which means many of the travel warnings are out-of-date and overstated. However, the backlash against said hysterics—all the crowd-sourced travel sights where anonymous authors explain that “Rio is totally safe, don’t worry at all, your guidebook is ridiculous”—are also exaggerating. The city is a lot safer than it once was, sure particularly in the pacified favelas where tourists are now welcome. But, there’s still plenty of crime to go around. Don’t be paranoid, but big-city rules most definitely apply: Stay alert, leave valuables at home, take taxis at night, ask at your hotel about security risks and trust your gut. There’s just no need to be careless.
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