Rio de Janeiro has so much to offer ranging from Carnival and samba parties to beautiful beaches and hiking. It is undoubtedly one of the most iconic cities in the world, with a handful of world-famous attractions and the world’s largest urban forest. There are also a few pockets of well-preserved centuries-old buildings and historic military forts. It’s easy to idealize Rio as a glamorous place, but it does suffer from social problems that are apparent as you walk throughout the city. After hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, Rio received lots of negative attention worldwide for being unsafe. I was nervous before visiting, but I felt fairly safe in Rio de Janeiro.
How Safe Is Rio de Janeiro?
Rio has a poor safety reputation, but violent crime has decreased over the past few years. Additionally, there is a strong police presence in most areas tourists will find themselves. Yet, I still wouldn’t call Rio a safe city, but it’s not dangerous enough that you should avoid visiting. If you have concerns about feeling safe in Rio de Janeiro, Ipanema is the best neighborhood to stay in.
There are a few precautions you can take to reduce your risk of being robbed. Only take your phone out on the street when you need to. At night, Uber is your best friend. If you’re going to spend a day at the beach, keep your valuables stored in the lockers. Theft at the beach is not uncommon and many of the perpetrators are young teenagers.
Be conscious of where you are walking because the safest neighborhoods aren’t too far from some of the more dangerous ones. Millions of tourists visit Rio every year. Be smart and enjoy the beautiful city.
How to Get Around
The top attractions are rather spread out, but thankfully, Rio de Janeiro has a safe and well-connected metro system. Uber is affordable and it’s a great option at night.
What to Do
Christ the Redeemer – Rio’s most iconic attraction has fantastic 360° views of the city. If you visit during the low season, the weekday prices are lower (R$24 vs. R$45). The three ways to get here are by tram, van, or hiking. The van and tram are the same price (R$88 in low season and R$109 in the high season), which includes your entrance ticket. The advantage of the van is that there are pickup points throughout the city, but the wait times are notoriously long during the high season. For the tram, you need to buy your ticket in advance and take an Uber to get to the station.
The hike starts from Parque Lage and takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes, but if you are going for the sunset, this is not the best option. To buy a one-way tram ticket, you must arrive at the statue by 5 PM. I made this mistake and was facing a 2-hour walk in the dark to get to a road that’s accessible for cars. Thankfully, I found a moto-taxi on the way down, but I wouldn’t bet on there always being one.
Sugarloaf Mountain – Christ the Redeemer is more famous, but Sugarloaf has the best views of the city. The landscape of Rio looks unbelievable from here and watching the sunset is an unforgettable experience. You can take two cable cars for R$130 to reach the top or walk 30-minutes to the middle cable car station and only pay R$110.
Favela tour – These guided tours offer a glimpse into the other side of Rio, which has 200+ favelas. Some of the tours feel more like a photo op and less about learning what life is like in a favela, so I’d try to find a company with guides who grew up in one.
Typically you’ll spend about 2 hours walking through the neighborhood. I saw a few crazy things, but it did not feel unsafe and the locals are used to seeing tourists. Expect to pay around R$120-150.
Spend a day at the beach – Even if you aren’t a beach lover, I think anyone will enjoy a day at Copacabana and Ipanema. They are both beautiful, clean, and have plenty of cheap caipirinha and açaí vendors. Plus, watching Brazilians play footvolley for the first time will leave you mind-boggled.
As the sunset approaches, lots of beach bars have live samba music. Be careful with your belongings because beach thefts are common. Both Copacabana and Ipanema have lockers for valuables.
Museo do Amanhã – A science museum with exhibits questioning how the world will handle the problems of tomorrow like overpopulation and climate change. It was built as a project for the 2016 Olympics, and there are interesting exhibits on different aspects of culture around the world. The entrance is R$30 and it’s free on Tuesdays. It’s best to buy tickets online in advance.
Go to a football match – Rio is home to one of the world’s most famous stadiums, the Maracanã, and Brazil’s most popular team. Tickets are cheap and they can be bought at the stadium before kickoff. For important matches, you’ll have to buy them from one of the street sellers outside the stadium at a markup.
Catete Palace – In 1960, Brazil changed its capital from Rio to Brasilia and the former presidential palace is free to visit. It’s just as luxurious as you would expect and there’s also a large garden.
National History Museum – Housed in a former military fort, this museum has exhibits stretching from the first indigenous settlers to modern-day Brazil.
Catedral de São Sebastião – This modern cathedral is not the most beautiful sight, but its unique design and huge stained glass windows make it worth a visit.
Santa Teresa – This historic hillside neighborhood known for its colorful colonial architecture and winding roads is one of the more laidback parts of Rio. A few points of interest are the Escadaria Selaron and Mirante do Rato Molhado. Santa Teresa does have a reputation for not being the safest at night.
Where to Eat
Bar do David – This restaurant started to gain popularity when its only location was in a favela. It has won many awards for the best boteco food in Brazil and is now located near Copacabana. Pick any of the award-winning dishes and you won’t be disappointed.
Confeitaria Colombo – A historic café with a beautiful interior that opened in 1894. It’s a great spot for desserts and classic Brazilian snacks like coxinha and pastel.
Botequim Os Ximenes – Botequims are places where friends gather to have drinks and share plates of food late into the night, and Os Ximenes has fantastic food and a very modest setting.
Bonde Boca – Tasty traditional Brazilian food with a nice view and low prices.
Where to Stay
Nearly all of Rio’s hostels are in Ipanema, Copacabana, or Lapa. Ipanema is the most upscale and sterile of the three and you’ll pay a premium at restaurants and hostels here. Right next door is Copacabana which is known for its nightlife.
Lapa is a more local neighborhood near the city center that’s full of lively bars and samba parties. It’s not as sterile as the other neighborhoods. It’s kind of dirty and you will see lots of homelessness, but it’s also where you will most feel the Brazilian culture.
Books Hostel – This well-maintained budget hostel in Lapa has a fantastic atmosphere and cheap caipirinhas.
Discovery Hostel – A small, homely hostel with a wonderful vibe that’s just a short walk from Lapa.
Mango Tree – A laidback hostel in a colonial house with a perfect location near Ipanema Beach.
How Long to Stay
Give yourself at least 5 days in Rio. There’s a lot to see and you’ll want to have clear skies for sunset at both Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer. Plan for at least one late night out that will result in a hungover day of not doing much because that seems to happen to everyone.
Where to Next
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Paraty (5 hours by bus) – A seaside colonial town with island hopping tours, waterfalls, and Brazil’s only fjord.
Tiradentes (6 hours) – A beautiful colonial town known for its fabulous restaurants.
São Paulo (7 hours) – A megacity with fascinating museums, art galleries, and international cuisine.
Ouro Preto (9 hours) – UNESCO World Heritage town built into a hillside with incredible churches and nearby hiking.
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