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City Guide: Rio de Janeiro - BowTiedGlobe
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Welcome to Rio! This is a guest post by BowTiedGlobe, we haven’t been to Rio in quite some time so we’ll only add some older cultural observations at the end that are still true today. Primarily related to how the social scene operates. Until then BowTiedGlobe is here with the Overview.
Pros of Rio de Janeiro: 1) Amazing nature and views; 2) Fantastic beaches; 3) Insane nightlife; 4) A real metropolis with endless things to see and do
Cons of Rio de Janeiro: 1) Safety; 2) Safety (sadly it must be reiterated); 3) Prices - it is the most expensive city in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro in a Nutshell
Getting straight to the point: You are going to Rio for the best urban beach area in the world. Zona Sul.
Here, you have all you could ask for. The best infrastructure, logistics and top tier people after São Paulo. But unlike São Paulo, looking inwards, you have amazing waterfalls, climbing routes, hiking trails and sightseeing spots.
Looking outwards, you have DOZENS of great beaches just in the city of Rio and surroundings. A perfect place to do some surfing, windsurfing, parasailing, or paragliding.
And in the city itself, Rio offers all that you’d want in a Latin American city. A variety of nightlife, museums, historical architecture, landmarks, parks, plenty of dining options, etc.
A beachside Tier A Latam city. It truly is a city with beach culture. People take great care of their bodies. Along with Balneário Camboriú, Rio has the best bodies I’ve seen in Brazil. It is also normal to walk around in flip flops, beach shorts or tank-tops. You could have just come over from the beach, after all. Great for laying low and dressing down.
Unlike the South, Northeast or the North, which have predominant ethnic groups, as the symbol of Brazil, Rio has a truly diverse population, with people from all ethnicities. As its cultural capital, whatever you think about when you think about Brazil, you can find here. Samba, Funk, Bossa Nova, etc.
Along with São Paulo, here is where you will find the most shows, concerts, events and the like, be them national or international.
Lastly... there is just this chaotic energy to it.
Whenever I’m in Rio, things are just *happening* around you all the time.
It’s hard to explain, but there’s a vibe to the city that anything can come up at any time. Good or bad, random stuff pop up.
If you don’t handle uncertainty well, I would not go to Rio. If you enjoy spontaneity and thrive in it, it is a real good place.
A note on Rio subdivisions
The city of Rio is divided into Zones. You’ll be hearing the terms often, so it’s good to get a mental map:
Zona Oeste/West Zone (Blue and North of it): One of Rio’s safer areas and the source of morality in this degen den. Here, you will find the USA in Brazil: Car-centric, gated-community style urbanism.
Zona Sul/South Zone (Purple + Orange + Red): If you can afford it, this is the place to be. Where the old-rich families in Rio dwell. 600.000 people live here, the most expensive zone in Rio. Also one of the safest. Beach, nature, tourist attractions, metro, walkability. You have it all here.
Centro/Center (Green): Where so much of Rio’s imperial historic buildings can be found. Also has the only trams (VLT) in Rio. No reason to stay here. It is not safe. Come during the day for the tourism or maybe for the nightlife, but don’t stay here.
Zona Norte/North Zone (everything North and West of green):
With the exception of Ilha do Governador, it is violent. Don’t stay here. Ditto for the neighboring towns except Niterói: Hell. Avoid.
Now, to the recommendations.
Purple Zone: Leblon, Ipanema, Baixo Gávea
This is the core of Zona Sul. Beach, nature, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon right by, sights of the Christ and the Sugarloaf, and top tier nightlife.
Restaurants, gyms, malls, markets, all you need for your daily life can be found less than 15 minutes away while walking.
The best urban beach area in the Country.
Ipanema and Leblon are the best neighborhoods, undisputed. Great beach, great logistics, safe, great overall. Alas, the most expensive m2 in Brazil.
For nightlife, the whole area is nice and you can just walk around and explore it.
Belmonte in Leblon is usually packed
Jobi and Boa Praça are other options to start with
Esch Café is a fine, real fine cigar bar
Amazônia Soul has delicious authentic açaí
There are many beach kiosks too
Overall, if money is not a consideration: Stay in Ipanema or Leblon. The best neighborhoods, period.
If you want something a bit cheaper that is still great, safe and close to this elite area, you could stay in Baixo Gávea. However, it has no metro station,
so the logistics aren’t as good. The area around Praça Santos Dumont has many restaurants and bars and is the main nightlife spot.
Orange Zone: Copacabana
Copacabana shares many of the aspects of Ipanema and Leblon. Walkable, beach, metro, nightlife, etc. But unlike the other two, this one is a tourist trap.
Copacabana is way too famous and that attracts the wrong crowds. You have a lot more arrastões here (groups of criminals swarming the beach and stealing phones en-masse), way more “gringo pricing”, prostitutes, etc.
I’m not the biggest fan of Copa, but if you want to go out there at night, head to the Siqueira Campos or Cardeal Arcoverde metro stations and walk in the direction of the beach. Plenty of bars and restaurants.
Overall: Pricey, but less safe than Ipanema-Leblon, touristy af and the vibe is just off. A place you should visit, but ideally stay elsewhere. If you’re staying in Copa, try to pick a place on either end of it: Either as close to Ipanema as possible (aka Copanema) or Leme.
Red Zone: Botafogo and Flamengo
Botafogo and Flamengo are on the cheaper end in Zona Sul. There is beach, but it isn’t batheable (it’s water from the bay). Has metro, strong logistics and good nightlife.
Botafogo is hip, alternative, cool. Cheap too. You’ll find many bars and restaurants near the metro station to the end of Voluntários da Pátria. Bambina is a classic late-night choice for pool and karaoke.
For Flamengo, the nightlife spot is Praça São Salvador. More of a hippie, leftist crowd. A place if you wanna pick up a feminist chick. Great caipirinhas, though.
This would be my choice to stay in two circumstances:
If I wanted to explore all the touristic attractions of Rio on the shortest possible time. This is the border area from the Center to Zona Sul, so it is easy to visit both.
If I was on a budget and that’s it.
Green Zone: Centro
You will be visiting this area *during the day* for the museums, cathedrals, parks, palaces and so on. You will go to some of the nightlife spots here by Uber. There is no reason for you to actually stay here.
For nightlife, you can go to:
Pedra do Sal: Weekly Sambas. Fun and light, quite lefty.
Praça XV & Arco do Teles: Fun and crowded during carnival.
Lapa: The most bohemian, but also trashy area. Nice archeducts. Lots
Blue Zone: Barra da Tijuca
Barra da Tijuca, aka Barra is where you want to be in the West Zone. The only place that holds a candle to Zona Sul. Here is where the self-made rich live.
Overall, the best beaches in Rio are in Barra, as well as the best malls.
Sadly, it is not walkable and not so well-connected to the rest of the city, with the exception of Jardim Oceânico (the easternmost tip), which has a metro station and is quite walkable.
That said, you could live in Rio and never have to leave Barra. You have everything over there.
In terms of nightlife, the top spot is undoubtedly Avenida Olegário Maciel, in Jardim Oceânico. Full of restaurants and bars. Downtown is cool too and often has festivals and live music.
I would recommend you stay in Barra if beach and surfing is your highest priority, with Jardim Oceânico being the best-connected area, and Recreio dos Bandeirantes having amazing beaches.
Political Compass Overview
Rio is not a “cheap” destination by Latin American standards.
It could be quite cheap and still safe in some areas (like Jacarepaguá), but then you’ll have to make sacrifices by being away from the beach, nightlife hotspots and most of the things you would want to do anyway.
But then again, why would you come to Rio to be away from the beach and nightlife?
So we have the Rio quadrillema: 1) Logistics; 2) Beach; 3) Safety and 4) Cheap
No matter where you stay, you can only choose 3. No way around it.
If you are staying in Ipanema, Leblon or Jardim Oceânico, it will certainly not be cheap for Latam standards.
Here’s an approximate breakdown of what you can expect to spend per month in Rio.
Airbnb Apartment in Best Areas: $1,000-3,000 USD a month
Hotel in Best Areas: $3,000+ USD a month
Grocery Store: $400-700
Eating Out / Delivery: $400-700
BJJ / MMA: $60+
Partying / Dating / Social: $600-900 USD
Cell Data: $20
Eating and drinking at restaurants in the poshier nightlife areas like Leblon, Ipanema is quite pricey. However, even in Zona Sul, if you go to the less poshy areas like Botafogo or Flamengo, the prices lower considerably.
A penny-pincher could live in Rio for less than $1000 a month, and you can also live here spending over $10,000. As Brazil’s top tourism and entertainment destination, the sky is the limit when it comes to spending.
That said, I would recommend at least $3-5k a month for a good life in the top areas.
Random Tourist Stuff
Surf at Barra da Tijuca. Recreio dos Bandeirantes is a big beach spot and way less crowded than Zona Sul.
Hit Pedra do Arpoador for amazing views of Ipanema/Leblon.
Hike up Pedra Bonita (easy) or Pedra da Gávea (more intense) for fantastic views.
Paragliding! You can jump from both Pedra Bonita and Pedra da Gávea.
Waterfalls! Cachoeira dos Primatas is quite fun. Many others around too.
Parks! Quinta da Boa Vista, Jardim Botânico, Parque Lage, Parque da Cidade, Aterro do Flamengo... lots of options.
Do a full bike lap around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.
Go for the sights. Hundreds of mirantes in Rio. Dona Marta is a famous one.
Historical center: Check out Candelária, Mosteiro de São Bento and Real Gabinete (super impressive library).
Ferry: Take the ferry over to Niterói to have a fantastic sight of Rio. Tourist traps: Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf. Every tourist goes there, yet it’s actually worth it.
Explore the other beach areas of Rio de Janeiro state: Angra dos Reis,
Búzios, Cabo Frio, Ilha Grande.
Take a bus or car to Petrópolis, the former imperial residence of the
Brazilian royal family. Nice serra views and many historical museums and palaces.
Last, but not least: If you want to have possibly the best view of Zona Sul *and* also do some safe favela tourism, take an Uber to the entrance of Favela do Vidigal (a touristic favela), and from there, ask the mototaxis to take you to the entrance of “Morro Dois Irmãos”.
Is Rio Safe?
Lol, no. Rio isn’t safe. That said:
If you stick to the better areas and follow safety precautions, you should be fine.
After all, do you think Brazil’s cultural elite – the TV stars, musicians and so on – would be living here if everyone was getting mugged and shot all day?
Pull up a Rio violence heatmap and you’ll see that violent crime is more predominant in the Center and North Zones, and skyrockets in the nearby cities like Belford Roxo or São João de Meriti.
In Zona Sul and Barra, if crime befalls upon you, it’s likely for it to be something like pickpocketing or an arrastão – when a group of criminals go through a beach like Copacabana stealing everyone’s phones and wallets.
Worst thing that happened in my vicinity during my time in Rio (staying in Zona Sul) was a friend getting pickpocketed at a party, but at that time he was quite drunk and had let his guard down.
One of my best friends, who is from Jacarepaguá, was never robbed in his life.
Here’s your guide:
Stick to living in the better areas. Zona Sul or Barra, preferably.
Stay in a place with a porteiro (doorman). Scopolamine is not a
problem here, but it’s still advised to get a porteiro.
Don’t walk around at night. Just take an Uber or the metro (if still open,
it closes at midnight). They’re cheap anyway.
Don’t flex. This is a city of extreme inequality. Why would you walk
around in a Rolex when people close to you are starving?
Pay attention to your surroundings. Rio is not a city where you
mindlessly walk around looking at your phone. You can have your earphones on, but always be alert. It’s worth it too, as there’s always stuff going on.
If you wanna go up to the favelas, don’t do so on your own. They are quite safe if you are with someone from there, but you don’t wanna get lost alone without knowing the local rules and customs.
Carry a cheap phone and a wallet with some cash on you so you can give it if someone tries to rob you. We call it “do bandido”, the bandit’s phone.
Follow these tips and you should avoid most of the trouble.
Taxis and Ubers are pretty cheap in Brazil, and from the Airport you can either order a taxi right after picking up your luggage, use 99Taxi/Uber, which are the most used app.
Both taxis and ubers in Rio cancel on you a lot, so it makes sense to order on both and see which app gets you a ride first.
There is also a subway that is pretty affordable and works with tap-in (just tap your card at the gate to go in).
Sadly, it is just a single strip. It does cover the most important parts of the city (core of Zona Sul, Jardim Oceânico and Center), but if you are in other areas like Gávea or the rest of Barra da Tijuca, no luck for you.
As a mobility rule: Uber and 99 are what you’ll use most of the time. Rush hours are best avoided if possible (8-10am and 5-7pm).
Other recommended apps
The best delivery apps are Rappi and IFood. Both have a wide range of restaurants and supermarkets available, and both have very fast service for a limited number of products.
Ordering is also quite cheap, so I can recommend those apps if you’re not in the mood to go out for dinner or to the supermarket. While Brazilian cashiers are a bit faster than the norm in Latam, you can still save a lot of time by ordering groceries to your doorstep.
If you want to use one of the rental bikes you see throughout the city, download the “tembici” app from Itaú. They’re widespread in Rio and also in other Brazilian capitals. Real fun for a ride by Ipanema or lapping the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.
Tinder as always is the standard for dating, although some friends told me they had success with Bumble in Rio too.
Brazil also has an Amazon headquarters, so deliveries for electronics, supplements etc are usually worth it through there.
The big question: Do I need to speak Portuguese in Rio? I’d say yes, to fully experience it.
Rio is the most gringofied city in Brazil, next to Floripa and São Paulo. The English and Spanish levels here will be above average for Brazil.
Still, it’s not Mexico or Panama. You won’t be able to talk to everyone, and you’ll miss out on many things by not understanding Portuguese.
Ideally, you’ll arrive in Rio knowing at least basic Portuguese and hopefully fluent Spanish. It will make your experience here much more easy-going.
If you can find yourself a Brazilian girl or bro that speaks English to explore the city with you, then you’re solid.
Still, try to get the fundamentals down before you arrive and the return on investment will be well worth it.
For the yerba mate lovers: You can find standard yerba mate here in stores - in Portuguese, it is labeled as Chimarrão (fine grind) or Tererê (thick grind). However, the typical consumption mode in Rio is Mate Gelado. An ice tea made of chá mate (toasted mate leaves). Drink it with lemon, it is delicious.
Cariocas (people from Rio) have a fun accent. They exchange the “s” for “x” a lot (like saying isqueiro – lighter - as ixqueiro). Mais and mas are also impossible to differentiate by voice alone.
Cariocas use the most curse words in all of Brazil. They curse all the time, even when happy or greeting a friend. It’s just part of the culture. The “beach body culture” here has a negative aspect: The gays here are buff and aggressive. A gym bro of mine was damn near attacked by a group of gay guys on the way to the gym once. Doesn’t help that they are huge too. I have some stories too which will be left for another day. The outdoor gyms are great spots to meet bros and girls by the beach. Rio has 4 main soccer teams: Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco and Botafogo. Vasco and Botafogo fans are far and between. Flamengo has a huuuge fanbase and is the typical low-class, favelado team. Fluminense is the typical higher-class team. You can with a good deal of accuracy profile someone’s socioeconomic class by their allegiance to Fluminense or Flamengo. Just look at the jersey.
There is a certain rivalry between Rio and São Paulo. Tell cariocas that Rio is much better than São Paulo and they’ll laugh at São Paulo with you.
Who would enjoy Rio & alternative cities
Rio is a fantastic city and has the best urban beach area in the world.
It is in my opinion the best destination if you are coming to Brazil for the first time as a tourist, as it has all you associate with Brazil, and it is just impossible to get bored here.
Still, for long term stays, it is not for everyone.
The city is huge, the weather is hot, it lacks in safety/cleanliness and the vibe is chaotic.
I recommend Rio if you:
Want a tier A city AND nature/beach/sun
Are a party animal
Are a creative type (Brazil’s artistic industry is all here)
Thrive in uncertainty
I would not recommend Rio if you:
Like colder weather
Like flexing a lot (you will get robbed)
Are a quiet/introverted/naive guy (cariocas are some of the most
extroverted, mischievous people in all of Brazil, you will have a hard
Want to focus 100% on the grind and making money (too many
temptations and distractions)
Alternative Brazilian cities if you don’t fit the bill:
São Paulo: For those focused on the grind, this is the Brazilian finance, tech and startup capital. Higher human capital, way less distractions. If Rio is Medellín, São Paulo is Bogotá.
Florianópolis and Balneário Camboriú: For those who want to keep the beach, but want milder weather, more calm, cleanliness and safety. Balneário is more extravagant, Floripa is more chill.
Curitiba: If you like a great city with colder weather, safety, strong infrastructure and are more introverted. The people here are known for keeping to themselves and being quieter.
Or if you want to dig deeper, start exploring one of the 28 metropolitan areas over 1m inhabitants that Brazil has to offer.
That was it for today. Thanks to Bull for giving the space and hope you enjoy Rio!
Guest Post Bio of BowTiedGlobe
On my main business, I help Brazilians with immigration, offshoring and second citizenships. About a year ago, I decided to join the Jungle to share some of my work in English, as well and offer these services to a wider audience. Since then, I’ve been working together with BowTiedMara on revising and expanding SovSpot content, as well as writing tax, immigration and city guides with Jake Nomada.
If any you decide to make Brazil your home: Hit me up. My team can get you the best set-up in the country. Tax ID, immigration, companies, bank accounts, we cover it all.
For this we haven’t been in quite some time and the reason is coincidentally listed in the post. It isn’t a particularly safe city. If you have the choice between hanging out in Mexico City, Bogota or Buenos Aires… You’ll feel a lot safer. Even in the nice areas mentioned here, it just isn’t that safe. The physical distance between the more dangerous areas and the rich areas is quite small.
It’s hard to explain until you get there. Beyond going for nature once every few years, it isn’t an ideal place to live based solely on the safety issues. It’s the one city where you should carry a fake phone and wallet since the chances of losing it at much higher compared to other South American places mentioned on the paid section.
Now here is the jist on what to expect based on our observations:
Scenery: Could make the case that Rio is the most beautiful place on earth in terms of scenery. If you go up to to the Cristo Redentor, the first thing you’ll notice is how amazing the place is. The weather is generally good and it is the one time in your life that even men will take out the “Panoramic view” setting on the iPhones.
Safety: You don’t feel safe. Even if you dress down, you’ll be spotted as a tourist within 0.01 seconds. Much worse if walking with attractive foreign women as well since they know you won’t put up a fight. Also. The girls are certainly at risk for being held up for money/ATM cards/Cell Phones etc. The only way around this is to stay in the rich areas and try to be in black cars/have a driver. If you’re going to stay in the rich areas, be close to the beach so you can walk there and back to hotel (leaving everything in the hotel) and you’ll have zero issues for a two week visit. This is the one way to guarantee no petty theft/crime occurs
Before people get scared off, the chances of being seriously hurt are next to nothing. It’s just a more forceful version of France. If you go to France and get on trains, the chances of being pick pocketed are pretty high especially if a lost tourist look is on your face. If you think about Rio they will rob you but there is next to no chance they will resort to violence. Going after tourists in Brazil is practically a life sentence since the city thrives on tourism. They want the petty money, that’s it
For serious crime stuff, you’d need to be living there and known to have a large amount of money. If you’re just a tourist they are trying to get a few hundred bucks and bolt out of there. They know escalation to violence means they will be crushing their future/life. Akin to a bee stinging you
Socially: Brazil is strange in that everyone touches each other while talking. Also. If you like a girl you have around 60 seconds to start kissing (okay more like 3-5 minutes) but you get the idea. It’s how the culture works and the girls will be confused if you don’t do anything and operate like American or European standards
Similar to other places in South America, please do not try to drink cheap beers. Unless you are incredibly handsome, it just won’t work. You’re signaling that you’re cheap and potentially one of those dreaded broke backpackers
For those wondering, being an American is a benefit. There is no negative stigma (assuming you don’t come across as a degenerate).
Income and Quality of Life: For a vacation it is fantastic. To live? Well no chance we’d do that simply due to safety issues. You’re going to be known and you’ll be targeted unless you live in a small radius in the rich area at all times. That would likely get boring after a few months.
Spending Needed? We don’t really agree with the numbers posted, would say you need at least $5,000+ a month to enjoy Rio in the nice areas. Essentially we’d mark it as $5,000 to $7,5000 vs. Globe’s $3,000-5,000. That’s just our opinion though.
Summary Opinion? Well this is a free post so it suggests for living, it doesn’t make the list. Perhaps if you’re more middle income and enjoy the beach it would work. For those high income people, it’s just not safe enough to put down roots.
The good news? It’s a must visit for at least two weeks.
You will be hard pressed to find a more scenic place on the planet. You’ll also eat a ton of good food since the running joke is that the main vegetable in Brazil is Steak. Tons and tons of meat options (better than the standard Fogo de Chao chain restaurants in the USA).
Best of luck and bring good video/photo gear!
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