A Gringo’s Guide to Rio

Of all the gorgeous getaways in South America, there is nowhere better to spend your time than Rio de Janeiro. From the vast stretches of white sand beaches to the delicious cuisine on every corner, Rio is a city that has captivated the hearts and minds of everyone who comes to visit; even inspiring several world-famous pop songs, like “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow and “The Girl From Ipanema” by Tom Jobim and VinÃ?­cius de Moraes. But like any big city, Rio has its share of danger and crime, especially for unwary tourists who don’t take the right precautions. But as long as you stay aware of your surroundings, and take certain precautions, there’s no reason why you can’t find a little bit of paradise on your trip to The Marvelous City.

The first thing any tourist should know is be extra careful when walking the streets at night. Rio locals (called Cariocas) can always spot a tourist, which is no easy feat considering Rio’s diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Traveling with portable CD player, cameras, and other expensive items is especially dangerous, and could make you a mark for muggers. However, if you do find yourself at the mercy of a street thug, stay calm, and give them what they want. The best advice is to stay in well populated areas. For instance, the impressive commercial strip on Rua Visconde de PirajÃ?¡ in Ipanema often has police officers stationed out in the open on every block. But don’t get a false sense of security, muggings still happen here, but it’s nice to know that if you need help an officer is often within shouting distance. And although the beach can be particularly beautiful at night, it can be a place where criminals prey on tourists, especially during the summer and around Carnival (February).

Speaking of which, if you’re planning to come to Rio, Carnival is the time to go! The garish parades, with wild costumes and sultry sambas make Carnival an experience you won’t want to miss. Carnival can be described as the biggest holiday in Rio, (with the possible exception of the World Cup) and is something you just have to see to believe. Party-goers line the streets and pack the beaches for one of the most amazing experiences any tourist can have anywhere on the globe. But if your travel plans won’t allow you to come in January, don’t worry, there’s always tons of fun waiting to be had in Rio at any time of the year.

As a “gringo” I didn’t know what to expect by way of cuisine when I first arrived in Rio, but I soon discovered that Brazilian food has the most succulent food I’ve ever had in my life! For the ultimate experience in “all-you-can-eat” dining, head out to a churrascaria. Have a seat, and wait to be served. A dozen or so waiters will periodically stop by your table and offer up skewers of different delicious meats. Eat all you like, then take a break and have a few drinks. For one low price (25-50 Reals, approximately 10-20 dollars) you can eat all day if you have the stomach for it! But if you’re looking for something a little less formal, stop by any of the local Botecos found every block or so. Botecos are a main-staple for locals to catch a quick bite, a few beers, and watch the Brazilian football games. They are easily recognizable, with a small stand up bar and plastic tables outside. But beware, not all Botecos are as hygenic as restaurants back home… but if you’re feeling adventurous give it a try! For those looking for something more familiar, you can usually find a McDonald’s nearby or the Brazilian equivalent of American fast-food, Bob’s.

If you need to find a place to rest your head at night, Rio offers a wide variety of lodgings. For the economical backpacker or lone traveler a hostel may be the right choice for you. Adventure Hostel or Crab Hostel can offer comfortable rooms from $8-12 for a shared room, or $20-40 for a private room. But if you’re hoping to live it up a bit and have money to burn, why not check out the Copacabana Palace? It’s the most famous hotel in Rio de Janeiro, and towers over a beautiful stretch of Copacabana beach. With huge plush suites, swimming pool, and Italian restaurant, the Copacabana Palace truly lives up to its name. But all that luxury doesn’t come cheap… rooms start at $350 and go up from there.

But aside from great food and breath-taking beaches, Rio has its share of great sites too. The world-famous colossal statue of Jesus on Corcovado peak will leave you standing in awe. Or if you want something a little more daring, take a cable-car ride to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain. You can check out some of the great museums Rio has to offer, like the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM). Interesting works from some of the most important artists in the country will leave you with something to think about.

All in all, you can’t have a bad time in Rio unless you’re trying to! But if you take a few precautions, learn a few basic phrases in Portuguese, (the official language of Brazil) you’re bound to have as much fun as I’ve had. Whether drinking a chopp at a Boteco, or relaxing under the rays on the beach, Rio has something fun for everyone. Just make sure to buy some sun-block! Tchau!

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