Exactly a week ago, I turned from my second trip to Brazil. Looking back on my first trip, I can really remember how different it was for me than any destination I’d been to before: my first time going to South America, my first tropical trip, my first time applying for a travel visa, my first vaccine for a trip, and my first time taking an overnight bus. Needless to say, it was an adventure.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro, especially on your first visit. Here are five tips and five photos to help you plan your first trip to Rio!
Five tips for visiting Rio de Janeiro
- Prepare for the humidity. Even if the thermostat only reads 80ºF, you won’t believe that for a second with the unrelenting humidity this city emits. This is Brazil, you can wear about as little as you want and it’s totally fine!
- Conceal your valuables. Rio is famous for petty crime, which was especially prominent when the World Cup was held there and all the tourists were easy pickings for thieves. Keep your phone and wallet hidden and do your best not to walk around with a massive camera around your neck. I managed this by wearing a light jacket, using a small camera lens, and sweating like crazy 😅
- Card is king. In Brazil you can pay for just about anything with a card. Especially in the city, don’t worry about using ATMs to take out cash (much less, internet reports state that they’re often hacked – you be the judge!)
- Opt for Ubers over taxis Uber is the de facto way to get around a city in Brazil, whether it’s Rio or anywhere else. They cost about half as much as a taxi, and most locals will warn you that the taxis are scam artists 🤔
Five places you must see while you’re in Rio!
Call me ignorant (or young? yeah I prefer young) but I never realized that Barry Manalow’s eponymous song referred to a beach in Brazil. This beach stretches for ages, with its iconic swirly sidewalk. As you walk along the street, you’ll see people building sandcastles, playing volleyball, and selling bikinis. That’s right – you can buy a bikini from the comfort of your very own beach chair!
Stop at any one of the beachside stands for a beer or a mojito or both. No one is judging you, this is Brazil!
If you continue along Copacabana beach by foot far enough, you’ll eventually round a corner and find yourself at Ipanema. From here you’ll see Morro Dous Irmaos, or Two Bothers Hill, considered one of the best spots to view the city of Rio from above.
Morro Dous Irmaos, or Two Bothers Hill, are the two peaks in the distance.
Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer, is probably the most famous icon of the city of Rio de Janeiro. To get here you need to take a train up the mountain, and pay a fee of R$46 (roughly 15€ depending on the exchange rate). The Tijuca Forest which surrounds the Corcovado mountain, where Cristo stands, is the last rainforest within the city limits.
TIP - Cristo Redentor is high up in the hills, meaning that often there is no visibility of the statue. I went on a day where they said it would not be visible, and I managed only to snap a photo when there was a break in the clouds. If you only have once chance, take it!
Pão de Açúcar, Sugarloaf mountain
To get to the Sugarloaf mountain, you’ll probably want to take a cable car from the mainland to the summit. It’s also possible to hike if you prefer and have the time. From the first stop, you’ll take a second cable car to reach the highest summit. At this point you can walk around, and will be able to see the Cristo Redentor from afar!
Luckily I’m scared of heights so this was a really great experience for me 😉
Jardim Botanico, Rio do Janeiro
Last but certainly not least are the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janerio. What’s impressive about the flora in Brazil is how huge some of them are, especially compared to their cousins located in North America or in Europe.
One of the things I most wanted to see in this garden were the Amazonian Giant Water Lillies, on which small children can apparently float (don’t believe me – google it!). They can have a surface area of more than three meters wide, and a stalk up to 8 meters in length O_O
Check them out! They weren’t as big as I was expecting, but still impressive.
The botanical garden also has an orchid house, an alley of palm trees, a Japanese garden, and tons more to discover. You can easily spend 1-2 hours here, and the fee to enter is just a few reals.
Would you ever visit Brazil?
Let me know what you think about visiting Brazil in the comments, I’d love to hear whether I could get it onto your bucket list! Plus if you have more time in the country, don’t miss these things to do in Brazil which covers a ton of different experiences.