Rio de Janeiro is one of the most alluring cities in the world. This city in Brazil is known for its incredible beaches. The water is warm and the sand is white and inviting. It's lined with kiosks and watersport vendors so you can enjoy every aspect of the sunny beach.
There's also the vibrant culture, out of which comes the yearly Carnival or Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro, which typically occurs during February or March just before Lent when the weather is mild. It's the largest carnival in the world, and more than two million people crowd the streets every day the event goes on.
Then there's the luscious Tijuca Forest, a rainforest teeming with green forestry, tropical birds, and wildlife. You could get purposely lost in the beauty of the trees.
Whether you're headed to Carnival, the beach, or a rainforest adventure, your visit to Rio shouldn't begin without a little foreknowledge. People talk about the beauty and beaches, but they often don't discuss the more real parts of the city.
There's more to know about this massive city than you can always see in photographs. Here are some must-know things to help you prepare for your trip to Rio.
20 Rio Is Huge - Make Time for Travel
The country of Brazil is massive, so it follows that the city of Rio will be huge too. Rio is home to more than 6.32 million people. It takes up an area of 485 square miles. To get from one side to the other, it takes about 40 hours by bus or 10 hours by car.
The city includes a variety of neighborhoods and suburbs, so you'll probably spend most of your time near the beach and city center.
Still, if you're planning to see a lot of the area, plan plenty of time for travel between destinations. You may not be able to see everything you hoped to if you've planned a short vacation, thanks to the travel.
19 Don't Pay for a Taxi - Take Public Transportation
Your gut instinct might be to take a taxi. You probably think it's cleaner, safer, and more reliable than public transportation, but that's usually not true. The metro and bus systems are actually very tourist-friendly and more affordable than taxis.
The bus systems in Rio are a little different than in America. You often have to call for a bus if you want a ride. Even if you're standing at the bus stop, the buses might not stop unless you raise your hand or call out. That's the result of having so many people in one place.
18 It's Expensive, So Start Saving
Although the countryside towns might be a little more affordable, the major cities where most tourists visit are more expensive than you're probably used to back home.
Hotels, transportation, and concierge services also tend to beg higher prices. Fast food restaurants that typically have set prices are priced higher in the major cities as well.
You're also expected to purchase things in larger quantities. Sauces come in big bottles, and you can't buy a small carton of milk. Because you're purchasing more, you'll be paying more.
Travel to Rio is still possible, even if you're on a budget. But you might want to start saving so you can enjoy your vacation!
17 Some Areas Are Safer Than Others
More than five million people visit Rio every year. Because there are so many tourists, city officials have worked hard to make it a safe, friendly place to visit. Most areas are that way. When traveling to a major tourist spot in the city, you shouldn't have any problems.
But when traveling to a huge, foreign city, you should always be wary. Some areas of Rio are safer than others, and you don't want to find yourself in a bad situation.
As a general rule of thumb, stick to areas where there are a lot of people. Watch your stuff, and don't go out alone at night. Listen to your gut, and you should be fine.
16 You'll Eat a Lot of Beans and Rice
If you love rice and beans, you'll absolutely love Rio. There's not a lot of variety in food, and rice and beans with meat are very common in restaurants. This particular dish is made with plenty of spices and a sauce that ties together all the flavors of traditional Brazillian cooking. It's really quite delicious, even if you eat it at every meal.
There are also a lot of small, take-out style restaurants that sell things like hamburgers, Vienna sausages, and sandwiches. If you're looking for sit-down restaurants, they are around, but they're usually pricier.
15 Get Cash At the Airport
Most restaurants and vendors will accept credit cards, so you'll usually be just fine. However, it's always a good idea to have some cash on hand just in case, and if you try to get it at banks, you might run into trouble.
Many banks in Rio don't recognize American banks, even major ones. It's not always easy to find a bank that will accept your card to withdraw cash, so getting some at the airport may be the easiest option.
Exchange rates at airports tend to be higher than within the city, so use your discretion here.
14 Their Indoor Plumbing Doesn't Like Toilet Paper
Again, when visiting a massive city with millions of residents and tourists, there are some drawbacks. The indoor plumbing system is one of them. It turns out handling the septic for millions of people is very difficult, and the sewers in Brazil can't always handle things like toilet paper.
There are signs all over restaurants, hotels, and public buildings telling you not to flush toilet paper down the toilet. It's not one of those things where you really should throw your toilet paper into the trash can, but you can get away without doing it. The toilet will get blocked, and you'll have to explain that to hotel maintenance.
13 A Lot of Natives Don't Speak English
When you travel to places like Mexico or Italy, most touristy destinations have a high population of English-speakers. They may not be fluent, but there's enough knowledge for them to get by.
However, Rio isn't like that. English is not widely spoken, and if you don't know a few key phrases in Portuguese, you'll have a hard time getting around.
Learn a few key phrases before hopping on the plane, and travel with a book on Portuguese. You might get lucky and interact with a few English speakers, but you'll be grateful for your Portuguese phrasebook on more than one occasion.
12 You Have to Try the Coffee
Coffee beans are one of the top imports and exports in Brazil. Coffee lovers travel from all over the world to taste the fresh, strong flavors of Brazillian coffee.
As you wander the streets of Rio, stop in at any of the many coffee shops and have a sip. You won't be disappointed!
Brazilians absolutely love coffee, and it's a big part of their culture. Cakes, breads, desserts, and other foods often have coffee as a main ingredient, and it's a must-try for Rio tourists.
If you're up for a little driving, you can also travel to some of the rural areas of Rio to tour coffee bean farms and taste the freshest coffee you've ever had.
11 The Major Tourist Attractions Are Busiest on Weekends
This probably doesn't come as a surprise, but weekends are the busiest for tourist attractions like Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer, and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Weekends are busiest no matter where you travel but in Rio, busy means major congestion. These destinations receive hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of a weekend. You'll have to fight your way through crowds to get a picture of these attractions, and there will be tons of people surrounding you.
While weekdays are busy too, it's not quite as overcrowded. You'll still have random strangers in your photographs, but you'll be able to walk without bumping into other people.
10 An Airbnb Is the Best Way to Experience Rio Like a Native
Airbnb is a growing service that offers great accommodations at a great price. It's also one of the best ways to experience Rio like a native. Airbnb apartments and houses tend to be closer to major attractions than hotels, so you can walk more.
An Airbnb is a great affordable option as well. Hotels can be quite pricey in Rio. If you're traveling on a budget, the hotels you can afford could be less than ideal or in an unsafe neighborhood.
When finding an Airbnb, it's important to choose a safe location. Experiencing Rio like a native is great, but stay in touristy areas.
9 Buy Bottled Water
Rio has come a long way as far as development, but the tap water is still a problem. Even the locals don't drink the water because it's not safe. However, they might use it in their cooking, so try to only eat foods that have been cooked past boiling temperature so the water is sanitized.
Because very few people drink the tap water, there's bottled water everywhere. It can be pricey, however, so many locals will drink soda to stay hydrated. If you want to save money and don't want to drink soda, consider purchasing a reusable water bottle with a purifying device.
8 The Tip Is Already Included in the Bill
A 10 percent service charge is usually included in your bill from the restaurant. Not all restaurants abide by this rule, but many do. This service charge is a standard tip that goes to your server. Wages for wait staff is very low in Brazil, and this service charge guarantees that you won't stiff your waiter.
While the service charge is naturally included in the bill, you don't have to pay it. If you were dissatisfied with your service, you can ask that this 10 percent charge be removed. But you have to be the one to catch it and point it out.
7 Pack Bug Spray
Rio's climate is quite balmy. Throughout the year, the average temperature is above 80 degrees, and the humidity is 60-80 percent. It's also home to the Tijuca Forest, a massive rainforest invaded with millions of species.
These conditions are ripe for insects of all kinds, including mosquitos. In most big cities, biting bugs tend to be scarce thanks to the man-made elements and lack of nature. But in Rio, the bugs are plentiful, and you'll want bug spray to protect yourself.
Mosquitos in Brazil are just as annoying as they are in the U.S., but they also often carry diseases. It's better to be safe than sorry.
6 Pack a Few Swimsuits Because You'll Spend a Lot of Time at the Beach
The white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and buoyant serf are some of the biggest draws to Rio, and there are dozens to choose from.
Among the most popular are Red Beach, Ipanema, Copacabana, Prainha Beach, Barra da Tijuca, Sao Conrado, Leme, and Arpoador. Each will be covered in tourists lining the beach at any given moment.
If you want to experience the true beauty of Rio's beaches, you'll visit multiple sandy destinations. If you go exploring and get lucky, you can find a secluded cove that isn't covered with sunbathers.
5 Copacabana Is a Suburb
Songs and stories in pop culture speak of Copacabana and Ipanema as beautiful paradises on the beach. It's true that these destinations are on the beach. In fact, they're the main areas in Rio next to the ocean.
While the water is beautiful here, and it's worth a visit, it's not the idyllic nature-centric heaven you might have expected. The two areas are actually suburbs composed of high-rise buildings, apartments, and office buildings.
There are shops, restaurants, and hotels near the beach as well, and it's fun to visit. Just don't expect anything less than a busy suburb.
4 Greetings aren't what we're used to
When interacting with the locals, don't be surprised if you're pulled in for a kiss on either cheek. It seems a little strange in socially-distant USA culture, but in Brazil, it's the normal social custom.
If you spend a lot of time in Rio, you'll get used to it. In fact, you might begin kissing random strangers as well. However, there are certain customs about who you're supposed to kiss.
Usually, a handshake or shoulder tap between men is appropriate. Kisses between women or men and women are usually fine. If you're uncertain, wait for the local to make the first move.
3 You'll Probably Be Called Gringo - But It's Not an Insult
While waiting to board a tour bus, you might hear your guide yell something about "gringos." He's probably referring to you, and your gut reaction might be to feel insulted. However, it's not an insult. It's just a Brazillian's way of referring to foreigners.
In Portuguese, the word for a tourist or foreigner is literally "gringo" for men or "gringa" for women. It's common for locals who deal with tourists daily to use this casual term.
Don't read into it if someone calls you that. They're not trying to offend you but are simply using a literal term to describe you.
2 Religion Is A Huge Part of Brazilian Culture
Christianity is a major part of Brazilian culture. It's the basis for many traditions, attractions, and events that probably interest you.
For example, Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro is a celebration that takes place just before Lent, the Catholic custom of giving up something for 40 days just like Christ gave up food and water for that time. The basis for the celebration is Christianity.
This also explains the 98-foot tall soapstone statue Christ the Redeemer, which attracts millions of visitors every year.
Don't be surprised if religion comes up during any interaction with locals. Be polite about it; this is very important to them, and you don't want to insult someone by saying the wrong thing.
1 You're Going to Have an Awesome Time!
This is probably something you already knew, but it bears repeating. Rio is an amazing tourist destination, and you'll have so much to do, you'll have a hard time sleeping.
No matter what time of year you attend, you'll spend quality time on the beach, take in amazing sights, experience a unique culture, taste incredible food, and make memories to add to your travel books.
Rio is a magical destination, and now that you're armed with foreknowledge, you can enjoy the very best it has to offer. Have a great time on your Rio vacation!
References: storyv, anneianywhere, vagabondjournals, travelchannel