Rio de Janeiro has everything: miles of beaches to trendy restaurants, beautiful men and women, and wonderful nature experiences. My first time in Rio was in June 2015. It was also my first time in Brazil, and the experience was magical. Since then, I have been back almost a dozen times and can offer the tips below:
1. Live in the South Zone (Zona Sul)
Opt for Ipanema and Copacabana. If you want to splurge and have the money, go for Leblon. If you DO speak Portuguese or Spanish (they are extremely similar), go for Botafogo, which is less touristy. There are plenty of Airbnbs in both neighborhoods.
2. Avoid These Neighborhoods
I would avoid the below neighborhoods if you are traveling to Rio:
(2) Zona Norte (Del Castilho, Bangu, Pavuna, and Cascadura)
(3) Santa Teresa and its surrounding favelas
These neighborhoods are safe during the day, but I would avoid them at night:
(4) Praia de Botafogo
(5) Aterro do Flamengo
3. Get Around in an Uber
Your best option is an Uber. In Rio, I have never had to wait more than 5 minutes for an Uber to arrive. It is also very cheap – I paid $6 USD for a 40 minute ride to get from the airport to the city center. Within the city limits, you can Uber Pool. A pooled ride from my hotel in Botafogo to the beach (20 minutes) typically cost $1.50 to $2.00 USD.
4. Don’t Carry More Than $50 USD in Cash
I would say 90% stores and restaurants in Rio accept MasterCard and Visa. Heck! Even street vendors along the beach now have their own card machines. However, for those street vendors do not accept cards, always have $150-$200 BRL (around $50 USD) for caipirinhas or acai at the beach.
5. Get a Charles Schwab ATM Card
That being said, you want a debit card that reimburses you for any ATM fees so you do not have to carry a lot of cash. With a Charles Schwab, can withdraw local currency from any ATM in the world at no cost (Schwab will reimburse you for ANY ATM and foreign exchange fees).
6. Do Not Drink the Tap Water
Do not make the same mistake I did – I got sick from the drinking tap water my first time in Rio. You should only drink from taps with filters (at your hotel) and bottled water. You can get a gallon of bottled water for less than $0.50 USD and is available at every convenience store. Just ask, “agua por favor,” and they will point you in the right direction.
7. Download the Google Translator App Right Away
If you do not speak Portuguese, it is a good idea to download Google Translator and the Portuguese language packet before arriving in Rio.
8. Power converters & portable chargers
Brazil uses the Type C power socket. Make sure to buy the correct power adapter — yes, it is different than Europe and other Latin American countries. You can purchase on Amazon here. Bring a portable battery for your phone while you are exploring the city, especially if you plan to use Google Maps or Translate to navigate your adventures.
9. Use an Anti-Theft Back-Pack
Theft is a big problem in Brazil. During my second time in Rio, my backpack was pick-pocketed and I had my phone and wallet stolen. Unfortunately, these things happen. The best safeguard is anti-theft backpacks that are zipper less.
10. Leave Your Camera at Home
Building on #9, leave your DSLR camera at home. Rio is infamous for crime and petty theft. If you bring it out (especially with something as cumbersome as a camera) it WILL get stolen.
As for your iPhone, buy an anti-theft backpack and keep your phone in there. Android and iPhones are more prone to be stolen because they are twice as more expensive in Brazil than the U.S. due to import taxes and duties.
11. Football (Soccer) Matches and Lapa (Neighborhood)
Watching a match at the Maracanã Stadium is a chance to experience some of Brazil’s genuine passion for football. The best games to watch are cross-town matches between the local teams: Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense, and Vasco.
Always purchase tickets directly from Gate on the same day. There will be plenty of seats available, and you won’t need to stress out about it before. Just make sure to arrive an hour in advance (Brazilians are known to be notoriously late).
On the weekends, make sure you check out the nightlife at Lapa. The streets are generally packed, and it is most popular area for bar hopping.