[heading size=”20″ margin=”40″]Big City, Beaches, and Sweet Baby Jesus![/heading]
Oh Rio de Janeiro. This place should be on everyone’s bucket list if it isn’t already. If there’s one word I can use to describe this location it would have to be “dream.” It’s a large, cultured, and gorgeous city that’s surrounded by mountains on the coast. There’s good surf, fantastic night-life and babes everywhere. What more could you ask for?
Brazil is known to be expensive for South America and yes, I am confirming that it is; however, there are ways you can experience Rio on a budget. I was able to pull that off myself.
The absolute best part about Rio is the beaches. Let’s be real – most people go on holiday for the sun and sand. Here, you can spend the entire week just hanging out on the beach! Picture miles of shoreline separated by mountains and cool rock formations all along the coast, with millions of people soaking in the sun wearing nothing more than thong bikinis and Speedos. These beaches are like no other. All you need to do is kick back with a good crew, grab some umbrellas and chairs, and chill out all day.
Once you’ve found a good spot on the beach, you don’t have to move because everyone will come right to you. Within an hour you could have a new bikini, fresh coconut, beach canga and lunch. Local vendors sell absolutely everything – they even have grilled cheese! And yes, they take credit cards. Items sold on the beach are reasonably priced. Want something really cheap? Grab a refreshing beverage from the iced tea/lemonade guys and make sure to try the esfirras, a popular, local snack. The calabresa pastries are my favourite.
The most famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro are Copacabana and Ipanema, which are more crowded and filled with tourists if that’s what you’re looking for. I personally like to experience the local style so I settled into a great area called Leblon. It’s a safe and affluent place with more native Brazilians than tourists. The benefits of this spot include being located right next to the famous Two Brothers Mountain, vendors selling items at a slightly lower price, and a less crowded beach.
When you go to Rio you absolutely have to stay at the Lemon Spirit Hostel in Leblon. It’s a little more expensive than your typical hostel but its very clean and only a block from the beach. The best thing about travelling is meeting people, and the individuals I met at Lemon Spirit made my trip the absolute best. I arrived solo, but the minute I checked in I made new friends and went straight to the beach with them! Once in a while the hostel owners will make a bucket of their local drink, Caipirinha, for everyone to share. Be careful – the booze in the drink can creep up on you!
Another great beach to check out is Barra (pronounced Baha) on the other side of the Two Brothers Mountain. This is another area that is reasonably wealthy and secure for travellers. Barra beach has some great vibes. Find a place to call your own near Praia do Pepe, which is a famous location for soccer players to practice futvolley. There’s always some fantastic house music playing and local vendors serve the freshest acai juice I have ever had. Barra is also a hot spot for wind surfing.
[note note_color=”#66feff”]With all this talk about beaches, it’s good to know how to rock the beach, Rio style. Guys wear Speedos, girls wear thong bikinis. Ladies, I know about the white bum-cheek situation but Brazilians love tan lines and this is the best spot to get a Brazilian wax. Save your towel for your shower because everyone uses cangas, which are like sarongs. You can get them right on the beach – I got a really nice one in Leblon for $20. Also, make sure to pick up some Havaianas flip-flops in Rio – not only are they in style but they’re great quality and more reasonably priced than they are back home.[/note]
The food in Rio is absolutely delicious. Not only are there tasty, local dishes with meats, fish, rice and beans, but also fantastic, multicultural cuisine available as well. For example, in Rio I ate the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life, and yes, I’ve been to Japan. High-end restaurants are typically very pricey, but it’s okay to splurge once in a while. For cheaper options, check out some local, pub-style spots where no one speaks English and everyone is crazy about soccer. The prices are agreeable and the atmosphere gives you a little taste of the culture. Make sure you try the picanha.
Another fun and budget-friendly option for a meal is to have a picnic. Rent a bike and ride along the lagoon to take in beautiful views of the Jesus statue that watches over the city. Find a spot to settle and enjoy some local produce. Rio has some of the freshest fruit imaginable, so make sure to try the coconuts that are sold everywhere. They are refreshing, healthy and also a good hangover cure.
There are so many gorgeous mountains in Rio that you would be crazy not to do a little hike. I am no rock climber but I did a pretty easy hike up to Pedra Bonita. This is where hang-gliding takes place, which is a very popular thing to do in Rio. You can take in the most beautiful views of the city, and though it is quite pricey, it’s a breathtaking way to check out the whole region and see just how big it is! If you’re not into hang-gliding, you will still see plenty of wildlife. On my hike (which I did in flip-flops) I got to see some crazy monkeys swinging through the trees.
Alright, now I’ll get to what you’ve all been waiting for: the parties. There are parties every night in Rio and the city is home to the biggest party in the world, Carnival. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there during Carnival but if you are, keep in mind that prices go up. I picked up some fun and catchy music during my time partying in Rio. What really stood out was the favela funk music. It’s really fun to twerk to.
The party you HAVE to go to happens every Friday in Lapa, an area located in the centre of the city. They close off the streets and you get to experience what Rio is all about, surrounded by fantastic night-life. Whatever you do, bring identification with you to get into bars because you will not be allowed in without it. A driver’s license is just fine.
I know everything sounds fantastic but I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet: the sunsets. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful sunsets of my life in Rio and it’s the only place I’ve been to where everyone applauds as the sun goes down. There’s a rock that separates Ipanema and Copacabana called Arpoador and it’s the best spot to see the sunset in Rio. Get your camera ready and arrive a little early because it can get crowded.
Pao de Acucar, otherwise known as Sugar Loaf Mountain, has great views of the city. The sunset was absolutely mind-blowing. Make sure to stay until it’s dark outside – the evening sky displays so many colours and you can see the city (including the Jesus) light up.
Everyone seems to have an image of Rio as the most dangerous place on earth. Well, to be honest, anywhere you go in the world can be dangerous. Bad things happen to people with no common sense or just bad luck. Yes, there are favelas everywhere in Rio, you can see them light up on the mountains at night but if you stick to Leblon you will be fine. At worst, getting robbed is a possibility. That being said, don’t wear expensive jewellery, don’t carry all of your cash and passport with you at once, and don’t flash any expensive electronics around. Unfortunately these things do happen, but the people in Rio are so nice that they typically thank you and smile after robbing you!
Another thing to keep in mind while visiting Brazil is that people don’t typically speak English there, nor are they taught the language in school. In fact, students have to pay to learn English, so make sure you learn a couple of words in Portuguese and some Spanish too.
Have you booked your flight yet? Don’t wait, just go! Rio is like no other place and everyone should experience it. It’s hard for me to put it all into words, so you need to get out there and experience it for yourself!