Rio is probably the most accessible city in Brazil for travelers with disabilities to get around, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. It’s convenient to hire cars with driver-guides, but for only one person the expense is quite high compared to the cost of the average bus tour. If there are several people to share the cost, it’s definitely worth it. For transportation around the city, contact Especial Coop Taxi.
The metro system has electronic wheelchair lifts, but it’s difficult to know whether they’re actually functional. Major sites are only partially accessible – there are about 10 steps to the gondola base of Pão de Açúcar, for instance; and although there's access to the base of Cristo Redentor, there are about two dozen steps to reach the statue itself. Jeep Tour offers excursions for mobility-impaired travelers.
The streets and sidewalks along the main beaches have curb cuts and are wheelchair accessible, but most other areas do not have cuts. Most of the newer hotels have wheelchair-accessible rooms, but many restaurants have entrance steps.
The Centro de Vida Independente can provide advice about travel in Brazil for visitors with disabilities.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Dangers & Annoyances
There's no point sugarcoating it: the security situation in Rio has deteriorated since the Olympics in 2016, and crime is on the rise. That said, if you take some basic precautions, you'll greatly minimize your risk of becoming a target.
- Dress down and leave expensive (or even expensive-looking) jewelry, watches and sunglasses at home. Copacabana and Ipanema beaches have a police presence, but robberies still occur on the sands, even in broad daylight. Don’t take anything of value with you to the beach. Late at night, don’t walk on any of the beaches.
- Buses are sometimes targets for thieves. Avoid taking buses after dark, and keep an eye out while you’re on them. Take taxis at night to avoid walking along empty streets and beaches.
- Don’t walk around deserted areas – Centro is barren and can be unsafe on Sunday (and on Saturday in some parts). Get into the habit of carrying only the money you’ll need for the day, so you don’t have to flash a wad of reais when you pay for things. Cameras and backpacks attract a lot of attention. Plastic shopping bags nicely disguise whatever you’re carrying. If headed to Maracanã football stadium, take only your spending money for the day and avoid the crowded sections.
- Many formerly secure favelas are no longer safe to visit. Several tourists have been killed in the favelas in recent years by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before going on a favela tour, or lodging or dining in a favela, make sure you find out the latest information.
- If you have the misfortune to be robbed, calmly hand over the goods. Thieves in the city are only too willing to use their weapons if provoked.
You can save cash at several museums and sights (up to 50% at some places) if you have an international student card (ISIC), available to full-time students. A few tour agencies (such as Urban Adventures) also give small (10%) student discounts. Apply for an ISIC (www.isic.org) well before hitting the road.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Travelers entering Brazil can bring in 2L of alcohol, 400 cigarettes and one personal computer, video camera and still camera. Newly purchased goods worth up to US$500 are permitted duty-free. Fruits, meat, fish and cheese products are not allowed.
Brazil has a reciprocal visa system, so if your home country requires Brazilian nationals to secure a visa, then you’ll need a visa to enter Brazil. US, Canadian and Australian citizens need visas, but UK, New Zealand, French and German citizens do not. You can check your status with the Brazilian embassy or consulate in your home country.
If you do need a visa, arrange it well in advance. Note that visas are not issued on arrival. Applying for a visa got easier in 2018 when Brazil rolled out its new e-visa system, which is available to US, Canadian, Australian and Japanese tourists and business travelers. The application fee is $40, plus an online service fee ($4.24).
To apply, visit the official website endorsed by Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs: VFS Global (www.vfsglobal.com/Brazil-eVisa). You will need to upload a passport photograph and a scanned image of your passport bio page. E-visas are valid for two years, for stays of up to 90 days per year.
Once all documents have been submitted, processing time is around five business days. Unfortunately the online application process does not run very smoothly. Many applicants have had problems uploading photos, have had their photos rejected or have experienced website crashes.
After your visa has been approved, you will receive a pdf of your e-visa. Print this out and take it with you on your trip. Without the printed copy, you may not be allowed to board your flight and might be denied entry to the country.
Old-fashioned consular visas are also still available. These are pricier and you'll have to apply in person at a Brazilian consulate in your home country.
Applicants under 18 must also submit a notarized letter of authorization from a parent or legal guardian.
Entry & Exit Card
On entering Brazil, all tourists must fill out a cartão de entrada/saida (entry/exit card); immigration officials will keep half, you'll keep the other. Don’t lose this card! When you leave Brazil the second half of the card will be taken by immigration officials.
Embassies & Consulates
Many countries have consulates or embassies in Rio. You’ll find consulates listed in the back of Riotur’s monthly Guia do Rio.
Emergency & Important Numbers
You don’t need a phone card to call emergency numbers in Rio.
Report robberies to the tourist police; no major investigation is going to occur, but you will get a police form to give to your insurance company.
Cariocas (residents of Rio) are pretty informal, but there are a few unspoken rules of etiquette.
- Greetings When greeting or bidding goodbye to women, an air kiss is exchanged on each cheek (start to her left). Men shake hands with one another.
- Dining Use a napkin or toothpick when dealing with finger foods. Brazilians tend to eat pizza with a knife and fork.
- Politics Brazilians are exasperated by their country's corruption but can be defensive if foreigners begin criticizing their government.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options; the higher ones are chiefly for countries such as the USA that have extremely high medical costs. There is a wide variety of policies available, so check the fine print.
Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities,’ which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even hiking.
You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than your having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.
Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Most accommodations – including hostels and midrange hotels – provide wi-fi access. It’s usually free, though some luxury hotels still charge exorbitant rates for it. You’ll also find free wi-fi in most cafes and in many restaurants, as well as in some shopping malls.
Given the widespread availability of wi-fi and the popularity of smartphones, internet cafes are a vanishing breed, though there are still a few scattered around Copacabana and other areas of the Zona Sul. The remaining places charge between R$6 and R$12 an hour.
Blame It on Rio 4 Travel offers internet access.
You are required by law to carry some form of identification. For travelers, this generally means a passport, but a certified copy of the relevant ID page will usually be acceptable.
In the past few years, Rio has gotten serious about drink-driving, and the penalties for driving under the influence are severe. Marijuana and cocaine are plentiful in Rio, and both are highly illegal. An allegation of drug trafficking or possession provides the police with the perfect excuse to lean on you for a bribe – and Brazilian prisons are brutal places. If you are arrested, know that you have the right to remain silent, and that you are innocent until proven guilty. You also have a right to visitation by your lawyer or a family member.
Rio is the gay capital of Latin America. There’s no law against homosexuality in Brazil. During Carnaval, thousands of gay expatriate Brazilians and foreign tourists fly in for the festivities. Cross-dressers steal the show at all Carnaval balls, especially the gay ones. Outside Carnaval, the gay scene is fairly subdued. The most gay-friendly street in town is Farme de Amoedo in Ipanema, with cafes, restaurants and drinking spots.
You may hear or read the abbreviation GLS, particularly in the entertainment section of newspapers and magazines. It stands for Gays, Lesbians and Sympathizers, and when used in connection with venues or events basically indicates that anyone with an open mind is welcome. In general the scene is much more integrated than elsewhere; and the majority of parties involve a pretty mixed crowd.
The Rio Gay Guide (www.riogayguide.com) has information for gay and lesbian tourists, including sections on Carnaval, nightlife and bathhouses. Its more up-to-date Twitter feed (@riogayguide) lists the night's big parties and other events.
Newspapers & Magazines
- Newspapers & Magazines The English-language Rio Times (www.riotimesonline.com) maintains a website updated weekly. Jornal do Brasil and O Globo are Brazil’s leading dailies. Veja is the country’s best-selling weekly magazine. In Rio it comes with the 'Veja Rio' insert, available on Sunday, which details entertainment options for the week ahead.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most midrange and top-end hotels and restaurants.
ATMs are the handiest way to access money in Rio. Unfortunately, there has been an alarming rise in card cloning, with travelers returning home to find unauthorized withdrawals on their cards. This has been especially problematic with Bradesco ATMs, which you should avoid at all costs.
When possible, use high-traffic ATMs inside bank buildings during banking hours. Always cover your hands when inputting your PIN, and check your account frequently to make sure you haven’t been hacked.
ATMs for most card networks are widely available.
For exchanging cash, casas de cambio (exchange offices) cluster behind the Copacabana Palace hotel in Copacabana and along Visconde de Pirajá near Praça General Osório in Ipanema.
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card in Rio; MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club are also accepted by many hotels, restaurants and shops.
Credit-card fraud is rife in Rio, so be very careful. When making purchases keep your credit card in sight at all times. Have staff bring the machine to your table or follow them to the cashier – don’t give them your card.
The monetary unit of Brazil is the real (R$; pronounced hay-ow); the plural is reais (pronounced hay-ice).
The real is made up of 100 centavos. Most prices are quoted in reais, though some tour operators and hoteliers prefer to list their rates in US dollars or euros.
- Restaurants Serviço (service charge) usually included in bills and mandatory; when serviço not included, leave 10%, more if a waiter is friendly and helpful.
- Juice stands, bars, coffee corners, street and beach vendors Tipping not customary but a welcome gesture.
- Parking assistants Usually about R$4 (these workers receive no wages and are dependent on tips).
- Taxi drivers Not usually tipped; round up the fare.
Standard opening hours in Rio:
Restaurants noon–3pm and 7–11pm
Bars noon–2am Monday to Saturday; some open Sunday too
Nightclubs 11pm–5am Thursday to Saturday
Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday
Malls 10am–10pm Monday to Saturday, 3–10pm Sunday
Banks 9am–3pm Monday to Friday
Postal services are decent in Brazil, and most mail gets through. Airmail letters to the US and Europe usually arrive in a week or two. For Australia and Asia, allow three weeks.
There are yellow mailboxes on the street, but it’s safer to go to a correios (post office). Most post offices are open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and until noon on Saturday.
- New Year’s Day January 1
- Day of São Sebastião January 20
- Carnaval February/March (the two days before Ash Wednesday)
- Good Friday & Easter Sunday March/April
- Tiradentes Day April 21
- May Day/Labor Day May 1
- Corpus Christi late May/June (60 days after Easter Sunday)
- Independence Day September 7
- Day of NS de Aparecida October 12
- All Souls’ Day November 2
- Proclamation of the Republic November 15
- Black Consciousness Day November 20
- Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking Banned in restaurants and bars; some hotels have rooms for smokers.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT), levied on most goods, is 19% in Rio; this is always included in the ticketed price. Hotel-room tax is 5%, which may not be included in the quoted price; double-check when booking. A 10% service charge is added to rates at many hotels; this is rarely included in the quoted price.
There's no system of VAT refunds for purchases made in Brazil.
Public phones are nicknamed orelhôes (floppy ears). They take a cartão telefônico (phone card), available from newsstands and street vendors in denominations of R$5 to R$20.
To phone Rio from outside Brazil, dial your international-access code, then 55 (Brazil’s country code), 21 (Rio’s area code) and the number.
To make a local collect call, dial 9090, then the numbers. For calls to other cities, dial 0, then the code of your selected long-distance carrier, then the two-digit area code, followed by the local number. You need to choose a long-distance carrier that covers both the place you are calling from and the place you’re calling to. Carriers advertise their codes in areas where they’re prominent, but you can usually use Embratel (code 21) or Telemar (code 31) nationwide.
To make an intercity collect call, dial 9 before the 0xx (the ‘xx’ representing the two-digit carrier as explained above, ie ‘21’, ‘31’ or a host of other Brazilian carriers). A recorded message in Portuguese will ask you to say your name and where you’re calling from, after the tone.
Local SIM cards can be used in unlocked European and Australian phones, and in US phones on the GSM network.
The celular (cell phone) is ubiquitous in Rio. Cell phones have nine-digit numbers beginning with 9.
Brazil uses the GSM 850/900/1800/1900 network, which is compatible with North America, Europe and Australia, but the country’s 4G LTE network runs on 2500/2690 (for now), which is not compatible with many North American and European smartphones.
Good news for some Americans: if you have an LTE/GSM-capable device (like certain models of the iPhone6) on Sprint or T-Mobile, you can get unlimited texting and data in Brazil on certain plans – though on the 2G network (meaning data is quite slow/nonexistent). You can, however, purchase additional data for better use. Check to see if your iPhone is compatible on www.apple.com/iphone/LTE.
Calls to cell phones are more expensive than calls to landlines. Cell phones have city codes, like landlines, and if you’re calling from another city you have to use them. TIM (www.tim.com.br), Claro (www.claro.com.br), Oi (www.oi.com.br) and Vivo (www.vivo.com.br) are the major operators.
Foreigners can purchase a local SIM with a passport instead of needing a Brazilian CPF (tax ID number), though this option is often ignored by cellular providers – prepare for a battle.
If you have an unlocked GSM phone, you can simply buy a SIM card (called a chip) for around R$10 to R$20. Among the major carriers, TIM generally has the most hassle-free service. You can then add minutes by purchasing additional airtime from any newspaper stand. Incoming calls are free.
Long-Distance & International Calls
International landline-to-landline calls from Brazil start from 66¢ a minute to the USA and R$1.42 to Europe and Australia. Pay phones are of little use for international calls unless you have an international calling card or are calling collect. Most pay telephones are restricted to domestic calls, and even if they aren’t, a 30-unit Brazilian phone card may last less than a minute internationally.
Without an international calling card, your best option is Skype. For international a cobrar (collect) calls, secure a Brazilian international operator by dialing 0800-703-2111 (Embratel).
Brazil has four official time zones. Rio, in the southeastern region, is three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), four hours behind during the Northern Hemisphere summer. Rio also observes daylight-saving time, pushing the clocks one hour forward from early November to mid-February.
- Public toilets are available at the postos (numbered posts) along the beachfront, and Copacabana has many subterranean bathrooms just off the beach; look for the stairs. It costs around R$2 to use these toilets.
- Big shopping centers have (usually well-maintained) facilities.
- Staff will generally let you use the toilets in restaurants and bars. Juice bars and other small eateries don't have public toilets.
- As elsewhere in Brazil, toilet paper isn’t flushed. There’s usually a basket next to the toilet to put paper in.
Riotur’s multilingual website (www.visit.rio) is a good source of information. Its offices distribute maps and guides about major events; the main branch is in Copacabana.
Travel With Children
There are plenty of activities to keep kids amused in Rio: sandy fun on the beach; bike rides around Lagoa; aerial cable-car rides; boat trips and rainforest walks; and plenty of great treats – fresh juices, ice creams and pastries – along the way.
Need to Know
- Admission At most sights, kids under 13 years pay half-price; those under five or six typically get in for free.
- Attitudes Brazilians are very family-oriented; you'll be welcomed with open arms at most restaurants. High chairs are readily available.
- Accommodations Many hotels let children stay for free, although the age limit varies.
South America's biggest aquarium has hands-on areas for kids.
- Ilha Fiscal
A Cinderella-esque castle, reached by short boat ride.
- Quinta da Boa Vista
- The Bonde
Ride the little yellow streetcar up to Santa Teresa, and enjoy the views along the way.
You'll find fruit markets all across town; they're the perfect spot to assemble a picnic, while sampling delicacies you may not find back home.
Astronomic fun and stargazing.
- Agua de Côco
Drink coconut water straight from the nut at beachside kiosks.
- Pão de Queijo
This small, round, cheese-filled bread is available at any juice bar.
- Pastel de Nata
Sample these tasty custard tarts at beautiful art deco Confeitaria Colombo.
Try creamy açaí and many other juice flavors.
- Jardim Botânico
These verdant gardens offer a fine break from the sun on a hot day. Explore a lily-filled pond, a playground, a cafe and shaded walking trails.
- Parque Lage
About 1km northeast of the Jardim Botânico, Parque Lage has extensive walking trails, plus a playground, a small fish pond and a good outdoor cafe; it's also a great spot to see monkeys.
- Floresta da Tijuca
At this vast wilderness northwest of the Zona Sul you can take short or long hikes, enjoy picturesque views and take a dip in a waterfall.
- Cristo Redentor
Most kids will get a huge kick out of the steep cog train that takes visitors through dense forest to the massive Christ the Redeemer statue.
- Pão de Açúcar
The journey by aerial gondola to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain is probably the best part of the experience for kids; afterwards, you can walk to the small, pretty beach of Praia Vermelha.
If traveling with younger kids, check out Baixo Bebê Leblon. The family-friendly beach area between postos (posts) 11 and 12 in Leblon has a netted-off play area with slides.
Older kids will find lots to see and do on the beach: football and volleyball games, boogie boarding and stand-up paddling, and sampling snacks from roaming food vendors.
At Parque dos Patins, on the west side of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, you can hire bikes, scooters, tricycles, toys and huge family-size pedal bikes for a spin along the lakeside path.
On the east side of the lake, at Parque do Cantagalo, you can hire pedal boats for a glide around the lake (in a swan boat, no less).
If you're around in December, pay a visit to the lake at night, when a giant floating Christmas tree lights up the lakeside.
Near the east side of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas you'll find Parque da Catacumba, which is a great spot for older kids. The outfit known as Lagoa Aventuras has a zipline, a rock-climbing wall, treetop walks and rappelling (abseiling). There are also short but steep hiking trails that take you to a lookout with pretty views over the lake.
Older kids might enjoy a boat ride out on the bay. For a full-day outing you can take the ferry to Ilha de Paquetá. Once you're on the car-free island, you can get around by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. There are also shorter cruises most days, as well as the ferry to Niterói, which offers great views of the bay.
Iko Poran Links the diverse talents of volunteers with those required by needy organizations from its base in Rio. Previous volunteers have worked as dance, music, art and language instructors, among other things. Iko Poran also provides housing options for volunteers.
Task Brasil (www.taskbrasil.org.uk) UK-based Task Brasil places volunteers in Rio. You'll have to make arrangements in advance and pay a fee that will go toward Task Brasil projects and your expenses as a volunteer.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Brazil uses the metric system.