State of Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide
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- 98%Business Travelers
- 92%History Buffs
- 87%Nightlife Lovers
- 83%Local Culture
- 82%Outdoor Enthusiasts
- 80%Adventure Travelers
Member Reviews (11)
- State of Rio de JaneiroFirst to ReviewAug 30, 2012
I just got back from Rio where my friends and I went for Carnaval 2009. I got into Rio on the Thursday before Carnaval began, and what I noticed was that Rio during Carnaval and Rio not during Carnaval are two VERY different cities. I did a plethora of research about the city, Carnaval, things-to-do, things not to do, what to wear, more importantly what not to wear etc. I just had so much more information that I was over prepared. In hindsight, I wish I could have read a blog post written by someone who had been to Rio for Carnaval.
Rio during Carnaval
First, the most exciting parts of Rio like Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon, Arpoador (the beach areas) and Lapa (in the Center) are where you will spend the most amount of time. The Hills, the Center and the other zones are areas you will likely visit for a short period of time to sightsee but I suggest you stay in one of the beach areas during your time in Rio.
Now, imagine the most packed concert you’ve ever been to in your life and multiply the number of people by a 100 all extremely scantily dressed (men and women). Set the temperature to around 85 degrees and imagine several micro areas (blocos) playing samba music on, say, the Embarcadero in San Francisco. That is carnaval in Rio. This pretty much starts on the Saturday before Mardi Gras and goes through Tuesday. During this time, it is practically impossible to get from one area of Rio to another. The best way to commute during this time is to walk, unless you are lucky enough to somehow find a cab and the cabbie knows how to drive around the crowded areas. I recommend starting your day with an Agua de Coco (coconut water), wearing as little as possible and walking around till you wear yourself out. Then go jump in to the ocean.
Bloco in Ipanema
The Sambadrome (pronounced ‘sumbad-romo’ in Portuguese) is a must-do. The Sambadrome is where several schools parade showing off their costumes and samba skills. The Sambadrome is why people go to Carnval in Rio, right? Well, not entirely (in my opinion). The Sambadrome is a must-do, but for maybe a couple of hours (at most), unless you are really in to samba or you know which schools are performing. The visit to the Sambadrome was what was the cause of the most of confusion for us. We researched several options online, we visited several travel agencies in Rio, and we just didn’t know who was trying to rip us off. We heard prices ranging from R$600 to R$4800 per person for different sections, some of which included travel to/from the Sambadrome on varying dates and times. But all of us who traveled together on this trip just wanted to visit the Sambadrome to witness the festivities. We’re not samba enthusiasts.
Section 13, The Sambadrome
So here’s what we did: on Sunday (the 2nd day) after having exhausted a couple of different options for tickets, we bribed a cab driver R$100 to fit 5 of us in to one cab to drive us from Arpoador to the Sambadrome at around 10.15pm. Once we got to the Sambadrome, we simply asked uniformed personnel where we could find scalpers (it really helped that one of our friends spoke Spanish). We then paid R$35 per person to get a valid ticket in to Section 13 of the sambadrome. We made sure that the ticket we got was legit – we compared it with a few Australian tourists who were entering section 13, and that was it. Section 13 was definitely *interesting*, it’s definitely one of the cheaper sections and the view is obstructed for a good portion of the early part of the parade. However if you stand right up front, you get to see celebrities walking in and out of the sambadrome and you will get to see the tail end of each school’s parade. We lasted for about an hour before we realized the same samba music was playing over and over again. Cabs were plentiful on the way back, and the ride back cost us R$40 (if memory serves me right). So, each person ended up paying R$63 total to visit the Sambadrome, including transportation, on the 2nd day.
After en epic negotiating session with a scalper outside the Sambadrome
Cariocas (Rio-ites) are easy-going and laid back. This goes from the sweet time street vendors take to cut up individual limes for your caipirinha to the fun-loving samba-ers you meet at blocos. Nothing is really off-limits and for the most part they don’t indulge you unless you indulge them. Just be prepared to wait for a good chunk of time (15-30 minutes) on a busy afternoon for your drink or meal. During Carnaval, they dress extremely festive and wear very very little. So plan to dress appropriately. You don’t want to be the guy or girl wearing sneakers and a collared shirt with jeans, trust me.
I was just petrified by what I’d read about street crime and thefts so I was overly cautious. Whenever we left the hotel, we carried with us just enough cash to get through the day. We didn’t carry wallets with us and we spread cash across a few different pants pockets so if we had to make a big payment it didn’t look like we were pulling out a giant stack of cash from one pocket. I also carried with me an expired driver’s license just in case. I left everything else behind in the hotel in a safe.
When I see a giant group of semi-naked people congregating in a suburban area to drink and dance, I tend to expect the worse. I remember when Purdue’s NCAA women’s team made it to the Elite 8 (or was it the final 4?) back in 2001, everyone started partying in the streets. The next thing you know, a bunch of kids broke into the football stadium, ripped a whole vending machine off the ground, carried it back to campus and started a bonfire. Things just got rowdy, however, that was NOT the case with any of the blocos. I didn’t see a fight or rowdy incident break out once. I didn’t see anyone behaving inappropriately.
Ahh, the food. I’d break the must-try foods in to 3 categories, Churrascaria, Feijoada and Sushi. I didn’t care for the Feijoada as much, but the Churrascaria experience (R$50-R$75) is amazing. We went to the Palace Churrascaraia in Copa and Porcao in Ipanema. Sushi Leblon (R$40) had this kind of white tuna (I don’t remember what it was called now), which has now jumped ahead of Hamachi as my favorite kind of Sashimi.
I started most mornings with an Agua de Coco (fresh coconut water, R$2-R$3) and at some point in the afternoon had an açaí smoothie (R$4-R$5). Just given the sheer heat, something I’m not very used to in SF, it just seemed appropriate to consume as much water as possible during regular intervals. Several books and websites recommend that you avoid street vendors who sell pre-made shrimp and/or sausages.
Go to Buzios
Most of my friends who I went with claim Búzios was the highlight of their trip. I definitely enjoyed the warmer waters in Búzios, the seafood and the smaller and lesser crowded beaches. Búzios reminded me a LOT of Santa Cruz, including this strip that turns into a hipster hangout after hours. There is no shortage of restaurants or bars around.
The challenging bit is getting to Búzios. We had a rental car reserved and I was prepared to drive us there and back. Turns out Avis in Copa (like a lot of other businesses) doesn’t exactly have strict business hours during Carnaval. We didn’t want to lose anymore time, so at around 9am we had one of our friends (‘Big Cat’) negotiate a price for a driver to drive us there and back. In hindsight, this was a great idea and it cost us about R$200 per person.
Getting around Rio
Getting around comes down to how far you are going, how far you are willing to walk and most importantly during Carnaval, where the blocos are going down. A couple of times we walked from one end of Ipanema to Copacabana palace (approximately 2 mile walk). But for the most part, we cabbed it everywhere. If there are more than 4 people in your party, negotiate an upfront rate with your cabbie. There is a printed schedule of all the blocos (when and where) – this is a handy thing to have.
There is no secret sauce to converting your dollars to Reais in Brazil. Just keep in mind that the exchange rates drop unfavorably as you head in to Carnaval and all banks close starting Friday and only open at 12pm on Ash Wednesday. You can get/spend money in one of the following ways:
Credit Cards – disadvantages are that not a lot of places take them in Rio, you get hit with a fee unless you are using a Capital One card or an AMEX (1% int’l trans fee)
ATM Card – Use your ATM card to periodically draw cash. My friends who bank with Citibank claim they do NOT get hit with a fee when they draw cash internationally. However, when I spoke to Citibank that is not the answer I got.
USD – From exchange rates that I saw, this seemed like the most effective way to go about getting Reais. The rates were (more) favorable and any fees were hidden. As long as you got a Citibank or a big bank, I think the rates will be decent.
Traveler’s Checks – While this is the safest way to carry money, the exchange rate for traveler’s checks was just preposterous. As an example, our hotel was giving me R$2.05 for USD$1 when I tried to cash traveler’s checks as opposed to R$2.18 for cash. I feel I got screwed over quite a bit, but I was comfortable knowing that stolen checks would be useless and that I wouldn’t lose the money.
I had a phenomenal time, and I’m really looking forward to going back to Brazil later this year for my friends’ wedding. I’ll be visiting São Paulo, Maringa and Iguaza Falls.
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