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Why Go to Rio de Janeiro

Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), this glimmering Brazilian metropolis has certainly earned its title. Resting at the mouth of a bay harbor, the city is lined with white-sand beaches, lush rainforests and surrounded by staggered green mountains. Rio de Janeiro boasts dramatic views from nearly every angle. From the slopes of Corcovado Mountain, you'll admire the striking 125-foot-tall Christ the Redeemer, who overlooks Rio's pristine beaches. And from the shores of Copacabana and Ipanema, you'll admire the picture-perfect backdrop that has attracted Cariocas (native Brazilians born in Rio de Janeiro) and visitors alike for more than 500 years.

But there's much more to Rio than scenic vistas, tropical rainforests and cerulean seas. Here, glitz, high fashion and a laid-back attitude dominate the city's character. Stroll along Avenida Atlântica in Copa, and you'll find a city brimming with bikini-clad beachgoers. The city is also known for its love of sport. From Maracana Stadium (home of the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Olympic Games) to the volleyball courts of Flamengo Park, the city is alive with activity. At night, you'll hear the soothing sounds of samba pulsating through the city streets in Lapa. And if you visit in February — just in time for Carnival — you'll witness Brazil's vibrant Portuguese masquerade that draws revelers from across the globe. 

Note: Rio de Janeiro isn't without its share of problems. Outside of tourist areas, the city includes large shantytowns, known as favelas, where about 130,000 people live in poverty. In recent years, large efforts have been made to rid the areas of crime, but some parts remain unsafe. There are also ongoing protests and demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro. Visitors should avoid all demonstrations and consult the U.S. Department of State's website for the most up-to-date travel advisories. 

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Rio de Janeiro Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Rio is between December and March, when the weather is warm and sunny enough to hit the beaches. The city's seductive samba beat and incredible panoramic views last year-round, but arrive in February to experience Carnival. This four- to five-day festival leading up to Fat Tuesday brings thousands of visitors and locals to the streets for parades, parties and balls. Finding an affordable place to stay during Carnival can be difficult; you should consider booking your hotel and flight up to a year in advance. Between January and March, daytime temperatures can sometimes surpass 90 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you prefer more moderate conditions, visit during autumn (April and May) or spring (October and November), when temps fall back to the 70s and low 80s during the day and the 60s at night.

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What You Need to Know

  • The sun is strongest at midday The most harmful rays peak between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Be sure to hydrate and pack lots of sunscreen. If you're planning on spending the day at one of the popular beaches, arrive early to snag a beach umbrella.
  • ATMs are limited Most ATMs only accept Brazilian credit and debit cards, though HSBC, Citibank, Banco do Brasil, and Bradesco accept international credit cards. ATMs are open from the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. On holidays and Sundays, ATMs close at 3 p.m.
  • Avoid favelas Stay clear of these dangerous Brazilian slums, where drug- and gang-related crimes are common. We also advise against taking city buses that run through these neighborhoods.

How to Save Money in Rio de Janeiro

  • Grub by the pound Rio de Janeiro is full of buffet-style restaurants that charge by the kilo. Look for signs that say "por kilo" and then pile your plate.
  • Samba in Lapa This vibrant neighborhood — known for its lively samba and dance clubs — boasts inexpensive evening entertainment.
  • Bed down at a pousada Hotel prices are notoriously expensive in the city. To stay within budget, search for pousadas — the bed-and-breakfasts of Brazil that often include a morning meal in their rates. 

Culture & Customs

Cariocas (native Brazilians born in Rio de Janeiro) are known for their easy-going demeanor. Friendly, hospitable and always up for a celebration, Cariocas relish eating late, dancing late and dressing up in glittery costumes for Carnival — Rio's most riotous and colorful party.

Portuguese is Brazil's official language. While there are some English-speakers near tourist attractions, it's helpful to bring a Portuguese phrasebook. We also recommend writing down the address of attractions you want to visit for taxi drivers.

You'll fit in by wearing shorts, T-shirts and cover-ups while walking along the beaches. Dress continues to be casual in restaurants and along the main shopping drag in the Zona Sul district. However, it's not unusual to spot lavishly dressed locals rummaging through clothing racks in São Conrado Fashion Mall's high-end stores.

When dining, try authentic dishes like feijoada (a meat-and-bean stew) or a ham and pineapple sandwich. To really blend in, finish off your meal with an espresso. As far as tipping goes, it is considered polite to add gratuity; however, most restaurants already include a 10-percent service charge on the bill. Also, many restaurants do not accept credit cards.

The real (BRL) is Brazil's official currency. The favorable exchange rate makes this South American city affordable for U.S. travelers. Check what the current exchange rate is before you go. 

Getting Around Rio de Janeiro

The best way to get around Rio is by foot or taxi. Major attractions, such as Lapa and Santa Teresa, can easily be reached on foot. Other popular sites and beaches are easy to reach by taxi, which are not difficult to hail on the city's main streets. For a hassle-free means of transportation from Rio de Janeiro International Airport (GIG), you'll want to catch a taxi. The subway is another affordable and safe way to get around to main attractions. City buses are also convenient, but unfamiliar riders can be thrown off by the non-English-speaking bus drivers. Keep in mind many bus routes branch into Brazil's unsafe favelas, which you'll want to avoid. Renting a car probably isn't the best mode of transportation, as traffic is heavy and the roads are packed with disorienting street signs and pedestrians.  

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Entry & Exit Requirements

United States citizens must bring a valid passport and obtain a visa from the Brazilian Embassy or closest Consulate before entering Brazil. A standard visa enables visitors to stay in Brazil for 90 days. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website .

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