Rio de Janeiro. Just the name gives travelers a high and is one of the dream destinations of most people. If you plan to go there during big events like Carnival or the upcoming 2016 Olympics, this is NOT a cheap place to go to, and let me break down a list of costs for you & things to do.
Getting there: Most American legacy carriers (American Airways, United, Delta) fly to Rio from various locations in the US. Expect airfare to be around $1,000+ roundtrip for big events and summer. I went to see the World Cup so I paid approximately $1,300+ for a roundtrip flight on Economy Comfort on GOL (a Delta partner) from Miami, Florida.
What to expect: Brazil’s currency is called the Reais. It’s around 1 BRL to 0.5 USD.
Bring a credit card with a chip! Pretty much every store in Rio de Janeiro accepts credit cards. Try not to withdraw money from ATMs in the airport – loads of people have mentioned that there is a scam involving these said ATMs (where they make copies of your card’s magnetic strip so other people can withdraw your money). In my case, I exchanged money in the US before I came to Rio.
It’s also best if you do the city tour by yourself. There is a subway throughout the city, but not all the tourist spots are covered. Therefore, you need to learn how to hail the buses in Rio (takes a bit of practice and patience but you’ll get there), or do a lot of walking, or taking a taxi. Taxis are actually cheaper compared to other countries, but it all depends on your budget.
Brazil is also in the southern hemisphere so their summer is from December – February and winter is from June – August. Rio’s winter is not as cold if you come from a country with four seasons – it’s just like spring in America.
The Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish! Try to learn a few words before you go although if you know even a bit of Spanish, you’ll get on in Rio just fine.
Where to stay: We stayed at an AirBnB rental in the Santa Teresa neighborhood and it was a very good choice. It is on top of a hill so be prepared to go up a lot of stairs or shell a bit more for taxis. It’s very quiet but can be very lively in the evening. The most popular place to stay is in Copacabana Beach – plenty of hostels around. During high season like Brazil summer, Carnival or the 2016 Olympics, budget around $100 per night for an AirBnB apartment. Book in advance too – the closer the date, the more expensive prices get. (Sign up here for a $25 free credit)
Things to Do: Plenty!
1) Sugarloaf Mountain – Take a cable car ride up the top of the mountain with incredible views of the city. Cost per person: 62 BRL ($31)
2) Christ the Redeemer- Two ways to go up the Christ: via private vans or the Trem de Corcovado (Corcovado tram). Book tickets online otherwise you’d end up queueing for hours at a time or paying more for the private vans that go up to the Christ statue. (http://www.corcovado.com.br/ingles/index.html). Cost per person: 50 BRL ($25)
3) Beaches, Beaches, Beaches – Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon. One of the more livelier places to go to. It’s actually quite nice to just walk around the sand or rent one of the lounge chairs & umbrellas and people watch. If you forgot something, you can buy it from one of the beach vendors – and their prices are quite reasonable too. Cost: Free.
4) Lapa – Where the nightlife is! Multiple bars cater to what you feel like listening to for the evening. You want samba? You’ve got it. Electro? Reggae? They have it too.
5) Centro – You can take a free walking tour around the city (just leave a tip to your guide). It’s a nice way to get to know the history of the city and get your bearings around the neighborhoods.
Food – Eat the famous Pao de Quiejo (Cheese bread) & the Feijoada. There’s plenty of cheap food stalls to eat from if you’re on a budget (around 10-15 BRL or $5-7.50 per person per meal). You can opt to eat at a churrascaria or sit down restaurants but it can get pricey!