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Rio Travel Guide

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Welcome to Rio, Brazil


Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil and is famous for its spectacular landscape, its warm climate, beach culture, friendly people and the world's biggest carnival.

Rio was founded in 1565 by the Portuguese as a fortification against the French. In 1720 gold, diamonds and ore were discovered in Minas Gerais (General Mines), a state in Brazil's Southeast region. Rio became the main port for these minerals to be shipped to Europe and replaced Salvador as the main city in the Portuguese colony in 1763. When Napoleon invaded Portugal, the Royal Family moved to Brazil and made Rio capital of the Kingdom. It was the only city outside Europe to be capital of a European country. Brazil became independent in 1822 and adopted a Monarchy (Emperors Pedro I and Pedro II) as its form of government.

The Harbour of Rio de Janeiro is classified as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and was created by erosion from the Atlantic Ocean. The best ways to see the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro is to travel to the tops of the surrounding gorgeous mountains that overlook the harbor including Sugar Loaf at 1,296 ft (395 m), Corcovado Peak at 2,310 ft (704 m), and the hills of Tijuca at 3,350 ft (1021 m).

Rio de Janeiro will host many of the 2014 FIFA World Cup games, including the final, and the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, becoming the first South American city to hold the Olympics.

Rio Hotels

The most popular areas for visitors are the oceanic beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana where there are many hotels and apartments. Most visitors stay within the south zone near the coast which is the safest part of the city.

Business travellers may stay in the city center but the surrounding areas are not pleasant at night, being nearly deserted and lacking restaurants and leisure options.

Rio has the most expensive accommodation in Brazil. The peak season is January, New Year and Carnival when the room rates can triple and many hotels only book 4 nights minimum. Apartments generally have a one-week minumum, or two weeks during Carnaval or New Year's holidays.

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Travel to Rio

Galaeo - International Airport (GIG) is 20 km away from the city center. There are direct non-stop flights to Rio de Janeiro from Washington, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Air France from Paris, British Airways from London, TAP from Lisbon and Porto, and Iberia from Madrid and Barcelona.

Taxis - there are company taxi booths outside the arrival hall offering taxis to the city center for BRL70-90. Standard yellow taxis are located at a taxi rank about 100 metres away outside the arrival hall and are cheaper but poorer quality than the company taxis. Alternatively, go to the departure hall and pickup a taxi dropping off passengers it should be cheaper.

Airport Shuttle Bus services provide convenient transfers to your hotel giving peace of mind and avoids the hassle of local transport and expensive taxi fares. Make a booking before you arrive or purchase a ticket in the arrival hall. Purchase a return ticket to ensure pickup at your hotel on departure.

Bus services are the most inexpensive way to travel to and from the airport. They operate every 20-30 minutes between both airports, the main bus terminal and along the beachfront in Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. The bus services terminate at the Alvorada terminal near Barra Shopping in Barra da Tijuca. The buses are comfortable, air-conditioned and have plenty of luggage space.

Santos Dumont Airport (SDU) is a small domestic airport located next to the city center, by the Guanabara bay. The airport receives flights mainly from So Paulo and a few other domestic destinations.

The South Zone holds most of Rio's landmarks and world-famous beaches. Many of them are within walking distance of each other eg the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacabana beach. Most hotels and hostels are located in this part of the city.

Local Rio Transport

Metr Rio is the subway system that has two lines intersecting at Estacio station. The metro is air-conditioned, clean, easy to use, inexpensive and operates 5am to midnight (24hours during Carnival). It is good for reaching areas from Copacabana to Downtown, the Zoo, Maracan stadium, and Rio State University. Metr operates bus lines from some metro stations to nearby neighbourhoods. Purchase an expresso ticket and when you leave the subway, give the ticket to the bus driver (who shall be waiting in the bus stop outside the station). If you buy an ordinary ticket, you won't be able to get this bus for free - then it will cost a regular fee.

Buses are the cheapest and most convenient way to get around the South Zone (Zona Sul) of the city. However, there are many bus routes and drivers will not speak English so ask staff at your hotel which is the best bus to take to reach your destination. There are no bus timetables and lines are numbered according to the general route they serve. The most popular lines for tourists are bus numbers beginning with 1 and 5 - South Zone/Downtown . Bus 583 and 584 travel from Copacabana and Ipanema to Corcovado railway station, bus 464 and 435 travel from Copacabana to Maracan stadium, bus 511 and 512 travel to Urca for the station to take the cable car up the Sugar Loaf mountain. It is not recommended to use buses at night due to the level of crime. Take a taxi it is safer.

Taxis are yellow with a blue stripe painted on the sides and are of average expense compared to the rest of the world. Ensure the driver has activated the meter or you may be overcharged. It is recommended to travel by taxi at night as it is safer. There are blue, green, and white taxis but these are more expensive.

Car rental is not recommended for driving in central Rio as the traffic is heavy with frequent traffic jams. Although a car is the best mode of transport to reach the distant beaches and attractions outside of Rio.


Portuguese is the official language. English is spoken by people in the tourism business. Many staff at hotels, shops, restaurants and museums will speak English.

Rio Weather

Rio is a great destination at any time of the year although the best times to explore Rio de Janeiro is during the months of September and October. The weather is warm (but not hot) and the humidity is low.

Rio Attractions

Christ the Redeemer Rio Brazil is the famous Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ, standing 39 m (130 ft) tall and 30 m (98 ft) wide, opened on October 12, 1931. The statue is located at the peak of the Corcovado mountain (700 m or 2,300 ft) in the Tijuca Forest National Park with spectacular views overlooking the beautiful city of Rio. Take a train or bus to Cosme Velho station to catch the cog train journey that takes you through the dense Atlantic rain forest of Tijuca to the statue of Christ the Redeemer. From the train station climb 220 steps to the statue or take the panoramic elevators and escalators. [Bus 583 and 584 travel from Copacabana and Ipanema to Corcovado railway station. Cog train operates daily from 8.30am to 7.00pm, leaving every half hour]

Tijuca Rain Forest Tour - Take a morning or afternoon tour from Rio to the Tijuca Rain Forest, in an open jeep. The Tijuca Forest was reforested in the middle of the 19th Century planting 100 thousand seedlings over a 13 year period with native species of the Atlantic Forest ecosystem. The jeep tour includes an easy one-hour eco hike, giving you the chance to spot monkeys, birds, butterflies and tropical flora. You'll be amazed by the remarkable contrast of a tropical rain forest right in the middle of a big city. You'll have many spectacular photo opportunities on this rain forest jeep tour from Rio de Janeiro. On your tour you'll pass the Cachoeira dos Macacos (monkey's waterfall), take photos at Vista Chinesa (Chinese view), hear about the important reforestation program and learn the importance of the Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest) ecosystem. The tour also takes you past the Mesa do Imperador (Emperor's table), Cascatinha (Taunay's waterfall) and Capela Mayrink (Mayrink Chapel).

Sugarloaf Mountain Rio Brazil Travel (Po de Acar) is the famous peak located on a peninsula at the mouth of Guanabara Bay (Rio Harbour) giving panoramic views of one of the world's most beautiful cities. The mountain rises 396 m (1,299 ft) above the harbor and is accessed by a breathtaking ride in a cable car from the base of the Babilnia mountain, to the Urca mountain (220m) and then to the Sugarloaf mountain for splendid views of Copacabana Beach, the Santa Cruz fortress and the beaches of Niteroi. There are three cable car stations, Praia Vermelha, Morro da Urca and Po de Aucar which are joined by four cable cars. This attraction is very popular with visitors so get there early to avoid the queues. Buses 511, 512, 591 and 592 and the subway buses bring you to the base station.

Guanabara Bay Cruise - Spend half a day sailing on Guanabara Bay, for the most beautiful views of Rio de Janeiro. Appreciate Rio from the sea, and get a different perspective of the famous sites such as Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach and the statue of Christ Redeemer. Sail along the beaches at Niteroi. Don't forget to bring your swimsuit and towel as there will be a stop for swimming and relaxing in the sun. Additional sites include neighborhoods of Botafogo, Flamengo and Urca, Fort Sao Joao, Flagstone Island, Santa Cruz Fortress and the Rio- Niteroi Bridge. An optional buffet seafood lunch is also available on your return, in a local Rio restaurant. Return transport back to your Rio hotel is included.

City of Samba Rio Brazil Travel , located near the town hall in Gamboa, is a tourist attraction and center for art, music and dance in Brazil. It was opened in September 2004 with many dance table galleries and samba dance shows. The area gives the best samba schools excellent conditions to prepare for the big dance competition in March. The public can follow the groups building wagons, samba dance costume design and join in rehearsals with the rest of the Brazilians. Samba City opens up daily for tourists (except tuesdays) where guides will take you around to see how the costumes, wagons and instruments under construction. Every thursday night Cidade do Samba offers a blazing carnaval show with food and drinks, dancing and samba. No visit to Rio de Janeiro is complete without experiencing the exciting music, exotic costumes and rhythmic dance of the samba, a fusion of Portuguese, native and African influences. Be entertained by brilliantly costumed dancers and musicians, with the option to enjoy a delicious Brazilian buffet dinner.

Petropolis Day Tour - Escape the crowds of Rio de Janiero at Petropolis, the beautiful mountain retreat of Brazil's only two emperors. After the 60km drive from Rio de Janeiro you will arrive in Petropolis to explore the Imperial Museum, housing tapestries, antique furniture and jewels including the 1.7kg imperial crown with over 600 diamonds and 77 pearls. View the gothic architecture of Catedral Sao Pedro de Alcantara, the burial place of Brazil's last imperial family. Visit the tombstone of Brazil's last emperor, Dom Pedro II and his wife and daughter. Marvel at the stunning glass Crystal Palace built by the French in 1879.

Bike Tour of Rio is popular with visitors. Ride by some of Rio's most famous beaches including Arpoador Beach, Ipanema Beach and Leblon Beach. Continue through Ala garden canal to reach the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. Arriving at Jardim Botanico do Rio de Janeiro you will stop for an optional one-hour walking visit through the sculptured gardens. Returning to Arpoador you will ride by Catacumba Park and the other side of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. Regular stops are made during the tour for photographs and commentary from your guide. Helmets and bikes are provided.

Rio de Janeiro Helicopter Tour gives visitors an aerial perspective of this beautiful city nestled against the backdrop of granite mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. View the Maracana Stadium, the golden beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, the Christ the Redeemer Statue crowning Corcovado Mountain, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the residential neighborhood fringing Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. While enjoying the incredible views, you'll take some spectacular photos of your visit to Rio.

Contemporary Art Museum Rio Brazil is located across the bay in the city of Niteroi. The museum was designed by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and is remarkable as it looks like a flying saucer perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.

Sepetiba Bay Tour & Cruise is a day trip from Rio de Janeiro. Travel from Rio de Janeiro to Itacuruca, where you'll board a schooner to cruise the wildlife-filled waters of Sepetiba Bay. Your cruise on Sepetiba Bay takes you through an area that's rich in natural beauty, and it is common to spot dolphins, giant kingfishers, parrots, turtles and stingrays. After stopping for a swim, continue to a tropical island where a delicious buffet lunch will be served. After lunch, you will have time to explore the island before returning, via Itacuruca, to Rio.

Angra dos Reis Tour & Cruise - Travel out of Rio for the day passing mountainous terrain covered in lush Atlantic rainforest and sandy beaches with crystal clear water to the town of Angra dos Reis which lies in the heart of an archipelago of more than 300 islands. Angra is a colonial town with numerous old buildings from the 1500's. The largest island is Ilha Grande, a pretty island and former penal colony with beautiful beaches and good hiking. A schooner waits at the dock to take you on a 5-hour cruise of the many islands, stopping for a swim in the enticing clear waters. A delicious lunch of hot and cold self-service buffet will be served onboard before returning to the pier for your transfer back to your hotel.

Rio Beaches

Harbour Beaches include Ramos, Flamengo, Botafogo, Urca, Vermelha. These beaches have calm water but are not as popular as the oceanic beaches.

Oceanic beaches from Sugar Loaf heading South West are Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Ipanema, Leblon, So Conrado, Barra da Tijuca, Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Grumari, Abric (nudist beach).

There are no topless beaches however many girls wear tiny string bikinis (nice!). Abric is the official nudist beach next to Grumari beach and is only reached by car or taxi.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Lapa is the nightlife district of downtown Rio with many bars, nightclubs and samba music bars with great atmosphere where locals go for dancing and meeting people.

New Year's Eve celebrations in Rio are Brazil's largest and one of the most popular New Year's Eve celebrations in the world. Huge crowds of people are attracted to the sands of Copacabana beach to view the spectacular fireworks display, music shows and welcome the new year.

RIo Shopping

Rio Sul is the biggest shopping mall in the South Zone, located between Copacabana and the Sugar Loaf.

Botafogo Praia Shopping mall is located in the Botafogo beach area facing the Sugar Loaf and Guanabara Bay near Rio Sul shopping centre.

Barra Shopping mall is the largest mall in Rio and in Latin America.

New York City Center is a shopping complex next to Barra Shopping Mall and has movie theaters, restaurants and cafes.

Nova Amrica Outlet Shopping has good stores for typical Brazilian clothing. Take the metro to Del Castilho subway station (Line 2).

RIo Crime & Safety

Rio is a great place for a holiday but be aware that Rio has a high crime rate and tourists are considered easy targets. The Downtown area is a relatively safe place during the day, however after dark all the people who work there go home leaving undesirable types. Avoid the downtown area, especially Saara, after dark. The tourist areas in the south zone such as Ipanema and Copacabana beach are relatively safe at night as it is well lighted and policed during the night. Avenue Atlantica is known for prostitution at night. The subway is considered fairly safe even at night. There are many scammers and con-men (& con-women) in Rio. If someone appears very friendly to you and wants to show you their city they are best avoided.

Never go to a favela (slum area) by yourself, you may be robbed or kidnapped. There are guided tours available to favelas operated by tour operators who have safe conduct agreements with the local drug dealers.

As with all major cities, be aware of pickpockets and don't walk around with lots of money on your person. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery or displaying other signs of wealth (eg expensive watches, handbags, cameras etc) at any time of the day as this attracts attention from criminals.

Beyond Rio

Buzios - Take a trip from Rio de Janeiro to experience the cosmopolitan style, quaint charm and elegant architecture of Buzios. Travel across the Rio-Niteroi Bridge for a 2-hour drive to the peninsula of Buzios. In Buzios, take a walking tour through cobbled streets rich in history and charm. Once a quaint fisherman's village, Buzios has become a fashionable and sophisticated city with beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife while retaining its quaint village atmosphere.

Ignazu Falls Brazil

Iguazu Falls, also referred to as Iguassu Falls and Iguaca Falls, is located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. The falls are comprised of 275 independent falls over 1.67 miles (2.7 km). At one spot, visitors can be surrounded by 260 degrees of waterfalls. Although the highest part of the falls measures 269 feet (82 m), the majority of the falls are around 210 feet (64 m). The most impressive falls is the U-shaped Garganta del Diablo, "Devil's Throat," which measures 269 feet (82 m) high, 492.1 feet (150 m) wide and 2,296 feet (700 m) long.