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A Beginner's Guide to Rio de Janeiro


A Beginner's Guide to Rio de Janeiro


First time travelling to the Marvellous City? Make sure you know what to expect with our beginner's travel guide to Rio de Janeiro. Here are some things you should know before you visit Brazil’s most famous city.

Rio de Janeiro for Beginners



When choosing what time of the year to travel to Rio, consider your interests and your budget. The summer months of December to March are the hottest, with high humidity and frequent afternoon showers. Summer is also the most popular time to visit Rio, since the weather is perfect to enjoy the beaches and the city’s most popular events take place over this period: New Year’s Eve and Carnival.

Spring and Autumn are great times to visit (April/May and October/November) as it is still warm, with less rain, and the prices are cheaper. Winter (June to September) is low season. The temperature is cooler, and accommodation is considerably cheaper. If you’re looking to explore Rio’s attractions beyond the beach, this is a good time to visit. Keen surfers should consider going at this time of the year as the waves are bigger.

No matter what time of the year you decide to visit, remember that Rio has a tropical climate which means the weather is prone to change quickly. Clouds and rain are common, and you should keep this in mind when planning your visit to Christ the Redeemer.





The city of Rio de Janeiro is split into four main areas: Downtown (Centro), the West Zone (Zona Oeste), North Zone (Zona Norte) and the South Zone (Zona Sul). The South Zone is the most popular area for tourists to stay as it holds some of Rio’s most famous landmarks, including Sugar Loaf Mountain and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

The North Zone is less popular, as there aren't many attractions in this part of the city. It is, however, home to the Maracaña Stadium, just north of the Centro, as well as many samba schools, which you can visit to see a samba school rehearsal. Downtown Rio is not only the busy commercial zone of the city, but it also boasts a large number of cultural and historical landmarks in Rio, including the Imperial Palace, Municipal Theatre and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Close by, you’ll find Lapa and Santa Teresa, two of the most interesting and bohemian neighbourhoods in the city.

The West Zone is the furthest from the city centre, and is where you can find the up and coming neighbourhoods of Barra da Tijuca and Recreio dos Bandeirantes. These areas are middle to upper class, with lots of shopping malls and nightlife, as well as long stretches of beaches that are significantly less crowded than in the South Zone. This zone will play host to the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016.

Throughout the city there are also the morros (hills), where you will find the city’s favelas on the mountainsides. Many tourists are struck by the a sharp contrast between the city’s wealthy and poor neighbourhoods, sitting side by side.

When choosing where to stay in Rio de Janeiro, keep in mind that most tourists choose to stay in the South Zone. This is because it is close to all the attractions, tours pick up passengers from this zone, and it is regarded as one of the safest areas. Popular neighbourhoods to stay are Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Cheaper options can be found away from the beaches, such as in Botafogo, Flamengo (located in the bay) and Santa Teresa. Be prepared for more travel time if you stay in these zones.

To travel within and between the areas, check out our guide to getting around Rio

Rio de Janeiro has plenty of accommodation options to choose from. Besides the usual hotels and hostels, other population accommodation for tourists includes Airbnb, pousadas (a B&B / guest house) and even accommodation in a favela. If you’re visiting in peak season, particularly over New Year’s Eve or Carnival, make sure you book your room well in advance. Over these periods, hotels and hostels have a minimum night stay of between 4 and 7 nights.





When packing for your vacation in Rio, remember that you don’t need much, especially if you’re planning on spending a lot of time on the beach.

Flip-flops are essential. Better yet, leave yours at home and pick up a pair of Havaianas cheaply in Rio. This is the standard footwear of Cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro), and you’ll see them wearing their Havaianas everywhere.

As a beach city, the dress code is relaxed. Summer months see locals wearing shorts and t-shirts, or simply leaving on their swimwear from the beach, with nothing else except maybe a canga. A canga, or sarong, is a must in Rio. Not does it make the perfect souvenir, it is also multi-functional, working as a towel and a cover-up.

If you’re planning on going out at night or frequenting fancier restaurants, pack a nice outfit. Locals do dress up when going to nightclubs. However, if you just want to frequent a casual bar or Lapa’s street parties, you can go straight from the beach with no problem.

It’s always a good idea to throw in a light rain jacket as well, since the tropical climate means there’s usually a chance of rain. If you’re coming over winter, pack a sweater, but don’t forget your beach clothes as well - it doesn’t get very cold here!

Grab that Portuguese Phrasebook

Oi! Tudo bem?  On arriving in Rio de Janeiro, you’ll be surprised at how few people speak English (and no, you can’t rely on your Spanish either). While you can get by in tourist areas, try to learn some basic Portuguese phrases before travelling.

Use a podcast to learn some survival phrases or get yourself a Portuguese phrase book. Not only will this make it a whole lot easier for you to get around Rio, but you’ll find that the already friendly Cariocas become even friendlier when they see you trying to speak their language.





Travellers cheques are useful but the exchange rate is usually not favourable. However, it is good to bring some to use as a last resort or in an emergency. Carrying debit or credit cards is also very convenient in Rio. The most widely accepted cards are Visa, American Express, Diners and MasterCard. It is best to take your card when you are going shopping in Rio, going out for dinner or paying your hotel bills. However if you are just going to the beach or to do some sightseeing in Rio, it is better to leave your wallet in the safe at the hotel and only carry the cash you need.

For Visa card holders, you can withdraw money from Banco Itau, Banco do Brasil and Bradesco. The ATMs that work with the Cirrus system are the best option since they use the same exchange rate as the ATMs you use back home. Therefore, if ever you plan to withdraw money at any of the ATM machines in Rio, the machine will send you messages in Portuguese so make sure you ask for help from bank personnel only.





While exploring Rio de Janeiro as a couple or as a family is exciting with plenty of romantic and kid-friendly things to do, Rio is also a great destination for travelling solo.

You won’t be truly alone in Rio. Brazil’s ex-capital is the most popular city in South America, meaning there is always a steady stream of backpackers and tourists. A hostel is a great place to meet fellow solo travellers.

The locals are also welcoming to travellers, especially during Carnival where you’ll be invited along to numerous parties and parades. Just join a block party and you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of new friends!

Many travellers are concerned about safety, especially for women travelling solo. Provided you take some basic precautions, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Be sure to check out our guide to staying safe in Rio.





Now that you have a better idea of what to expect from your vacation in Rio de Janeiro, it’s time to start planning your travels in more detail. Browse our website to find the best Rio de Janeiro tours and travel activities. Our customer support team is on hand to answer any questions you might have.



For more travel inspiration and tips for travelling to Rio de Janeiro, visit our travel blog.



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