I have always wanted to go to Rio, so we spent my birthday in 2014.
First, let me say that Rio is not the kind of place you can just fly into and figure it out. We are adventurous travelers and were a little overwhelmed by the city. The population is huge with 6.5 million people. We spent a significant amount of time sitting (not moving) in traffic. The wealth of the citizens is divided with many people living in favelas.
However, the beaches and culture are overwhelming. Here are things to know if you want to go:
1. The Rio airport does not have A/C. I have personally experienced this. I read this before we went and I thought the author just meant the airport is hot. No, there is no air circulation.
2. Get to the airport 4 (yes, 4, not a typo) hours before your flight. We waited in security while people took their breaks. It was crazy long and hot. Very hot.
3. We could not find little markets to buy things for the beach and thought this was very odd. Then we learned why. Go down to the beach and get comfy. The markets come to you! We had people selling beer, cocktails, shrimp on the BBQ, dresses, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen. Pretty much anything you could possibly want. Several times we saw the guy who sold dresses leave his stuff to run to (I assume) his car for alternative options. I am pretty sure if I wanted something, someone would have went and got it for me.
4. The Christ Redeemer is enormous, beautiful and worth going. However, getting there is a little odd. We took a taxi and after 45 minutes we made it the 2 miles. Then the guy pulls into a neighborhood and says, “walk to the end of the block, turn right and you will see it”. Very odd… I was expecting Disneyland type lines and such. No.. there was a ticket counter for the train that takes you up the hill. The train is quite impressive as I am not certain how safe it was, but it got us there. At the top we saw the only tourist shop we ever saw in the whole city. There was a place to eat and an ice cream shop that was quite good.
5. Soccer. Football. Learn it before you go.
6. Any attire is acceptable on the beach. I saw a lot of women who were over 200lbs and sporting a bikini like it was nothing special. Good for them! It made me want to buy a bikini from the lovely merchants who walked around selling tops and bottoms, but alas I am not that brave. However, don’t worry about what you are wearing or not wearing. Clearly no one cares.
7. Caipirinha. Do not be a show off. These people take this drink seriously and the last thing you want to do is be drunk on vacation and not able to function the next day. Ask a bartender to show you how they make them. The trick is to not put the white insides of the lime into the drink. YUM.
8. The hotels are not directly on the beach like in Miami or other cities. You cross a major street and then walk a little ways to get to the water. It isn’t bad, I just wasn’t expecting there to be a main street between our hotel and the beach.
9. We stayed at the JW Marriott. Fabulous place that overlooks the sea. And they had a great lounge. Highly recommend it.
10. Do not go to the all you can eat seafood or meat restaurants. Note the tour buses and make your own conclusions.