Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide

After a brief overnight layover in Florianopolis (a cute Brazilian beach town that locals call “Floripa”) we eventually made our way to Rio, the last stop on our South America tour. We only had 3 days to see what this huge city had to offer, and it was not quite enough time. But we certainly packed as much as we could into our time there.

Copacabana Beach, Rio
Copacabana Beach, Rio

If staying near the beaches, you’ll likely be choosing between Copacabana and Ipanema. We stayed on Copacabana at Miramar Hotel by Windsor which we chose for its 5 star amenities and great location.

Views from Hotel Miramar, Copacabana
Views from Hotel Miramar, Copacabana

If you’re looking for a bit quieter location, Ipanema may be for you. Wherever you stay, it’s worth taking a walk where the beaches meet, a spot called Stone Arpoador where you can climb up for great views. We happened to be looking out over a surfing lesson.

Ipanema Beach - Stone Arpoador
Ipanema Beach – Stone Arpoador is where the beach meets Copacabana

Or just go for a stroll along the beaches.

Ipanema beach walk
Ipanema beach walk

What to Do

Sugarloaf Mountain – We unfortunately didn’t make it here, but you can take the cable car to the top for great views. If you do make it here, go early as lines can be very long!

Christ the Redeemer (Rio)
Christ the Redeemer (Rio)

Christ the Redeemer –  This famous statue towers over the city and is a must-see, but getting there can be complicated. There is a train or a van that will take you to the top. The train doesn’t run nearly as often so if you arrive and there is a long wait time until the next one, you can likely find a rep for Corcovado car service waiting near the train station entrance. They will take you to the nearby ticket window to purchase a ticket for the van service (35 R and cash only). We were told to arrive early (8am) to beat the crowds but due to a change in plans we arrived after 9. The next train was not until after 11 so we took the van option. The van however only takes you up to the ticket booth where you will take ANOTHER van (whereas the train takes you straight to the top). In reality, if you don’t take the train, you can just get a taxi or Uber to the main ticket booth.

Rio Jardim Botanico
Walking through Rio Jardim Botanico
Rio Jardim Botanico
The gate to the old Rio Jardim Botanico

Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) – This giant botanic garden was founded in 1808, so in addition to tons of plant species (as well as some monkeys) it also has cool historical structures. It’s a great stop for anyone interested in either nature or history, or if you just want to get out of the hustle of the busy city. (Don’t forget to wear bug spray!)

Hang Gliding – If you have the budget, this is by far one of the coolest things you can do in Rio.

Where to Eat

Parque Lage Cafe
Parque Lage Cafe – the restaurant of Instagram fame

Parque Lage – Plage Cafe – The park itself is worth a stroll, but inside you’ll find an old mansion converted into a design school. The café inside is open to the public and is the subject of a very Insta-worthy meal.

Le Blé Noir – delicious savory crepes with influence from Brittany, France. A great, romantic ambiance, perfect for a couple. It gets crowded for dinner so girl on the early side (by Brazilian standards) around 8pm.

View of Rio from Christ Redeemer
View of Rio from Christ Redeemer

Staying safe

We read to “not look like a tourist” but our light skin and preppy clothes pretty much prevented us from blending in. But other than that we took pretty much every other precaution:

  • Don’t wear any jewelry
  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night
  • Only bring as much money as you’re willing to lose. (If we were going to somewhere we feared was cash only we split it up between us and put it in different pockets.)
  • If someone does approach you, don’t resist. (this did not happen to us)
Copacabana Sunset
Copacabana Sunset | Rio de Janeiro

For more information and for our geo-travel guide, check out our Brazil page.

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