What to write about Rio when it has been covered so many times before? Looking back at our stay in this amazing city, we summarised five pieces of advice that you don’t necessarily hear often but will make a difference to how you plan your stay and how you experience the city.
Don’t be naive but don’t be paranoid either. Questions about safety and Rio go hand in hand and it usually triggers two types of reactions, neither of which are useful: some will almost tell you that you will get mugged or killed while still on the plane when others will paint an idyllic picture of perfect safety because “nothing happened to them”.
For a more balanced point of view, check out our detailed post on how to stay safe in Rio.
The key takeaway is that crime and violence are real issues in Rio and you should absolutely consider that when picking the location of your hotel or decide what you do there. However, you should absolutely visit Rio! With its incredible natural site, vibrant atmosphere and world-renown wonders, we had some of our best time in Brazil there and it is easy to stay safe with basic knowledge and common sense.
Pick your hotel carefully. We recommend to stay in Zona Sul, the south area of the city comprised of Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Santa Teresa is a neighbourhood that comes back regularly but means a 30min cab ride to the beach and not safe to walk through at night so we favoured neighbourhoods like Leblon and Ipanema. We stayed in both neighbourhoods and had a preference for Ipanema but you can’t really go wrong with any of the 3 other areas:
- Botafogo is more on the hostel/backpacker side of the spectrum.
- Copacabana needs no introduction (but can be a bit overrun with tourists).
- Leblon is a bit further away but has some nice AirBnB options and a beautiful beach.
Also, Rio is relatively expensive so if a nice hotel looks too good to be true then it probably is (talking about experience as we had to move hotels half-way through our stay).
Take your time to peruse Ipanema in the evening. The walkability, the natural beauty of the beach and the number of great addresses for any time of the day makes Ipanema shine. Typically, after a slow morning and an active afternoon of visits, we would hit the beach around 5pm to read, swim and sink in the sunshine and atmosphere, enjoy the sunset and get ready to go out for 9pm. Walking through the warmth of the Ipanema evenings and stopping by at one of the neighbourhoods’ terrace for hours was simply delightful.
Stay tuned for addresses; Froglola is polishing up a post on that topic.
Brave the crowd on most famous beaches . We might all want to feel like the cool kids going to secret places. Unfortunately, when it comes to beaches in Rio the most popular are also the most beautiful ones. Sure you have a few other nice spots (Praia Vermelha, Praia do Diablo etc.) but there is a reason why everyone floods to the shore of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.
This “shared” experience of the seaside can also be great: joyful cacophony, countless bouncing foot balls in the sunlight and crowd applauding magnificent sunsets are only some aspects of the constant animation.
Don’t force yourself to check every recommendation you find online or on your guide. That’s quite a statement for the two enthusiastic frogs that we are, so here are our 5 must-must-do in Rio:
- Corcovado with Rio’s most famous landmark, Christ The Redeemer and a breathtaking view at the top.
- Sugarloaf Mountain. We discovered only afterwards that a 40min trail starting from the west side of Praia Vermelha takes you half-way up and makes for a more active ascension. At the end of the short trail, you will reach the top with
- Jardim Botanico and Parque Lage for their respective lush greenery and views. Ok, they make two but they are so close to each other (10min taxi ride) that it’s nearly not cheating!
- The beaches of Zona Sul, particularly between Posto 9 and 10.
- Centro and Santa Teresa for their architectural gems (it will be part of our next visit!).
Hours at the beach to appreciate the different lights throughout the day, sipping coffee or fresh juices in one of the lively streets, or dancing on live music late at night are great ways to understand and enjoy the city even more.