A Rio de Janeiro travel guide
Rio de Janeiro is probably one of the best known tourist destinations in South America. If you’re looking for some inspiration on how to spend a week in Rio de Janeiro then look no further. This guide will give you all you need to know to make the best out of trip to this iconic city.
Rio de Janeiro is one of 27 federal units in Brazil, and is the country’s second largest city. It is also known locally as Cidade Maravihosa, the Marvellous City. Rio de Janeiro in nestled in a beautiful location squeezed in-between the Atlantic Ocean and dominant hills giving it a unique dramatic setting.
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A week in Rio de Janeiro: Getting there
Rio de Janeiro international airport is approximately 20km from the city centre. Several bus, taxi and transport services offer transport between the airport and city centre. For the best flight deals use Skyscanner, I managed to get return fares from the UK to Rio for £450 with Air France!
BRT (Rapid Bus Transport) – At the airport there are two stations serving passengers, price R$ 4.50
- Galeão – Tom Jobim 1: located in the Terminal 1 arrivals – H door
- Galeão – Tom Jobim 2: located in the Terminal 2 arrivals – D door
Bus – There are several bus companies that run from the airport to various locations around the city, costs R$ 4-16 For more information check out vadeoni bus, there is also a downloadable phone app for convenience.
Taxi – There are a variety of taxi companies waiting at the airport. Bookable ‘radio taxi’ located inside the terminal have fixed prices from R$ 40 You pay at the counter at the airport so you don’t have to worry about drivers taking you the long way round and ripping you off.
Transport companies – You can find various private transport companies on-line offering private transfers for around R$ 180
A week in Rio de Janeiro: Where to stay?
There are a variety of hotels and hostels throughout Rio de Janeiro offering everything from budget to luxury accommodation. I personally stayed in a fabulous hostel located in Leblon close to Ipanema beach.
The Lemon spirit is a great low cost budget option with very friendly staff and a great bar and outside patio, a great place to meet other travellers. If you are looking to stay in a hostel but not sure what to expect, then check out my guide on how to survive staying in hostels.
For the best deals on accommodation in Rio I recommend Hotels.com, with the added bonus of 1 free night in every 10 booked! For hostel and budget accommodation then I recommend Booking.com and Hostel World!
A week in Rio de Janeiro: Best time to visit
Rio de Janeiro can be visited at any time of year but it’s probably best enjoyed during the summer months between December and March when you can really get out and enjoy all the fabulous beaches and outdoor activities. Of course you can still visit Rio de Janeiro in the colder months especially if beaches aren’t your thing. Just make sure you prepare for the colder weather. I visited in May and the weather was very changeable, some days beautiful sunshine and others cold and rainy.
Rio carnival is a popular time to visit in February but expect a lot of crowds. During this time expect extravagant parades and all day parties.
Rio de Janeiro: Things to do
If staying for a week in Rio de Janeiro you will have plenty of time to enjoy the best of what’s on offer! Here are the best things to do whilst in Rio de Janeiro.
Christ the Redeemer
One of the things most tourists check out whilst in Rio is visiting the famous statue Christ the Redeemer. This iconic statue is classed at one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is located on top of Corcovado Mountain, in the Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world.
There are two ways to get up the mountain, train or vehicle.
Train – You can get the train from the Trem do Corcovado station at the base of the Corcovado peak. Prices are between R$ 65-79 depending on the season and include return a journey and entrance. Tickets and more information can be found online here
Vehicle – You can get the official van from three different locations around the city, these are Copacabana, Largo do Machado and Barra da Tijuca. As with the train these include return fare and entrance. You can buy tickets online here
You may have heard about hiking up the mountain but I would not recommend this. There have been a large number of muggings in the area and I believe the route has since been closed to the public.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
Sugar Loaf Mountain also known as Pão de Açúcar is just as iconic as Christ the Redeemer. The views from the top are truly spectacular. Unless you are an avid climber the only way to reach the summit is by a series of cable cars.
The first cable car takes you half way up the route to the smaller peak of Morro da Urca, the second cable car then takes you to the peak of Pão de Açúcar. The cable car itself offers 360 degree views of the surrounding area and takes approximately 6 minutes. At each of the stops you will find cafes where you can enjoy a bite to eat or a drink whilst taking in the amazing views.
It’s best to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain early in the morning before the crowds arrive. Another good time to visit especially if it’s a clear evening is to make the journey to the peak to watch a beautiful sunset across the city.
Unfortunately the day I visited the clouds quickly drew over giving us virtually no visibility!
Tickets cost from R$ 99 and a number of different tours are available, for more information and to book tickets in advance on line check here
Rio de Janeiro Walking Tours
One of the best things to do when visiting a new city is to take a free walking tour. There are a number of different walking tours available in Rio taking in a variety of different areas and sites.
Some options to consider are:
- Downtown & Lapa
- Copacabana & Ipanema
- Olympic Boulevard
For more information check out Free Walk Tours that provide free walking tours as well as pub crawls and food tours.
Escadaria Selarón is one of the most beautiful staircases in the world and one of the most popular places in Rio de Janeiro to get that selfie. This beautiful artwork was created by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, who had travelled to more than 57 countries in the world, but settled down in Rio and dedicated 20 years to designing his so-called “tribute to the Brazilian people”. In total there are 215 steps all covered in ceramic tiles from all around the world, with around 2000 tiles in total.
The steps are situated in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood, near to the Lapa Arches.
Jardim Botânico – Botanical Gardens
The Jardim Botânico is a 137-hectare exotic garden situated in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. The site was built by the order of the Prince Regent Dom João in 1808 and houses more than 8000 species of plant. Highlights include a lake with hundreds of water lilies and the enclosed orquidário, home to 600 species of orchids.
Admission is R$ 15, for more information check the official website here.
There are many companies offering tourists a trip to a favela, however it’s important to choose wisely and pick a company which offers non-intrusive tours and also gives back to the local people living in the favela. For this reason I recommend using favela Walking Tour.This company employs only favela residents and focuses its tours on giving guests a genuine experience educating them on the favela and its issues. Tours cost R$ 110 and last 3 hours.
If you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie or fancy something different to do whilst in Rio de Janeiro then why not throw yourself off the side of a mountain! I had always wanted to have a go at hand gliding and I was so glad I did this in Rio! The views from the air are absolutely incredible!
The team pick you up from your hotel and drive you straight to the mountain where at first you need to register at the São Conrado Free Flight Club. Once registered you are then driven up to Pedra Bonita where you will be given a safety talk before being strapped in and attached to your instructor. I was so nervous before take-off but the instructors all spoke perfect English and made me feel less anxious. The leap of the mountain was both incredible and scary but once in the air all you can hear is silence, you truly feel like a bird soaring through the sky. Gradually you will descend to eventually land on the beautiful white sands of São Conrado beach. Such an incredible experience!
Price is R$ 600 and includes pickup, insurance, photo and HD film. For more information check out the Rio tandem website here
Go to a football match
If you get the chance, try and go to a local football match. One of the staff at my hostel was able to get a few extra tickets for a match and took a group of us with him. I must admit I was a little intimidated at first as the security was something like I’d see at a riot back at home in England but I didn’t see any real trouble. The match was a derby between two local teams and was very fiery, the support was incredible between both teams with flares going off and flags flying everywhere, it truly was a fascinating experience, nothing like a football match back at home!
Rio de Janeiro beaches
Rio de Janeiro is famous for its beaches, the most famous being Copacabana and Ipanema.
Copacabana beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world. This is a very lively beach with a vibrant atmosphere which also makes it extremely busy! The beach itself runs for 2.2 Km, on the left you have the beautiful views of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Fort Duque de Caxias built in 1779 on the right. Along the beach you will find a number of bars, local sellers as well as water sport options.
Ipanema is the more chic laid back option, based in Leblon this is the more upmarket area of Rio de Janeiro. Personally I preferred this beach, although it still had all the same options as on Copacabana it has a much more chilled out vibe.
Along both beaches you will also find pedestrian only walkways, cycle paths and workout stations. The Brazilians defiantly take working out seriously!
At the end of Ipanema beach you will find the rocky Arpoador peninsula. During the day this place is a surfers paradise but come night time its famous for watching the beautiful Rio sunset. Be sure to check it out!
If you are looking to do some of these trips as part of a tour or looking for other things to do in Rio de Janeiro, then I recommended the following links:
A week in Rio de Janeiro: Safety tips
Many people believe Rio de Janeiro to be too dangerous to visit, however with a few sensible precautions you can have a stress-free trip. I travelled to Rio de Janeiro solo and never had any problems. Yes the city does have an extremely high crime rate but use the same safety common sense that you would use in any big city and you should have no issues at all.
Here are some useful tips:
- Take care at night – Try not to walk alone after dark and get taxis if you need to travel around. Many areas including along the beach, Lapa and the city centre can be dangerous of a night. If travelling to any nightclubs, get a taxi straight to the door and ask the staff or use UBER to get a taxi home, only leave the club once the taxi is outside.
- Only use public transport during the day, always use taxi’s after dark.
- Don’t show off any valuables, this will only make you a target to thieves. Also be careful of your bag, try and use a cross body bag that makes it more difficult to grab and keep a close eye if on the beach.
- Try and keep to the tourist areas and not wander to lesser known areas unless with a guide.
- Be careful in the sea, the waves can be larger than expected. Always check for warning signs.
- Always wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. The sun can be very intense especially in the summer months.
- Be careful in the favelas; don’t go wandering in on your own. Although many are perfectly safe some are still run by crime gangs.
- Always use mosquito repellent. Dengue, zika and chikungunya are all mosquito borne viruses known to be in the area.
- Make sure you travel with travel insurance; this is the same for anywhere you travel! For the best cover and deals I recommend World Nomads
I Hope you enjoyed reading this guide to Rio de Janeiro. Have you been to Rio de Janeiro, is there anything else you would like to add? If so feel free to post a comment below. To be the first to hear about any future posts, subscribe to my blog or other social media channels.