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 transport around the city, contact 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 is access to the base of Cristo Redentor, there are about two dozen steps to reach the statue itself. Jeep Tour offer excursions to 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.
Dangers & Annoyances
Crime in Rio is always a concern. It's wise to be cautious.
- Take nothing of value to the beach.
- Avoid deserted parts of Centro on weekends.
- Don't wear expensive-looking accessories.
- Carry a copy of your passport, one credit card and enough cash for the day; leave the passport, extra cash and cards in your hotel safe.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Travelers entering Brazil can bring in 2L of alcohol, 400 cigarettes and one personal computer, video and still camera. Newly purchased goods worth up to US$500 are permitted duty-free. Meat and cheese products are not allowed.
Many nationalities require them, including citizens of the US, Canada and Australia.
Entry & Exit Card
On entering Brazil, all tourists must fill out an entry/exit card (cartão de entrada/saida); immigration officials will keep half, you keep the other. Don’t lose this card! When you leave Brazil, the second half of the entry/exit card will be taken by immigration officials. They will also stamp your passport, and if for some reason they are not granting you the usual 90-day stay in Brazil, the number of days will be written beneath the word Prazo (Period) on the stamp in your passport.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
To call emergency telephone numbers in Rio you don’t need a phone card.
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.
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 smart phones, internet cafes are a vanishing breed, though there are still a few scattered around Copacabana and other areas of the Zona Sul. Most places charge between R$6 and R$12 an hour.
@Onze There’s no Skype, but this peaceful spot serves up tasty sandwiches, salads, desserts and microbrews you can enjoy while browsing the web.
Blame It on Rio 4 Travel Excellent travel agency run by a friendly and knowledgeable US expat. Internet access available.
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 last few years, Rio has gotten serious about drunk driving, and the penalties for driving under the influence are severe. Marijuana and cocaine are plentiful in Rio, and both are very illegal. An allegation of drug trafficking or possession provides the police with the perfect excuse to extract a not-insignificant amount of money from you – 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) is an excellent website full of information for gay and lesbian tourists in Rio, including sections on Carnaval, nightlife and bathhouses.
Newspapers & Magazines
Rio Times (www.riotimesonline.com) English-language newspaper that publishes a monthly free print version, and maintains a website updated weekly. Veja is the country’s best-selling weekly magazine. In Rio, it comes with the Veja Rio insert, which details the weekly entertainment options; available on Sunday. Jornal do Brasil and O Globo are Brazil’s leading dailies.
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. 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. Citibank, Bradesco, Banco do Brasil and the Banco24Horas all accept foreign cards (Itaú does not).
You can find ATMs in the following locations:
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 up 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.
In restaurants the serviço (service charge) is usually included in the bill and is mandatory; when it is not included in the bill, it’s customary to leave a 10% tip. If a waiter is friendly and helpful, you can give more.
There are many other places where tipping is not customary but is a welcome gesture. The workers at local juice stands, bars and coffee corners, and street- and beach-vendors, are all tipped on occasion. Parking assistants receive no wages and are dependent on tips, usually about R$4. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped, but it is common to round up the fare.
Standard opening hours in Rio:
Restaurants noon–3pm and 7–11pm
Bars noon–2am Monday to Saturday; some open Sunday as well
Nightclubs 11pm–5am Thursday to Saturday
Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, 9am–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 post office (correios). Most post offices are open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and until noon on Saturday.
Banned in restaurants and bars; some hotels have rooms for smokers.
Public phones are nicknamed orelhôes (floppy ears). They take a cartão telefônico (phone card), which are 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 number. 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 ability 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) and four hours behind during the northern-hemisphere summer. Rio also observes daylight-saving time, pushing the clocks one hour forward from late November to late February.
Riotur (www.rioguiaoficial.com.br) has offices and kiosks for getting maps, transport info and tips on attractions and events.
Travel With Children
Rio may not be the obvious choice for a family holiday, but there are plenty of activities to keep kids amused: 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 sites, 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.
- 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 postas 11 and 12 in Leblon has a netted-off play area with slides and such.
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-sized 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 out 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 for cheap.
Top Attractions for Kids
New in 2016, this is South America's biggest aquarium, with hands-on areas for kids.
- Ilha Fiscal
A cinderella-esque castle, reached by short boat ride.
- Museu do Índio
Native music, headdresses, weaponry, recreated huts and activities for kids.
- 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 won't find back home.
Astronomic fun and stargazing.
Río Voluntário The Rio-based organisation supports several hundred local volunteer organizations, from those involved in social work and the environment to health care. It’s an excellent resource for finding volunteer work.
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 is a laudable organization that places volunteers in Rio. Here, 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
Brazil uses the metric system.
In Rio, foreign women traveling alone will scarcely be given a sideways glance. Although machismo is an undeniable element in the Brazilian social structure, it is less overt here than in many other parts of Latin America. Flirtation (often exaggerated) is a prominent element in Brazilian male-female relations. It goes both ways and is nearly always regarded as amusingly innocent banter. You should be able to stop unwelcome attention by merely expressing displeasure.