Here is a list of Rio de Janeiro Travel Tips, recommendations, and a little heads up from the pros at Jinga Experience:
Best Time to Go to Rio de Janeiro:
There is no true “best time of year to go”, it just depends on you as a traveler and what you are looking for, because every month has its flavor.
Summer, the high season (December to February):
Although year round Rio de Janeiro is warm, Cariocas (people from Rio) still look forward to the summer months. They are the most exciting and energized months of the year, and yes… extremely hot! The entire city is bustling everyday. Travelers from South America and the around the world fill the hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and bars. On the weekend it is difficult to find a place to sit on the main beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana, but that’s part of the excitement, and believe me, you’ll like what you see. This may seem overwhelming to some, but it is difficult not to enjoy. During the summer Rio de Janeiro hosts two of the most well known international parties in the world: Carnaval (carnival), a celebration before lent where the entire city is put on pause from one week and everyone dresses in costumes, dances, sings, drinks, and kisses, a non stop party; and the biggest firework show in the world on New Year’s Eve, where millions of people join together dressed in white to celebrate on Copacabana beach.
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: If you want the full energy of Rio de Janeiro and enjoy a lot of sweat and sun, summer is the time to come!
Fall, “back to reality” season (March to May)
Every time March comes around, Cariocas wipe their brow and say “well, I’m glad that’s over”. This isn’t because they don’t like summer, or that they didn’t enjoy themselves, in fact quite the opposite. It is because summer is intense for everyone, tourists and residents alike. The heat and parties can take it out of you. March and April are some 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler, and it makes all the difference. People go back to focussing on their jobs and get back into their routines. The streets and beaches empty out just a little and the energy of the city comes back to normal. Fun cultural and social events continue throughout the year, people still head to the beach everyday to get their daily sun and exercise, and the samba tambourines and nightclubs continue to throughout the nights!
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: For those travelers who are calmer and can’t handle intense heat, anytime between these months would be great to visit.
Winter, “I might even put on a sweatshirt at night” season (June to August)
Rio de Janeiro is definitely not known for cold, but maybe once or twice during the winter you might find yourself looking for your sweatshirt. This time of year is in fact one of the best times to visit. The crowds are gone. People are relaxed. The weather is beautiful. The sun is almost always out, and although it sets around 5 PM, it doesn’t require a reapplication of sunscreen every 30 minutes. Throughout the whole month of June there are the “Festa Juninas“, which are one of the most celebrated times of year, behind Carnaval and New Years, of course. These town and city parties celebrate Saint John the Baptist, the end of the rainy season (spring and summer), and rural life. It originally comes from the historical European Midsummer, and is celebrated predominantly in the Northeast of the country with typical rural clothing, dance, food, and music. They are a lot of fun!
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: Don’t be turned off by the winter, this is might be my favorite time of year to visit!
Spring, “summer is coming fast” (September and November)
Spring is a nice time to visit Rio de Janeiro as well. The temperature is quite nice, but like any spring, it does tend to rain a little more consistently than other times. As the you get closer to December you can feel things heat up and the energy of the city rising, yet the crowds don’t start showing up until December hits.
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: There is no bad time to come to Rio de Janeiro so if you are thinking about Spring time, come on down!
Rio de Janeiro Zones and Neighborhoods
The the omni-present and awe-inspiring Christ the Redeemer statue can be seen from almost any neighborhood or zone in the city, yet there are stark contrasts between them. This Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip may be the most important to understand before coming down!
The South Zone (Zona Sul)
is the most picturesque place in Rio de Janeiro. It is the internationally exported image of the city and all of Brazil. Let’s face it, tell me you haven’t seen a picture like this before:
The neighborhoods of Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon, Gavea, Jardim Botânico, Lagoa, Botafogo, Flamengo, among others, are filled with fancy restaurants, beautiful beaches (the famous and glamorous Ipanema beach, Copacabana beach, Praia Vermelha), botanical gardens, impressive architecture, happening street corners, beautiful people, and top class residences. Tourists and Brazilians are in the streets at all hours. These neighborhoods are walkable, enjoyable, extremely aesthetic, with tree covered sidewalks, cobblestone streets, charming residential areas, beachfront properties, amazing views, a lagoon, hikes, waterfalls, and more. It is where the middle and upper class Brazilians live and you can feel comfortable almost everywhere. But… because the proximity of lower-class areas, situated on the surrounding hills, and the ease of access in and out of these areas, it petty robberies aren’t unheard of (even on the beach). Like any big city, with concentrated wealth and adjacent poor communities, locals and tourists have to be aware, take necessary precautions, and be smart.
The City Center (Centro)
Centro, Lapa, Gloria, Catete, and other neighborhoods are bustling during the day. Most big commerce and finance are located there, along with packed markets, informal and formal vendors, modern skyscrapers, traditional plazas, colonial architecture, contemporary and historical museums, street performers, business professional, and you name it.
But at night, in Centro specifically, most people “head for the hills”. Streets are much less traveled and one should definitely take precaution when walking around at night. But there are exceptions! Lapa is the most famous nightlife neighborhood in the city, with countless bars and night clubs, ranging from chic to dirt. Rua Ouvidor and Arcos dos Teles, in Centro, has samba or a DJ playing the plaza every weekend. These places are extremely fun and have a more Brazilian personality than the better known Zona Sul. The rule of thumb here is, if people begin to thin, I would consider relocating.
The West Zone (Zona Oeste)
Barra da Tijuca, Jacarepagua, Recreio, and others, are a couple tunnels away, maybe some stop go traffic, but is very pleasant and worth the trip. Beaches are more spacious and less crowded (and cleaner). The best are Reserva, Prainha, Grumari, and Guaratiba. Barra da Tijuca is where a lot of the new rich have settled as new and old commerce have relocated to bigger offices in the area. This zone has been coined the term “Brazilian Miami” because of its urban planning is practically a copy and paste. Big highways dissect the neighborhoods, and most places and activities are a car ride away. Although this neighborhood doesn’t have the walkability and culture of Zona Sul and Centro, it can be a very nice place to spend a day or two!
The North Zone (North Zone)
is a different beast altogether. The North Zone is by far the biggest in size, both population and area. New cultural phenomenons originate from these neighborhoods like a new musical genre called “funk” (nothing like the American music). Famous street artists, actors, athletes, and musicians have come from this zone as well. Although culturally vibrant and full of energy, many of the areas suffer from violence and poverty. It lacks proper infrastructure, including paved roads, water and sewage systems, and more importantly access to quality education. Many of the buildings are simply exposed brick and concrete with no plaster or finish. I wouldn’t recommend going into this zone without a trusted local. I have had amazing cultural experiences (music festivals, samba schools, soccer games) venturing into the areas, one’s that will stay with me forever, but only while under the wing of a good friend. Although times are changing and the zone is improving, (see urban park project happening in Madureira here) it still is far from becoming a regular tourist destination.
Things to Try:
One of the most exciting parts of traveling is trying all of the different types of food and drink. Brazil is blessed with amazing fruit and delicious food, so MAKE A POINT of trying everything you can. The first day you arrive you should order an Açai smoothy from any one of the “snack” corner stores that are all over the city. Açai is a purple berry that comes from the Amazons and is filled with antioxidants, your are going to love it! After that head to Ipanema beach and enjoy a coconut water (agua de coco). This will really make it sink in that you made it to Rio de Janeiro!
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: Try a different juice every day. Start with pineapple and mint (abacaxi com hortelã); then after a little mango (manga); then a delicious passion fruit (maracujá) with a little sugar; get a little out of your comfort zone with graviola, or lichia (lishia); don’t forget cajú; and if you like sour try acerola. The list goes on!
As for meals, you have to try the traditional Feijoada (black bean port stew). This is Brazil’s national dish. It is heavy, served with white rice (arroz), kale (couve), slices of orange (laranja), sometimes a little cachaça (Brazil’s national drink made from sugar cane), and it will leave anyone who orders it it very satisfied (you might need to loosen the belt a little after). If you are a meat eater, Brazil will become your favorite place on earth because of their tradition of Churrascarias (Brazilian Steakhouses). This is an all you can eat style, served to you at the table, of different cuts of meat, from beef, to pork, to chicken, to lamb, including an entirely separate buffet with other traditional Brazilian meals, salads, pastas, and sushi. They have it all so bring your appetite (and if a feijoada makes you loosen your belt, this will make you lose it all together). If seafood interests you, you must try the Northeastern food called Moqueca, made with Dendê oil, herbs, shrimp and white fish, and served with white rice and farofa (mandioc flower that is accompanies most meals).
If drinking is your thing your have one Brazilian option: Caipirinha! It is the famous Brazilian drink, made with lime, sugar, ice, and cachaça (and if lime doesn’t interest you, choose any type of fruit you’d like). A couple of these and you are guaranteed a good night! But they are made strong so be careful. If you are feeling more daring, try straight cachaça, which is a distilled alcohol made from sugar cane and it gives quite the boost. Sometimes cachaça can be made with cinnamon, honey, ginger, or any fruit, so try at will!
Pricing, Exchanging Money, Payment Forms:
People often think that by traveling to South America you will be spending less money. Rio de Janeiro travel tip: this is not true. It is solely dependent on where you go. The big cities can be pricey, while the smaller towns are very reasonable. You should not underestimate that Rio de Janeiro is a world class city, like Paris, New York, Hong Kong, and its prices reflect it. Luckily for the United States and European travelers, the Real (Brazil’s currency) has devalued unprecedentedly against these currencies (USD: REAL = 1 : 3.75 EUR : REAL = 1 : 4,11; subject to change, and it is highly recommend to check the exchange rate before traveling) and these favorable exchange rates have made Brazil and Rio de Janeiro considerably more affordable!
Either way you can find the whole price spectrum, from high luxury to dirt cheap. Most typical meals range from R$ 15-30. Upscale restaurants will be upwards of R$ 40-80 for a main course, and most luxurious restaurants can be higher (R$100-150). Mouthwatering fruit, smoothies, and traditional foods are very reasonable priced, and absolutely delicious, and must try as many exotic fruits as you can while you are here!
Accommodation will range from High Luxury Class +R$1200/night (Copacabana Palace, Santa Teresa Hotel, Fasano), High Class R$800-R$1,200/night (Cesar Park, Sol Ipanema Hotel, Sofitel Hotel), High Comfort Class R$400-R$800/night (Othon Hotel, Pestana Hotel, Marina Hotel) to more reasonable hotels (R$200-R$400/night), to cheaper hostels (R$40-R$100/night). Don’t forget Airbnb! You can find great apartments reasonably priced all over the city.
When shopping, domestic products and fashion can be reasonably priced, and Brazilian fashion and jewelry is fantastic, yet anything imported suffers from a high importation tax and can be costly. Rio has amazing outdoor markets to buy presents, house decorations, clothing, art and more. Public transportation is a flat rate of R$3:80 buses and R$3.80 metro, and cabs aren’t too expensive either. Going out to nightclubs and live music venues will most likely have a cover charge of around 40-80 reais, with the high end parties around 120-200 reais. But remember that some of the best nighttime options are the free, in the street parties.
If you need to exchange money, there are many different places to do this around the city. Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: Make sure you look at the exchange rate of the day before going and don’t be afraid to try a different place than the one you walked into. If you need more advice please feel free to contact us, we have found numerous honest places who give a fair price.
In most places in Rio de Janeiro, they will accept international credit/debit cards (all hotels, hostels, established restaurants, events, established tourist destinations). Sometimes a debit card may have to run as credit, but the payment will still go through. In rare cases the traveler may have to ask for the “Cielo” card machine instead of the “Rede” card machine, which is used more often (all established places will have both). I would recommend bringing cash out for taxis and public transportation, if you plan on buying food or drinks in the street or on the beach, or if you are visiting a less well known neighborhood in the city. If you are traveling outside of the city make sure you have considerable amount of cash because ATMs may be hard to come by and more places don’t accept cards (ILHA GRANDE doesn’t have ATMs at all!)
Although Rio de Janeiro is the ‘casual’ capital of the world, Cariocas adore fashion. They love light, colorful clothing, anything with a beach vibe and charmingly elegant. Fashion is influenced by the modern western look, adopting styles from overseas and mixing with their own creative style of its ancestors, both from Africa and the indigenous. During the day, men wear simple stylish tank tops, bathing suits and havaianas (the world famous Brazilian sandal) and women dress in sarongs, tang tops, short shorts, and colorful havaianas. Sometimes when heading to the beach, people may even leave their shirts and shorts at home and hit the streets in nothing but their bikinis and bathing suits or sungas (brazilian speedos). There is, of course, a professional side to Rio, where people dress in suits, classy shirts and shoes. At night, Brazilian woman don’t leave the house without getting done up, whether in elegant dresses and high heels, short skirts and blouses, or a ‘classy’ casual clothing, it just depends on the nighttime plans. Men are usually in something more casual, a nicer T shirt or button down and pants. Everything must be light and breathable, because there is no escaping the Brazilian heat!
My recommendation to visitors is to dress down, unless you know where you are going and what it requires. This doesn’t mean you have to look shabby, but there is a reality about not drawing too much attention. Rio although extremely beautiful in physical appearance, can have some shady stuff lurking around the corner. Expensive jewelry can catch the wrong person’s eye. Cariocas are fashionable people, often times ostentatious with big watches and shiny necklaces, and the woman seem to have been born in high heels, but they know what their doing, where their going,and how to get around, and when or when not to wear it. You have to be aware of what neighborhood/zone you decide to wear your favorite shoes and dress in (not to mention the cobblestone streets may pose a certain difficulty). Think about taking a cab rather than public transit if you are dressed-up, and don’t let your guard too far down after your ‘I don’t know what number I am on’ caipirinha.
Rio de Janeiro Travel Tip: Pack light, forget your heavy clothes, double up on your swim wear, short shorts, light T shirts, and DON’T forget your sunglasses; bring a couple elegant pairs of clothing for your nice nights out, but nothing too flashy; forget your expensive jewelry; colors, patterns and floral print is ‘in’; buy your sandals here; leave your beach towel at home and buy a “canga” (the Brazilian beach towel); a rain jacket or umbrella could be necessary; and bring your least favorite watch so you’re not waving your smartphone around every time you need to check the time; and be careful with your nice camera, but definitely bring it, you need to document this amazing trip!
Tipping is always an interesting cultural phenomenon, always differing from place to place. It can say a lot about how service industries and customers interact. In Brazil, it is very customary to tip. It isn’t as high and important as in the United States but servers do appreciate it. Most bills at restaurants will come with an optional 10% charge *included*, which most people pay. Don’t be surprised if you server doesn’t pay attention to you. They will only come over if you call them over. It may sound rude, but many people even whistle them over, its normal.
Also hopefully you will be very satisfied with our Jinga drivers and local guides, they would be most appreciative if you tipped them for their service ($5-$10 USD per day). Normal taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped unless they were extremely helpful. If you have any questions about tipping at the appropriate times, ask your Jinga Experience group leader, they will have the answer for you!
Brazil uses a reciprocal visa procedure with any traveler visiting. This means that whatever your home country asks of Brazilians when entering your country they require you to do the same entering Brazil. Here is a vital travel tip for Brazil: whenever dealing with any bureaucratic in Brazil, including the visa process, plan ahead! For Americans the visa process can take about 3 weeks and cost up to $160 (USD). Although it can be a pain, be patient and don’t let it deter you! All the obstacles you may confront will be more than worth it once you land on the beach in the Cidade Maravilhosa, Rio de Janeiro!
One of the first questions that a tourist may ask when traveling to Brazil is “is it safe to travel to Rio de Janeiro?” Well the answer is quite simple. YES, traveling to Rio de Janeiro is safe. Rio de Janeiro hosts millions of tourist each year and have without question provided them with unforgettable travel experiences (and you will understand why when you land in Rio).
Rio de Janeiro and Brazil have been in the spotlight for years now because of the economic growth of 2010 and the international events, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Some news is positive, while other news is not as comforting.
The reality is Rio de Janeiro, like any major metropolis, has crime. Yet most negative headlines you may have seen occur in specific locations in the city, mostly in the outer areas, nowhere near popular tourist destinations. Occasional pick-pocketing, robbery, and hold ups can happen in tourist areas, like Zona Sul or Centro, but this problem is no different from other heavily dominated tourist areas around the world regardless of being a developed or developing country. The way to avoid any problem is to dress down when exploring the city, forget your expensive jewelry at home or in the hotel, understand where you are going before you go, and don’t wave your camera or smart phone around 24/7 (this doesn’t mean you can’t take it out to snap a picture or check google maps, but simply be aware). In other words use common traveling practices. Rio de Janeiro is accustom to receiving travelers from all around the world, so just be excited your finally traveling to the Cidade Maravilhosa.