Ultimate guide to Rio de Janeiro

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18 interesting facts about Rio de Janeiro

1- RIO DE JANEIRO WAS NAMED FOR A RIVER THAT DIDN’T EXIST 

Rio de Janeiro means “January River”. The fun fact is that it was named by mistake.  The explorer Gaspar de Lemos set sail from Portugal in 1501 and arrived at a huge bay in Brazil the following January. Thinking the bay was the mouth of a river, he named it after the month.

2- RIO DE JANEIRO WAS ONCE THE CAPITAL OF BRAZIL

Some mistakenly think Rio is Brazil’s capital, but that honor actually belongs to Brasilia. Yes, Brasilia, not Sao Paolo either 🙂

3- RIO DE JANEIRO WAS THE ONLY EUROPEAN CAPITAL OUTSIDE EUROPE

4- PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN RIO DE JANEIRO ARE CALLED CARIOCAS

If you visit Rio, you will probably see and hear this word pretty much everywhere. The meaning of the word carioca is “homem branco” (white man). The word carioca was originally from the indigenous language Tupi-guarani, and this is what they called the Europeans who arrived in Brazil and started to build the city.

5- RIO DE JANEIRO HAS THE LARGEST URBAN FOREST IN THE WORLD

Besides being a very large city, Rio can also feel like a small town, especially when you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a forest, under a waterfall, or playing with monkeys.  Floresta da Tijuca is the largest urban forest in the world at 33 square kilometers. It has more than 1,600 plant species and more than 350 animal species. In the Park da Floresta da Tijuca, you can visit many sites, including Botanical Gardens, Parque Lage, Corcovado (Statue of Christ), Vista Chinesa, and more.

6- THERE ARE MORE THAN 100 ISLANDS ON THE CITY’S COASTLINE

7 – CHRIST THE REDEEMER IS 1 OF THE NEW 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD

With arms wide open, Christ oversees and blesses the city of Rio. The incredible statue was built in 1931 in celebration of Rio’s 100th anniversary, on top of the Morro do Corcovado. It is 30 meters high, and it is the largest Art Deco statue in the planet.

8 – CHRIST THE REDEEMER GETS STRUCK BY LIGHTNING EVERY YEAR

The statue is also electric – Owing to its lofty location, Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue is frequently struck by lightning. The explanation for the frequency of lightning in the city is the combination of mountains and a great concentration of water which attracts the electric discharges. The monument is struck by, on average, two to four rays per year, according to Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisas Espaciais (The Brazilian Institute of Space Research).

9 – WHY THE NAME SUGARLOAF

One of the postcards of the city of Rio, the Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf cable car) was the first cable car in Brazil and the third in the world. According to the historian Vieira Fazenda, the name was given at the height of the cultivation of sugar cane in Brazil, when the sugar blocks had a curious conical shape, similar to the mountains.

10 – RIO HAS MORE THAN 1,000 FAVELAS (SLUMS)

Almost a quarter of the population of Rio de Janeiro live in favelas. The poorest residents live in favelas for more affordable housing. Favelas are where, years ago, the African slaves created the music that today is known worldwide as samba. The favelas have a reputation for being crime-ridden and acutely dangerous places flagged as no-go areas, infamous as the hangouts for criminals and the home of drug dealers.

A fun fact about the Rio de Janeiro favelas is that a lot of tourists wish to visit them. You can find many options to tour favelas. Favela tours are a safe and interesting way to see how the Comunidades (communities) live. You’ll have the opportunity to see some of the activities for children (such as dance, music school, and sports, etc.), and also get to meet the friendly people who live there.

11- RIO DE JANEIRO IS HOME TO THE LARGEST PARTY IN THE PLANET: CARNAVAL

The city of Rio de Janeiro attracts more than 3 million international tourists every year to celebrate Carnaval

The Carnaval in Brazil is essentially a grand Samba performance for which many local “Samba Schools” prepare all year long. The famous Carnaval parade in the city of Rio De Janeiro and is a competition among the various Samba Schools. The best Samba Schools compete against each other for pride, as well as for a multi-million dollar reward.  Every year, each Samba School creates a theme, new music, costumes, floats, and then parades 5,000 members down the length of the sambadromo for 90 minutes of coordinated dancing, singing, drumming, and passion.

But it is important to know that the Carnaval in Rio is not just the Carnaval parade, the whole city is full of street parties called “Blocos“. Some are small with a few hundred people, and some are huge with more than a million people celebrating together in the street.

12 – BOTEQUIM IS THE BEST PLACE FOR HAPPY HOUR

The boteco (buteco), or botequim, is where people meet for a happy hour after work or to meet friends. It is traditionally known as a place where alcoholic beverages are sold, serving as a meeting place for “bohemians” looking for a good drink, cheap snacks, appetizers, and a relaxed conversation.

13 – SIDEWALKS HAVE QR CODES

14 – RIO DE JANEIRO HAS THE BLUEST SKY IN THE WORLD

Based on a survey done in 2006 by a TV researcher who traveled around the globe in search of the world’s “bluest” sky.

15 – STREET ART IS LEGAL IN BRAZIL

In 2014, Rio de Janeiro legalized street art on many types of city property, turning the already colorful city into an outdoor art gallery. Street artists are allowed to decorate columns, walls, and construction siding, so long as they’re not historically designated.

16 – PORTUGUESE IS THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

It is very important to know that not many Brazilians speak English, including in Rio de Janeiro. 

17 – BIKE CITY

With over 46 miles of beautiful bicycle pathways, mostly alongside its stunning beaches, Rio is one of the best cities for people who love biking. It is often called as a “Bike City” as well.

18 – LARGEST CONCERT IN THE WORLD

In 1994, Rod Stewart performed in front of an estimated 3.5 million spectators on the Copacabana beach. This is believed to be the largest concert in the world so far.

 

Best time to visit Rio

June – September is considered the best time to visit Rio, but you can 100% enjoy it all year round. During the winter months (December to March), the temperature is always higher than 77°F (25°C). There’s near-constant sunshine, but there is also a rainy season, which lasts from October-January. 

 

Rio bucket list: 14 incredible experiences you must have in Rio

rio de janeiro bucket list
  1. Christ de Redeemer

Situated in Tijuca National Park, on the 700 m (2,300 ft) high peak, Christ the Redeemer provides the amazing panoramic views. A trip to the top is also a little adventure: getting there by train through the tropical forest is the favorite way to go.

Christ de Redeemer rio de janeiro what to see

2. Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf mountain)

pao de acucar cable car rio de janeiro brazil

Two cable cars connect to the summit, 395m above Rio. The first cable car ascends 215m to Morro da Urca. From here, you can see Baía de Guanabara (Guanabara Bay). The second cable car goes up to Pão de Açúcar.

A visit to Pão de Açúcar is a must, but be prepared for heavy crowds. If possible, go first thing in the morning or at sunset. The two-stage cable cars depart every 20 minutes.

Those who’d rather take the long way to the top should sign up with one of the granite-hugging climbing tours offered by various outfits in Rio. Morro da Urca is much easier to climb, and you can do it on your own. The short but steep path takes about 30 minutes to climb. You’ll find the unmarked trail along the Pista Cláudio Coutinho.

3. Tijuca National Park – Largest park in Rio / Pedra Bonita

Tijuca National Park - Largest park in Rio / Pedra Bonita

4. Ipanema Beach

5. Escadaria Selaron

6. Pedra da Gávea

2,769 ft (844 m) high, and to reach the summit, hikers must venture on a 2.5-3-hour challenging hike. Effort is rewarded with panoramic views of Rio de Janeiro—Christ The Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, the city, and Dois Irmãos Hill.

7. Sambodromo

sambodromo rio de janeiro trip

8. Jardim Botanico / Parque Lage

jardim botanico

9. Morro de Urca hike

Morro de Urca hike

10. Praia Vermelha (red beach)

Praia Vermelha (red beach)

11. Praia de Joatinga

Praia de Joatinga
Praia de Joatinga visit rio de janeiro beach

12. Mirante Dona Marta

13. Morro Dois Irmaos

Morro Dois Irmaos rio de janeiro
morro dois irmaos rio
Source

14. Hanggliding / Paragliding tour

rio paragliding allthestufficarebout

This page gives plenty of great tips

Great article with step by step tips

101 awesome places to visit in Brazil

 

Rio on a budget: 4 free and cheap things to do in Rio

  1. Take a pic on the famous stairs
  2. Swim and relax on the beautiful beaches
  3. Go for a hike and take pictures on the breathtaking viewpoints
  4. Save on flights by getting a gol

If you’re booking a flight two months in advance from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus (the easiest way to reach the Amazon), you can find airfare for as low as 338 BRL ($90 USD). Rio to Salvador is about 319 BRL ($85 USD), while flights between Brasilia and Sao Paulo are as little as 131 BRL ($35 USD).

An Airpass is a practical option if you’re going to take a lot of flights within 30 days. With Gol you can get a pass with four or five domestic flights in its network for prices starting at 1,894 BRL ($505 USD), and each additional flight is 450 BRL ($120 USD). Azul offers something similar with four flights within three weeks for 1,875 BRL ($500 USD). If you choose this option, you will spend less than 60 BRL ($20 USD) per day in transportation. Brol.com can help you find the right pass. However, you have to book in advance, so this doesn’t allow for flexible travel.

 

Solo female travel: all you need to know before your trip / The do’s and don’ts of visiting Rio / Things you should know about Rio before you go

Safety tips, more safety tips, travel scams

How to avoid wasting 5h to see Christ Redeemer

If you plan to visit Brazilian jungle- get vaccinated.

Check if you need a visa.

Remember about the voltages and adapters.

Is it safe to visit Copacabana beach

copacabana beach rio de janeiro visit
copacabana beach rio de janeiro visit

 

Instagrammable spots in Rio / the best Rio instagram spots

All the spots listed above will be great for pictures but don’t forget Pedra de Telegrafo:

Pedra de Telegrafo

 

What to eat in Rio

Best food recommendations – popular Brazilian dishes you must try (acai, picancha, moqueca and much more)

 

Best rooftop bars in Rio

List of 12 rooftop bars in Rio

 

Best clubs in Rio

Rio is known as a one of the best cities for nightlife in the world. The most popular area for nightlife is Lapa, with some of the best nightclubs in the world. There are lots of bars, but the party often spills onto the street, where you could even pick up a free salsa lesson! If you’re looking for something a little quieter, check out the bars near Ipanema Beach.

 

Rio day trips

All the stops listen in this post are marked here

brazil roadtrip
rio brazil roadtrip map
rio brazil roadtrip map

Near Rio

Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande – 1h20min ferry ride from Rio (must!)

Cataguás Island, Rio de Janeiro

Prainhas do Pontal do Atalaia

Farol Beach

Domingos Martins, Espírito Santo

Serra da Canastra National Park, Minas Gerais

Historic Center of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais

Fernando de Noronha

Baia do Sancho beach

baia do Sancho beach

Parque Nacional do Iguacu

Parque Nacional Iguazú

Brazil’s second-oldest national park, created in 1939, protects one of South America’s most magical and majestic sights, Iguaçu Falls, part of the largest waterfall system in the world. The 1200m-long Trilha das Cataratas (‘Waterfall Trail’) is one of Brazil’s best places to visit.

Purchase your ticket in advance on the website and pick it up in the preferential line at the ticket windows, or buy from on-site machines (if you have a chip-in-pin card). Once ticketed, you will be directed to board a free double-decker bus, which departs every 10 minutes.

Remember, it’s always wet at the falls, and water attracts sunlight. Pack rain gear and sunblock. Bug repellent is a must on the walking trails. Also note that lighting for photography is best in the morning on the Brazilian side.

Bonito

Sao Paolo

Not only is Sao Paulo the largest city in Brazil, but it is also one of the largest in the world according to population. Located in southeastern Brazil, Sao Paulo is known for its skyscrapers, gastronomy and robust culture scene. Home to many ethnic groups from all over the globe including the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.

Dividing the city between its old and new districts, Paulista Avenue is the city’s busiest strip, brimming in businesses, shopping malls, art galleries, theaters, restaurants and coffee shops. Although Sao Paulo is known for its concrete jungle, it is also home to a large number of public parks and even portions of the Atlantic rainforest.

Spots to see around:

Serra Verde Express from Paranagua to Curitiba

serra verde express what to see in brazil
serra verde express what to see in brazil

Serra do Rio do Rastro Road

Parque Unipraias Camboriu (cable car)

Parque Unipraias Camboriu

Parque Ibirapuera (park)

Jardim Botânico de Curitiba (garden)

Jardim Botânico de Curitiba garden near sao paolo

Florianopolis

florianopolis what to see in brazil

The capital of Santa Catarina state, Florianopolis lies in the south of Brazil, with half of the city set on the mainland and the other on a beautiful island. Due to its scenic setting, it is a very popular tourist destination and is widely considered one of the best places to live in the country.

An important economic, cultural, and political centre, Florianopolis is a modern city with lots of large shopping malls and chic restaurants, as well as lively bars and nightclubs. Despite this, it is a lovely laidback place, and each of its neighbourhoods has its own distinct identity.

The main attraction, however, is the wealth of fabulous beaches, which total around 60. While relaxing in the gorgeous scenery is divine, Florianopolis also has stunning dunes, sparkling waterfalls, and forested mountains – as well as a large lagoon for visitors to explore. Hiking and cycling around the ‘Magic Island’ (which it is also known as) are popular activities, as are paragliding and watersports.

Aparados da Serra National Park

Aparados da Serra National Park

Sao Luis area

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

This is a true natural wonder, worth seeing and having a refreshing dip in. Known as the desert lagoons found among the sandy dunes, these natural wonders attract visitors from July to September. A sandy scenery is not a desert, though. But it definitely looks like one, therefore, the lagoons add up to the uniqueness of the park. Water is crystal clear, warm and perfect for swimming.

Classic Tour, Off the beaten path tour

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
lencois maranhenses

Praia do Futuro

Recife

Nicknamed the “Venice of Brazil” because of its numerous waterways and bridges, Recife is the capital of the Pernambuco state and one of the largest and most important cities on Brazil’s northeastern coast. Situated amid tropical forests with many islands and rivers, Recife is an interesting place to visit because of its historic old town, beaches and vibrant culture.

Patacho Beach, Alagoas

Porto de Galinhas, Pernambuco

Pantanal

pantanal what to see in brazil

Covering a vast swathe of western Brazil, as well as parts of Paraguay and Bolivia, the Pantanal is the world’s largest and most diverse tropical wetland area. Due to its stunning scenery and incredible wildlife, the region is increasingly popular to visit, although its remote and watery nature does pose a few challenges.

During the rainy season, around 80 percent of the floodplains are submerged, so the only way to get around is by plane or boat. It is worth it, however; the endless marshes and grasslands are home to an astounding array of fauna and flora.

Besides exploring the scenic landscapes ranging from swamps and savanna to lakes, forests, and wetlands, visitors are also sure to spot many caiman and capybara. The highlight of any trip is spotting the South American jaguar; the Pantanal is the best place on the continent to catch a glimpse of the elusive creature.

Salvador area

Morro de São Paulo, Bahia

It’s romantic and beautiful, but Morro de São Paulo is also known for being a top party place in Brazil.

Ilha dos Frades

Chapada Diamantina National Park

Created in 1985 to protect, preserve, and promote its spectacular scenery and rich ecosystems, Chapada Diamantina National Park lies in the northeast of Brazil in the centre of the state of Bahia. Popular among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the park encompasses everything from dramatic mountain ranges and sweeping valleys to teeming rivers and towering waterfalls.

Chapada Diamantina National Park

Jalapão State Park

jalapao state park

 

 

What to pack and what to wear in Rio

  • Itinerary (this guide may help you pick what to see),
  • travel insurance,
  • passport,
  • currency (brazilian real, visa and mastercard to be sure you can use atm when needed). Before you insert your card, check the back of your card to see if the networks the machine accepts (such as Cirrus) are the same as the ones on your card. If there is no match, don’t insert your card.
  • translator/ dictionary as most people don’t speak english. Before your trip, you should memorize some common phrases like “obrigado,” which means “thank you” and “com licença,” which means “excuse me.”

For the beach: tiny tiny thong bikini, flipflops, towel, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses

For hikes: insect repellent, water, sunglasses, hiking shoes and sunscreen

Useful posts:

2 weeks itinerary in Brazil and how to stay safe


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