Nickname: A Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvelous City) | Population: 6.5 million cariocas/12 million in metro | Area: 486.5 sq mi | Airports: Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport – Galeao (GIG) and Santos-Dumont Airport (SDU) | Time Zone: -3h from UTC/-2h DST | Famous for: beaches, booties, samba, soccer, Cristo Redentor, crime
Rio de Janeiro is the official calling card of Brazil. No other city in Latin America has been photographed, sung about, or dreamed about more than the Marvelous City. With world-famous beaches, stunning landscapes, spectacular views, hip-swaying music, and scores of tall, tan young-and-lovelies, Rio is the one city that should be experienced at least once in every human being’s life. True, it’s got plenty of social problems and it may not end up being your favorite city in the world, but Rio’s palpable sensuality and peerless natural beauty make it a place that you will never forget.
On arrival: Use the free airport wifi to order a ride via Uber, or take a cab from one of the prepaid taxi offices closest to the terminal exit; insist that the driver uses GPS. The best and least-expensive way to get reais (Brazilian currency) is to withdraw money from the ATM; many Brazilian ATMs do not operate using the U.S. bank card network, but at least one or two will.
Best ‘hoods: Copacabana is the world’s most famous beach, still fun despite being well past its glory days. Ipanema and Leblon hold court as the city’s chic beaches. The beaches of Barra da Tijuca are calmer, but a bit far from the in-town action. Centrally-located Lapa is home to Rio’s iconic samba spots. Santa Teresa’s curvy, cobblestone streets evoke an artsy, bohemian vibe. Flamengo, Botafogo, and Urca offer affordable, interesting dining and lodging conveniently located between the beaches and Centro (Downtown), which is great for exploring during the day. These neighborhoods are part of the Zona Sul (South Zone), which is where most of Rio’s tourist-friendly attractions are located. Be street-smart everywhere.
Best beaches: Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon for swimming, sunbathing, and flirting; Arpoador for great sunset views; Barra da Tijuca for surfing; São Conrado for hang gliding; Prainha for peace and quiet.
Best sights: Christ the Redeemer Statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, Tijuca Forest, Santa Teresa, Selarón Steps, Municipal Theatre, Museum of Tomorrow, Museum of Modern Art, ferry to Niterói, Maracanã Stadium, tour of Rocinha, and the Sambadrome during Carnival.
Best eats: Churrasco (Brazilian barbecue) at Porcão Rio’s, feijoada (the national dish) at Casa da Feijoada, por kilo (Brazilian buffet) at Kilograma or Couve Flor, comida mineira (rustic Brazilian food) at À Mineira, açaí na tigela (frozen açaí) at Bibi Sucos, pork sandwiches at Cervantes, pizza at Mamma Jamma, sushi at Azumi, burgers at Comuna, Brazilian vegan/veg at Vegetariano Social Clube.
Best dranks: Juices at Dona Vitamina or Frutaria Oscar Freire, beers at Espaço Carioquinha or Lapa Café, happy hour at Astor or in the Arcos dos Teles area, views and friends at Bar do Alto, Palaphita Kitch, or Bar Urca.
Best hypes: Any samba school rehearsal, Lapa at night for live Brazilian music and a wild party vibe, upscale partying at 00, LGBT club nights at The Week Rio, Copacabana for New Years (Reveillon) and during Carnival.
Best advice: Remember to be street-smart at all times; leave unnecessary valuables at home. Try to speak a little bit of Portuguese; you’ll make new friends that way. Service in restaurants and other establishments can be slow; try not to let that ruin your trip to one of the world’s most enjoyable cities. Use condoms. Have fun!
And for the ultimate luxury experience in Rio, book an Up in the Air Life adventure today!
Image credit: Christian Haugen via Flickr