Rio de Janeiro, famous for its golden beaches, the Christ Redeemer and Carnaval, was never considered as a destination to visit when planning my travels through South America. Crime is a major issue in Rio, and it has a rocky reputation! However, during my backpacking through South America I’ve also heard such amazing feedback on the city! Torn, I decided to go for it, and visit Rio!
How to get to Rio De Janeiro
Although apprehensive, I decided to fly in to Rio from Uruguay as flying from Montevideo was cheaper than Buenos Aires. I spent around four days traveling through Colonia and Montevideo before my flight. Rio has two main airports, one international; Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport, and one Local; Santos Dumont Airport. I flew in to Santos Dumont from Sao Paulo Airport. Upon arrival I quickly collected my backpack, whereas I would usually be the last person at the carousel re-arranging my bag and skateboard, but very aware that it was 22:30, I didn’t want to be hanging around alone, and made my way to the extremely convenient Uber Lounge.
To reach the Uber Lounge, you head to the ‘Mall’ – there you will see security guards, an Uber sign and some wicker chairs and palm trees, there is free WiFi and an area in front of you for uber drivers to pull up. In Rio, you can order an UberPOOL, UberX, UberSELECT or UberBLACK, there is also the local company 99, or Cabify. I only used UberX personally. I would highly recommend using Uber in Rio, it was cheap, reliable and safe. I would advise you to sign up here – I use google maps to order my Uber, although there is an Uber App also. My Uber driver collected me whilst a fireman waited with me amongst the security in the Uber Lounge. So far so good. My Uber driver drove through Rios quiet evening streets pretty rapidly with an Ed Sheerhan remix blasting out. The doors and boot of the car were locked thankfully! The cost was 10BRL/£2.50 to my hostel.
Although an Uber was the easiest option for me as I flew into the local airport, you can also take taxis, a local bus or usually arrange a transfer with your hotel or hostel. I would urge you to always order your taxi inside the airport if possible.
Where to stay in Rio De Janeiro
I read a lot of articles and information on “where is a safe place to stay in Rio”. The answer is – any of the tourist areas are good places to choose to stay. There are areas to avoid, but Copacabana, Ipanema and Saint Teresa including Gloria where I stayed all look to be good options. Check reviews of the area the hostel or hotel is located on trip advisor, and of the accommodation itself to get a feel for the local area. I stayed in the wonderful Discovery Hostel, I would definitely recommend this hostel, the beds, staff and breakfast were all great, not to mention I felt completely safe in the area. However, I would not recommend any of the walking tours organized by the hostel that they currently have on offer, including food tour, and pub crawl. I took part in the walking tour and it lasted over four hours, which is far too long for me, is not done by a local, and I couldn’t keep up with the guide.
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Things to do in Rio De Janeiro
Corcovado Mountain – The Christ Redeemer – The biggest and most famous attraction in Rio is the Christ redeemer, which was deemed a new Wonder of the World in 2007.
How to get the Christ redeemer – It is no longer safe to hike to the Christ Redeemer, so I would not advise doing this. You can take an official shuttle from Copacabana or Lago do machado (61BRL/£14.62) this includes return transport and also the entry ticket. The first shuttle leaves at 8:07am and then every 7 minutes there after with space for 15 people on each bus. The first shuttle takes you half way up, to a visitor centre and huge gift shop, where you queue again to get another shuttle to the top of the mountain. When you reach the top you can take a lift or climb 200 steps to the Christ Redeemer. Upon arrival there was already loads of people on the viewing deck! Despite getting the first shuttle possible! If you want the big man to yourself, you would need to take an Uber or taxi to the top earlier, or arrange a private tour that arrives earlier.
Christ the redeemer is a really beautiful statue with stunning views across the city. It does get very very busy, with 1’800’000 visitors per year.
Lapa Steps – In walking distance to the discovery hostel (or the Gloria metro station) is the world famous Lapa Steps aka the Escadaria Selarón, these tiled steps were created by Chilean Jorge Selaron and was his tribute to Brazilian people. The steps are made up of more than 2000 tiles, ceramics and mirrors from all over the world. More information on the Lapa Steps can be found here. The steps are really beautiful and you can spend a good while checking out all of the individual tiles . At the top of the steps is a hill leading you to a great view point from the Parque Das Ruinas museum.
There was a police car at the bottom of the steps on the road, and the place was flooded with tourists both times that I went. Here everyone is snapping photos on various sized flashy cameras and phones, this area is very touristic and to me felt safe. However still be mindful and keep your belongings safe.
Copacabana Beach – The Copacabana Beach is a long stretch of beach 2.2m in length – and is famous for the black and white tiled sidewalk which is one of the most recognisable in the world, lined with restaurants, bars and vendors of all kinds.
I spent two afternoons on this beach, both times I went into the water, the waves were so strong that they knock you over, with a strong current, I’m not sure it’s advisable to actually swim in this water, so keep an eye on the flags on the beach.
I went to the beach in a group from the discovery hostel both times that I visited and we took it in turns to watch our belongings, we were warned to keep the bags very close to us by the hostel, and by the man we rented umbrellas from on the beach (10BRL/£2.39 for the day) as bag grabbing is common in this area. Ideally it is best not to take a bag or anything valuable with you. Having said that, we had 5 backpacks on the beach and we didn’t have any problems. Various sellers approached us on the beach selling pretty much anything you can think of, from Caipirinhas to Massages, Hammocks, and BBQ’d cheese! They are mostly friendly, and you can just say no thank you. However if you do show interest they will try to sell you something. Be aware when being approached by these sellers especially if it is a busy day or the weekend, as it has been known for this to be a distraction whilst someone else grabs your belongings. Again we had no issues on the beach and had a really fun afternoon tackling the huge waves and relaxing in the glorious sunshine!
Ipanema Beach – Ipanema was different to Copacabana despite only being the next bay along, there were many surfers, so if your interested to watch or take part in surfing head to Ipanema. There are also restaurants and bars lining the beach. There is also a good spot to watch the sunset in Ipanema, head to the rocks between Copacabana and Ipanema and get a good seat, you won’t be disappointed.
Museums – Many museums in Rio are free on Tuesdays, however the usual fee is quite low at around 10BRL/£3.15 I particularly enjoyed the museum of tomorrow. Ideas on the others to visit can be found here.
Walking tours – If you are interested in getting a feel for Rio, and finding your feet before heading out alone, a tip based walking tour is a great option, and any of the professionally organized walking tours carried out by a Carioca (Rio local) are a good idea such as this one.
Hiking in Rio De Janeiro – There are various hikes to challenge you in Rio including the Pedra de Gavea and the Two brothers. I hiked the Pedra de Gavea and Loved it.
It is one of the highest Monoliths in the world, and has an elevation of 844m. I booked a guided hike through the Discovery Hostel with Alexis who I would highly recommend, even if you aren’t staying at the hostel he will be happy to help you! The hike was uphill the whole route, it took around 3 hours to get to the summit in hot humid conditions, and a 35m first-degree climb. It has a moderate level of difficulty, and although it is possible to do the hike all year around it is best to do between March and November when the temperatures are a little cooler. Cost 120BRL/£28.70. If you are an experienced Hiker/Climber, it is possible to do self guided, more detail here. If in doubt get a guide!
Other things to do include, visiting the worlds largest street mural by Kobra, located near the Olympic park, it is 50 feet long, you can cycle around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, visit the Tijuca Jungle national park or Botanical Gardens and of course visit the infamous Sugarloaf Mountain.
How to get around in Rio De Janeiro
You can use the Metro, Uber, Taxis or Bus. If there are a few of you, using Uber is sometimes cheaper than the Metro. The metro can be used by purchasing a re-usable pre-pay card or individual tickets.
Staying safe in Rio De Janeiro
I am still surprised by how safe I felt in Rio, I had no problems or at any point did I feel unsafe. However, I was very cautious, particularly on the metro when it was really busy, and also on the beach, I also took care to keep to the tourist areas.
Top tips to keep safe in Rio
- Minimise use of electronics in public areas. I took many photos in Rio on my Sony camera, however after each use I put it back into my backpack and out of site. The same with my mobile phone. Do not walk around with a camera or phone around your neck, or in your hand.
- Know your route; check a map, and plan your route before you head out. Getting lost can be stressful, and taking out a map can mark you as a tourist, if you need to look at a map or get directions, pop into a shop or cafe. I wrote down my hostel address and the names of metro stops on a piece of paper which is less obvious.
- Don’t wear jewelery, even cheaper items. It really is not worth it.
- Don’t hike to the Christ redeemer!
- Be sure to understand where favelas are located and which areas you should not wander into. Your accommodation will be able to advise you on this, or do some research before you arrive.
- If you want to go into a favela, use a tour guide and stay in your group.
- Scams are common in Rio, use official vendors where possible, or book things through your hostel or hotel. If it seems like a deal to good to be true, it’s probably not legit. Also be sure to only hand over money for goods or services you can see or already have, for example drinks on the beach.
- Despite many people traveling alone to Rio, if you have a good crew even better – safety in numbers! I was lucky to travel through with the lovely Exploring Kiwis Sarah and Nathan.
These are some of the precautions that I took, and I had a trouble free visit. Be sure to keep up to date on government advice for the area, and use your common sense. This should all help you to have a trouble free visit too, and one you’ll remember for all of the right reasons.
I can not wait to return to Rio, I loved everything about it. From the truly beautiful landscape, the iconic beaches, and the wonderful vibe of the city. There are so many wonderful things to do and see in this amazing city, If you are planning to visit South America, Rio De Janiero is a must!
Love B x