If you’re thinking of coming on a holiday to Brazil and Rio it's a great life choice to make, believe me. There can be a lot to get your head around as a tourist though so here are some travel tips and advice for anyone that wants to jump on a plane for a Brazilian holiday. Follow these and you'll thank me later.
Brazil’s reputation is bipolar, it’s either known for out-of-control gang violence and petty crime or for its crazy culture, beautiful nature and even more beautiful and friendly people. As a tourist you’ll experience a lot of the latter, and unless you’re unlucky or stupid, hopefully zero of the former. But most importantly, you'll see everything in between.
2. New Year’s Eve or Carnaval
Brazil really comes alive in summer and it’s hard to find a better place to be in the world. New Year’s Eve and Carnaval are the two big calendar events especially in Rio and if you have enough time you could potentially do both as Carnaval usually falls in early to mid February. If only one then I’d recommend Carnaval, there’s nothing else like it in the world.
3. But winter’s still cool
Cool in a good way because it's beach weather more or less all year round from Rio northwards. In winter the days are shorter but they can still hit 30 degrees so solid baking time is on the cards. Occasionally you might need a warmer layer like a jumper but I wore the warm jacket I brought here just once. Up north in places like Salvador it’s hot all year round, but Florianopolis and Sao Paulo get proper cold.
4. Stay as long as you can
I can’t think of anyone who I’ve met that’s happy to leave Brazil, everyone wants to stay longer and gets on that plane with a heavy heart. So if you have more time then utilise it as much as you can because once you leave you’ll spend the next years reminiscing and wishing you could be back. Many people I've met here have returned within a year. Make as many memories and meet as many people while you can!
5. Dress casual
Brazil is not a nation of snobs, especially Rio, here it’s very much about being laid-back and comfortable. Havaianas, shorts, singlets and t-shirts are pretty much what everyone wears usually in a surfy, skatey, bohemian or hippy style. The added benefit with dressing casual is blending in, fancy clothes will scream tourist and could see you become a target so leave the bling and Armani Exchange emblazoned shirts at home.
6. Sao Paulo maybe not so much
Sao Paulo is a little different, I remember seeing a guy there in a high-fashion cape and thinking "WTF" because it's the last thing you'd ever see in Rio. But there it gets colder and lends itself to European fashion, whereas Rio really is Brazil through and through heat and all. My friend from Sao Paulo told me people there look down on havaianas as being for poor people which amazed me since in Australia everyone wears them rich or poor.
7. Learn some basic Portuguese
Portuguese is spoken here, not Spanish, and it's a beautiful but difficult to learn language. Outside of the big cities and the middle to upper classes English isn’t widely spoken, but the internet and apps are making it more accessible. You’ll be able to get by with “ola” and “oi” for hello, "tudo bem" for how are you, “obrigado” for thanks, “por favor” for please and “cerveja” for beer. “Eu gostaria” is also a good one, meaning “I would like… (cerveja)”. If you want to take lessons Caminhos Language Centre is the best place.
8. Stay in Ipanema
In Rio the south zone known as zona sul is where the beaches are and tourists stay but way too many end up in Copacabana. Trading on its glitzy name and past glories Copa is now well past its prime, Ipanema next door is the place to be. It has a nicer beach, a more relaxed vibe and significantly less young criminals coming in getting up to trouble.
9. Avoid centro
Speaking of criminals, Rio’s city called centro unfortunately is not really a place for tourists to pass the day and night. Lots of it is run down and has issues with crime and homelessness and incredibly brazen daylight street robberies like above are not uncommon. It’s a place to do business in the day and then a ghost town after dark. However the recently revamped port district with the Museum of Tomorrow is nice.
10. But visit Lapa
However the areas around centro are the best to go out for a party. Lapa with its famous arches above is number one amongst them, a loud, energetic mix of overflowing bars, street samba, clubs and people from all parts of society. Some locals say they hate it and that it's seedy but tourists lap Lapa up. Nearby neighbourhood Santa Teresa and Bar do Nanam are great spots too. Elsewhere there's Canastra bar in Ipanema, Fosfobox nightclub in Copacabana and Baixo Gavea near Leblon.
11. Avoid parks after dark
Criminals literally lurk behind trees and come out of the dark like animals preying on people, I know because I’ve experienced it but thankfully patrolling police passed by right at the right time. At night unless you’re going to a party in a park and are walking with a group you should avoid just meandering around like you might do elsewhere.
12. Use the metro
The metro in Rio takes you to all the places you need to go as a tourist and it is safe, I’ve had no issues on it. It stops at midnight though so after that you’ll need something else.
13. Use Uber, not taxis
I would recommend that to be Uber. Here it is cheap and the drivers are friendly and they even offer an Uber English service which is great for tourists. Taxi drivers here are known to rip tourists off, again I’ve experienced this.
14. Don’t drink Heineken
I never understand when tourists come all the way to any country to drink globo-beer Heineken. Drink what the locals drink, here you have Antarctica, Brahma, Skol, Bohemia, craft beers and of course Brazil’s famous cocktail the caipirinha too.
15. Use Tinder
If you’re travelling alone and want to meet a local then fire up Tinder and get swiping. Three gringo friends I’ve made here have gotten Brazilian girlfriends thanks to the app. Everyone here communicates on whatsapp too so have it ready for when you get a number or just make friends.
16. Treat women with respect
Many guys who've probably seen this famous gif come here dreaming of mythical Brazilian women. Brazilian girls are incredibly beautiful and fun just as equally as they’re friendly and down to earth. Don’t waste your time negging or being an asshole, it’s completely the wrong way to go about things, just be friendly and learn a little Portuguese. Also keep in mind abortion is illegal in Brazil.
17. Get outdoors
Outside of getting laid you should be getting outdoors. Rio is a nature lover’s delight, its famous hikes include Dois Irmãos, Pão de Açúcar, Cristo, Pedra do Telegrafo and Pedra Bonita. There’s also Tijuca National Park, Aterro park, Lagoa, the city’s botanical gardens where you’ll find monkeys roaming around and of course the beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon, Barra de Tijuca, Recreio, Prainha, Sao Conrado and Vermelha.
18. Cangas not beach towels
Brazilians don’t use beach towels, they use a canga which is like a sarong and you'll standout as fresh off the plane without one. They are sold at the beaches and are a lot better than thick, slow-drying towels. Unlike in Australia you can buy pretty much anything you need on the beach including food, beer, coconuts, chairs, umbrellas, hats, bikinis, temporary tattoos, ciggies and sunnies. Despite these relaxed laws Brazilians are rarely drunk on the beach.
19. Visit a favela
Favela tours can be a little controversial, some argue they treat the residents like animals in a zoo and this is the case with some tours where people are taken around in jeeps like on an African safari. However there are many relaxed walking tours organised by locals which bring money into the community and are respectful. On these tours in Vidigal, Rocinha, Cantagalo and Santa Marta it's often said tourists are safer than if they were out on the streets, but the favelas outside of the south zone aren't for tourists.
20. Have fun!
Rio and Brazil have some issues but the average person here is happy, smiles and enjoys life in a way which many people in the world’s most well-off societies don’t. Put a smile on your face too and get into the Brazilian slipstream and soak up the energy, sun, nature, people and culture here and you're guaranteed to have times which will make you look at life in a completely new way.
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