In December 2019, we traveled to Brazil for two weeks. Below is our itinerary for the five days we spent in Rio, a city with some of the most beautiful and unique topography in the world!
Please note that our itineraries do not often include evening activities as we were advised not to be out at night in Rio. Additionally, we opted not to visit the North Zone, though we have provided some alternative schedules for those who may wish to.
- Use discretion about being out at night and which neighborhoods you visit. Try not to look too touristy or wealthy. Also be prepared to see the overwhelming poverty in the cities. The homeless sleep in cardboard boxes right on the sidewalks…everywhere.
Uber works very well and is affordable. We had no problems and it was very convenient for getting around such a large city. The app makes getting a ride very safe and is helpful especially if you don’t speak Portuguese. No awkward attempts at explaining where to go!
Most hotels have outlets with 2-prong American fittings, but if you have an appliance that requires a grounded plug (like a laptop), be sure to bring a converter. We use a universal converter and have found it helpful no matter where we travel.
Most South American hotels will not provide coffee makers in your room, but the coffee in Brazil is VERY GOOD.
Many ATMs and stores will try to trick you into paying secret fees by offering to “convert” your money for you. ALWAYS request the local currency (in Brazil, the real). Bradesco Banks, however, charge ZERO withdrawal or conversion fees!
Gear We Couldn’t Have Done Without:
Universal Converter: It’s always smart to travel with a converter that works for any situation.
Skyroam: This awesome device provides internet service via satellite and has worked nearly everywhere we’ve traveled. They have daily and monthly plans, but also ways to pay per use. For our long term travel in South America, we paid $99/mo for unlimited service.
Sarong: Sarongs are amazing. You can use them to lay on a beach, change your clothes, wear as a dress, keep warm on an overnight bus, or dress up a little black dress for dinner.
(For Her) Tankini/Swim Skirt Combo: I LOVE my swimsuit. I bought a tankini and swim skirt on Amazon before we left for our trip and they’ve been amazing assets. The tankini top looks like a regular tank top and the skirt looks like a regular skirt (with a pocket even). So, I can wear the combo around town, for hikes, on the beach, in the pool…anywhere…without any strange looks. It makes changing (or NOT changing) throughout the day easy when you plan to participating in multiple activities.
Sunscreen: The UV Levels are MUCH higher in South America. For example, it was rated “extreme” every day we were there. This means you can get sun burnt in as little as 10 minutes without protection. Also, sunscreen is very expensive in Brazil. You may want to stock up and check a bag to bring plenty with you.
11:10am Flight to Rio
12:10pm Arrive in Rio
1:00pm Uber to B&B Vitoria Regia
2:30pm Explore Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches/Fort of Copacabana
Upon arrival in Rio (pronounced Hrio in Portuguese), we easily caught an Uber to our Ipanema lodging, B&B Vitoria Regia. Though we booked this “hotel” on Booking.com, it really is more of a B&B in our host’s personal home. We were immediately struck by the impeccable decor and unparalleled views.
However, the views were great because the house is WAY up on a hill only accessible by a windy stone street. On our first afternoon exploring, we accidentally look a short cut through a fairly sketchy looking favela! Favelas are shack like homes built into the sides of the dramatic hills of Rio, typically without any electricity or water.
Once safely through the favela, we were deposited into the Copacabana neighborhood, where we strolled along the beach looking at sand art, wares, and the famous Copacabana Hotel.
At the end of Copacabana Beach is Fort Copacabana, built in 1908 and home to an army museum (only in Portuguese).
Within the complex are a couple of restaurants. We can recommend a seaside table at Confeitaria Colombo!
Upon returning to our B&B, we were struck by the amazing night views from our personal balcony as well!
11:30am Drop Off Bikes/Explore Botanical Garden/Eat Lunch
12:00pm Ride Bikes to Corcovado Train
1:00pm Drop Bikes/Arrive at Train
1:40pm Take Train/Explore
3:30pm Take Train Back Down
4:00pm Uber to Beach
5:00pm Ride Bikes Along Ipanema Beach/Dinner
Our first morning in Rio we were greeted with what we have come to recognize as a typical Brazilian breakfast: yogurt, fruit salad, breads, meats, cheeses, and the most delicious coffee in the smallest portions. My favorite part about the coffee though is that is it always served with hot milk to add to it!
Despite being up on a windy hill, the B&B did provide easy access to the Logoa Rodrigo De Freitas, a beautiful lagoon just north of Ipanema Beach with a 7km bike path around it and multiple places to rent from Bike Itau, Rio’s super simple bike sharing program. You can sign up online and it costs about $2 USD a day to rent a bike for 24 hours, but you can only keep them for 60 minutes at a time. No worries though because there are hundreds of drop off points!
On the west side of the Lagoa, we dropped off our bikes to explore the Botanical Gardens, a fairly large and peaceful space to enjoy nature in the big city. Some companies will sell you a tour, but you can really self navigate these gardens!
We had originally planned to hike up Corcovado Mountain to see Christ the Redeemer, but it has on and off safety issues with gangs of thieves holding hikers hostage (as recently as January, 2019), so we opted to stay on the safe side and take the train, which we easily transported to with Uber.
We ordered our tickets online in advance so we wouldn’t have to wait and it all went pretty smoothly, though there really weren’t that many good views from the train as you ascend the mountain: green jungle with 2-3 quick get your camera views. You can also take a van (guys waiting at the bottom for hire) and it is apparently about the same cost.
Once at the top, you climb stairs right behind Christ the Redeemer himself and can walk around to see pretty spectacular views of the city below!
As you can see, there are many people up there trying to get the perfect selfie with Jesus.
Before we took the (much longer) train back down, we had a meal and beverage at the restaurant at the top. We were unable to secure a balcony seat, but it was still pretty nice – though the service was slow…as was the trip back down. Plan for twice as much time as up because the descending train has to stop a lot.
To finish our day and take full advantage of our 24 hour Bike Itau rentals, we Ubered to Ipanema Beach and caught some breathtaking sunset views along both the beach and the lagoa on our way back to our B&B.
8:00am Hotel Pickup for Petropolis Day Trip
10:00pm Return to Hotel/Dinner
TO BE CLEAR, WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS TOUR. That is why we haven’t even included a link. In case you’re wondering, the tour was booked through Viator and run by Rio Carioca Tours. If you want to see Petropolis, we suggest you take the bus there, perhaps stay the night, and really enjoy it.
If you want the tea on why the tour was terrible, continue reading. It began with a hotel pickup (not our hotel because of the windy roads). Our guide was 20 minutes late to meet us for what we were assured was a tour for a maximum of 14 people. It turns out he was late because the tour actually had 44 people and it took 2 more hours after our pickup just to collect everyone, then another 2 to Petropolis. The bus takes 1.5 hours, FYI.
After 4 hours on the bus, we make our first stop at the Palcio Quitandinho, a famous casino hotel turned private apartments. The picture below is all we saw because the bus parked at a distance. Our poor tour guide also had to tell everyone what it was in 3 languages; English was his last translation and it was brief…something like “this is an old casino but we can’t visit.”
After the enthralling casino picture, we went to the Imperial Museum of Brazil. This visit was a little better, but there were hordes (and I mean hundreds) of middle schoolers also visiting. We were given an hour and 20 minutes to visit the dozen or so rooms in the former summer palace of Emperor Pedro II, which was really way too much time, especially when our guide was 20 minutes late to meet us.
More on the middle schoolers: honestly they were adorable. We found that anytime we encountered young people they wanted to say “hello” to us, though that was generally the extent of their knowledge of English. They always giggled when we said “hello” in return.
After the palace, we ate a buffet lunch around the corner that cost $4 USD a person. We stupidly paid $20 USD a person more to add the lunch on. I didn’t take pictures, but I’ll always remember throwing it all up later from food poisoning! Blech.
Then, we were hauled off to the Cathedral of Petropolis for a ten minute peek with no explanations; the guide stayed in the bus.
The ONLY redeeming aspect of the tour was a visit to the Bohemia Brewery. The staff at the brewery were very nice and loved to talk about beer. The tour includes three beers and only cost about $5 USD per person.
The place I was most excited to visit on the tour was Museu Casa de Santos Dumont, the home of the famous Brazilian aviator, who some claim flew before the Wright Brothers! However, we were just walked to the street and directed to take a photo of the building before being herded into a chocolate shop where we spent an hour.
8:00am Breakfast/Check Out
8:30am Uber to Copacabana Suites, Drop Bags Cable Car, Then Uber to Cable Car
9:30am Sugarloaf Cable Car (Historic Tour)
11:00am Hike Down Morro de Urca
12:00pm Explore Urca on Foot/Hide from Rain in Mall/Lunch at the Food Court
2:00pm Check Into Copacabana Suites
3:00pm Take Advantage of the Fitness Center, Sauna, and Hot Tub
We originally planned to spend two days in the north zone near the Lapa neighborhood, but grew concerned when so many recommended NOT going due to safety concerns. We are cautious people who listen to locals and changed our plans. However, we have included the original itineraries here if anyone is interested.
We did still opt to move to a more convenient hotel right near the Copacabana Beach. We got a great last minute deal for Copacabana Suites, which we can recommend for their location, fitness center, and quality breakfast.
After we dropped our bags at the new hotel, we Ubered to the Sugarloaf Cablecar, where we had bought tickets for the English Historic Tour in advance online. After the previous day’s nightmare it was delightful to find that we were the only two on the tour!
It was a cloudy, rainy day, so not ideal for views from Sugarloaf, the unique mountain that makes Rio so recognizable in pictures. However, our guides were amazingly informative and we learned that the mountain was named because it looks like a sugar loaf, the form they used to transport sugar cane on boats.
Look at that cool group! Our guides even provided us with parkas :).
After the tour, we had a choice to take the cable car back down or walk the trail – so we took the trail! I’m not sure how long it was, but no more than 1-2 miles at most. The terrain was pretty steep and wet though, so we went slowly and carefully.
By the time we got down, it had started to rain pretty hard, so we took refuge in the Riosul Mall! It was actually a great way to continue exploring Brazilian culture while staying dry. They also had a wicked good buffet in the food court!
We spent the rest of the day taking advantage of the pool, hot tub, sauna, and fitness center in our new hotel!
9:00am Fitness Center/Beach/Swim/ Lunch
12:00pm Uber to Tour Meetup
1:00pm Jeep Beach Tour
On our final day, we wanted to take advantage of our proximity to the beach on a beautiful sunny day, but we also needed more cash! Our first attempt in Sao Paolo required a lot of stupid tax, so we were anxious. However, it turns out that Bradesco banks don’t charge any fees or surcharges. It was simple simple simple!
After securing our valuables in the room, we went for a stroll and swim on the beach!
Be careful with the Brazilian sun though! Almost every day we visited, the UV Level was 11, the highest it gets!
To give yourself a break from the sun, there are shaded eateries all along the beach where you can order food and cervejas!
In the afternoon, we Ubered way out into the western part of the city to meet up with a guide for a Jeep Beach Hiking Photography Tour. We weren’t sure what to expect because the tour description mentions getting good pictures, so we were surprised to learn that Alvaro brings three cameras and the tour is basically a private photo shoot!
First, our guide Alvaro, picked us up and drove us past several beaches, providing an overview of the area and the best places to surf.
We next ventured into the Parque Estadual da Pedra Branca, home to the now famous Telegrafo Rock. The hike to the top is about 1.5km and has some lovely overlooks along the way.
Once at the top, there is a line of folks waiting to take pictures hanging or something something dangerous looking from the rock. There is no real danger because there is a ledge just below it, but it is good fun! Our guide was very serious about getting the best shots for us!
Here are a few other shots Alvaro took. He sent them to us THAT night!
Towards the end of the tour, we found a lovely rock to sit on while we watched the sun set over the ocean then hiked back down to a fun restaurant/bar right on the water (sorry forgot to take pictures!) before ending the evening.
9:00am Fitness Center/Beach/Swim/ Lunch
12:00pm Uber to Tour Meetup
1:00pm Jeep Beach Tour
Below is our original Day 5 itinerary. We chose to change plans due to safety concerns in the Centro/Lapa area. We probably would have been fine, but…the beaches were pretty fun too!