Rio de Janeiro – 6 Days in Cidade Maravilhosa in April
Ohhh Rio! Who does not dream of travelling to Rio de Janeiro to see the famous Sugarloaf Mountain and sipping Caipirinhas at the Copacabana? It was definitely one of my dreams! But for a long time I thought that it would’t come true in the near future, as the plane tickets to Brazil/South America were simply always more expensive than e.g. the flights to Asia. Being a student at the time I was therefore always rather drawn to the east…
My boyfriend and I had about two weeks at the beginning of April and after the long winter we just really felt like going to the beach and the sea! So the tip from holiday pirates to travel to Rio de Janeiro came in very handy…
Booking, preparations and arrival – a trip to Rio de Janeiro
Through holiday pirates I got the tip that there are good offers for a trip to Rio de Janeiro on Expedia.com for our desired period. I would have probably never checked out this destination, as I had rarely seen cheap flights there.
Package tours can be booked using the booking and search function “Flight + Hotel” at Expedia. The combined booking of two services offers you a lower total price than if you book separately. Good to know: It is also possible to book the hotel stay for a shorter period of time, than the total duration of the trip. For this reason we decided to stay in Brazil for 10 days. 6 nights in Rio and 3 nights on Ilha Grande. For the flights and the 6 nights in a hotel at the Copacabana we paid 710€ per person. We started in Frankfurt and went via Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro’s international airport GIG. The total travel time for the outward flight was 15 hours and for the return flight 16 hours. We booked the 3 nights on Ilha Grande separately on Booking.com.
Visa – German citizens do not need a visa to enter Brazil (as of 2019). However, you should check with the German Foreign Office before you travel. If you come from another passport please check your Foreign Office before booking a trip.
Vaccinations and other medical measures – If you want to travel to Brazil, you should be vaccinated against yellow fever. Currently (2019), it is not obligatory to be vaccinated against yellow fever, but the German Foreign Office strongly recommends it! Also other travel vaccinations should still be effective or be refreshed before traveling to Brazil. Here is the medical advice of the German Foriegn Office: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/aussenpolitik/laender/brasilien-node/brasiliensicherheit/201092#content_6
Dealing with malaria precautions is also highly important in Brazil. Take and use enough anti-mosquito spray during your stay!
If you are from another country please check your Foreign Office for recommendations / must have medical measures.
Accommodation in Rio de Janeiro – Where is the best place to stay?
Beside the question in which area we should look for an accommodation we also asked ourselves whether it is better to go to a hotel or a holiday flat. Due to the language barrier as well as the security in Rio de Janeiro we felt that a hotel would be more suitable. The staff of the hotel (at least the reception staff) always speaks English and most of the time also even other languages. Also because of the security aspect we liked a hotel better at the time of booking, as there are doormen/security in the hotels.
Most blogs recommend accommodation in the Zona Sul. These include Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon and Leme. Botafogo is also usually included. Due to the hotel selection at that time, we decided to stay in a hotel at the Copacabana. At no time did we feel insecure at the Copacabana and we were very satisfied with the location of the hotel. Nevertheless, I would prefer to stay in Ipanema on my next trip, because I fell in love with Ipanema beach and this beach is what made RIO DE JANEIRO so special for me :).
We were staying at the Royalty Rio Hotel. Our room and the roof terrace of the hotel were great and also the employees were very friendly. The breakfast was included in the price and was alright, but definitely not special. However, it is important to say that we definitely cannot recommend the dinner in the hotel restaurant! As restaurants are not really cheap in Rio de Janeiro and are rather comparable to european big city prices, an accommodation with cooking facilities would have been better retrospective.
During our trip we met two Australians who stayed in a hostel in the district Gloria and were very satisfied with it. Personally, we did not stay in the Discovery Hostel, but it also got a good rating on Booking.com and should definitely be shortlisted when choosing accommodation. Although, we were not accommodated in the Discovery Hostel, we were allowed to take part in a hike organized by the hostel. We had a very good experience with that too (more about that later).
Highlights and Must Do’s
The Copacabana is definitely worth seeing. There are some nice shops (rather 2-3 blocks away from the beach), as well as countless beach bars in the first row. The Copacabana beach offers a wide range of sport activities like volleyball, footvolley, badminton, football etc.. At the end of the Copacabana in the direction towards Leme, there is a small fort called “Forte Duque de Caxias”. The view from here must be great! Unfortunately, we were there on a day when the fortress was closed for tourists. But the fortress is high on the list for the next trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Mirante Dona Marta
Mirante Dona Marta is my absolute favourite viewpoint of Rio de Janeiro in the city! The great thing about this viewpoint is that you can see the Sugar Loaf Mountain on one side and Christ the Redeemer statue on the other side.
How to get there: My recommendation to get to the view point is to go there with a Uber, or even a taxi. Arrange with the driver beforehand that he should wait for you, so that you have a return trip right away. As the view point is a little outside, it is difficult to get a new Uber/Taxi from up there. If you take a taxi (like we did), say or point on Google Maps exactly where you want to go –> MIRANTE Dona Marta! Unfortunately our taxi driver brought us first to the favela Dona Marta…
My absolute favourite beach in Rio! The Dois Irmaos in the background offers the perfect backdrop for this unique beach.
Santa Teresa, Centro & Lapa
Santa Teresa is the artists’ quarter in Rio de Janeiro. It used to be a very upscale neighborhood with rich residents – today you can see many boutique hotels, abandoned villas, artists’ studios and a lot of graffiti. Santa Teresa definitely has a unique flair! There is a small tram/cable car that runs through the steep hill district. A good starting point for the tram is the Estação de Bondes de Santa Teresa.
Important: Santa Teresa is not quite as safe as Copacabana or other areas of the Zona Sul. This is why you should not carry a lot of valuables and also do not walk longer distances in this district.
During our time in Rio there was a heavy storm and many parts of the city were under water. When the weather calmed down a little bit, we took part in a free walking tour through Centro & Lapa. I can absolutely recommend such a tour, because we saw so many other parts of Rio that we would otherwise possibly not have dared to go to. Also we got some current and historical information about Rio.
And of course last but not least: Escadaria Selarón – probably the most famous stairs in Rio de Janeiro! The colours of the tiles is something very special and we liked it so much that we went there twice.
Pedra da Gavea
My absolute highlight in Rio de Janeiro was definitely the hike to Pedra da Gavea! The view is definitely worth the effort and an experience I will never ever forget again. For a long time we thought about whether we would do this hike alone or with a tour, because the reports of experiences online are very different. Some people say that it is absolutely not possible to do without a guide, as there are places where it is difficult to get up/down without being secured and therefore it can be dangerous if you are alone and untrained – others say that you can do it easily alone without facing any problems.
During my research I came across some tours that cost 50€ per person and that was just too expensive for us. During our free walking tour through Lapa & Centro the girl recommended the Discovery Hostel to us, which offers a guided hike to Pedra da Gavea every Thursday. The hike cost us 25€ per person, the guide was super nice, spoke perfect English and had a climbing harness and rope with him for the more difficult parts of the hike. Also the other participants were very nice and helpful. Like this we did not have to worry about finding the right way through the residential area to get to the start of the trail.
The hike takes between 2-3 hours per trail and should not be underestimated due to the tropical weather. It is important to bring enough water & snacks, because as soon as you are in the national park you can’t buy anything anymore (water can still be bought at the entrance gate of the national park). Another recommendation is sun cream, something for your head and mosquito spray! The first part of the hike leads through the forest and is shady but very humid and therefore there are many mosquitoes. The second part of the hike is above the forest and you walk & climb in the blazing sun for about 1 hour. Also at the top there is no more shade.
My conclusion – with or without a guide: I found it very pleasant not having to worry about the right way, as there are no signs and it is not always clear where to go. There is only one small place where we really climbed up and down with a safety device. For tall people (and experienced climbers) this place can be mastered without a safety device. I myself was very happy that I got help at this point but also at some other points, because sometimes I was just too small to reach the next rock/branch to pull myself up (I am 170cm). Since we had a really nice hiking group, I would definitely choose it this way again.
One of the most famous sights in the world – the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Since the ticket prices to get to the Sugar Loaf Mountain or to the statue of Christ the Redeemer are not exactly a bargain, we decided to go on only one of the two attractions. On our last day we went up to the Sugar Loaf Mountain and enjoyed our last hours in Rio de Janeiro in the sun with incredible views. There are two platforms, each connected by a gondola. On each platform there are large terraces where you can admire the 360-degree view. There is also a small jungle tour and some souvenir shops and food stalls.
Christ the Redeemer – Corcovador
For cost reasons we decided to visit either Sugar Loaf Mountain or Corcovador. Our choice was Sugar Loaf Mountain and therefore I can’t give any tips here.
Food recommendations in Rio
Unfortunately, the food disappointed us a little bit in Rio. We found all sorts of cuisines and especially sushi and Arabic are strongly represented but we could hardly find a Brazilian restaurant. At every corner there are kilo restaurants which are typical for Brazil. Kilo-Restaurants are restaurants with a big buffet – with every course to the buffet the plate is weighed and charged by gram. That was definitely an experience, but nothing more.
The restaurant Amir at the Copacabana is the only restaurant that I can really recommend. They had a great arabic food selection, which tasted amazing. They even had a cheap lunch menue.
Besides, do not miss brigadeiros! We ate super tasty ones in the Centro at a small street stand.
Costs and Safety in Rio de Janeiro
We experienced Rio de Janeiro as quite expensive. Restaurants have German city prices and also the sights can be pricey. Therefore, my tip would be to take an accommodation with a cooking possibility in order not to depend on a restaurant or snack bar at least 2 or 3 times a day.
You probably also think about safety when you plan a trip to Rio de Janeiro. At least it was a big topic for me when I was researching for our Rio holiday. I had never been to South America before and was therefore quite skeptical. During my research I came across a lot of ideas about how to best travel in South America (old credit cards, extra wallet with little money etc.), but I couldn’t really make friends with any of them. Because the more often these “tricks” are used by tourists, the better known they are and the more dangerous they become. Therefore, we did not use any of them but prepared ourselves every morning for our upcoming day.
This means, each morning we thought about a rough daily plan and estimated how much money we will need that day. We only took cash and left the credit card in the hotel safe. We did this mainly on trips to Santa Teresa or the Centro. At the Copacabana, Ipanema and/or Zona Sul we also took our credit card once in a while, as we felt quite safe here. Additionally, we always carried our money/credit card and mobile phone close to our bodies and only unpacked them if necessary. Furthermore we did not wear or even bring any jewellery (watch, necklace, earrings etc.).
We felt pretty safe in Rio de Janeiro and luckily we didn’t have any bad experiences. Nevertheless, there were 2-3 moments in which we felt a bit uncomfortable. This was at the Arcos Da Lapa and in a taxi, with a driver who only spoke Portuguese. The driver didn’t understand us and couldn’t read the navigation that we showed him on google maps, he suddenly wanted to let us out in the middle of a favela. After long discussions with hands and feet and multiple showing of the viewpoint on our mobile phone in Google Maps we finally arrived at the right place. Of course the taxi meter kept running the whole time… On the way back we wanted to go to our hotel and the driver took an extra de-tour to show us Ipanema and Lagoa, so that we had to drive and pay a rather big amount at the end. The hotel arranged the taxi for us and we told them in English were we wanted to go but apparently the communication here to the taxi driver didn’t work either.
My tip: Buy data volume for your mobile phone and download Uber. Uber allows you to calculate the exact cost of the route you have chosen, shows the starting and ending points as well as the route to be taken and is in my opinion a cheaper, simple and safe alternative to taking a taxi. Because of the possibilities of the app the very common language barrier is easy to avoid. You can also choose if you want to ride with the suggested driver and see his star rating. Additionally, once your trip is done you have the possibility to rate the driver yourself.