I just got back two days ago from Rio de Janeiro. It was my second time visiting Rio and I had an amazing time. A full trip report will be coming in the future, but let me share you 10 things I learned from my recent trip to Rio de Janeiro Brazil.
1. The Premium Onibus is amazing – I took it last year from Centro Rio de Janeiro to the airport and I highly recommend it. There are many airport routes and pick up spots in Copacabana, Centro, and even in Barra de Tijuca. It’s only 12 reais (~$6 USD) which is the best part and it’s an air conditioned coach bus. It definitely beats taking an expensive taxi!
2. Getting a SIM card in Brazil is very easy – I was able to purchase SIM cards from the following Brazilian cellular vendors, TIM, Claro, Oi, and Vivo. These are the four major wireless carriers in Brazil and I bought each prepaid SIM card from a newspaper vendor in Rio de Janeiro. TIM and Oi seem to be the easiest to activate over the phone and you can even get an English speaker. There is English translation with Claro, but they tell you to visit a Claro store with your passport to activate your prepaid SIM card. Recharging the SIM card is very easy and you can take it to any newspaper kiosk or supermarket to have them reload your prepaid SIM. The best part about getting one of these SIM cards is that it’s only 8-10 reais ($4-5 USD) each and you get a local Brazilian phone number with unlimited free incoming calls. You DO NOT need a Brazilian CPF number to activate TIM, Claro, and Oi. You will however need a passport, local address (can be your hotel), and phone number in order to activate TIM and Oi over the phone. I’ll be experimenting more with Vivo in June when I come back for the World Cup.
3. Kilo restaurants are the best – I absolutely love having a kilo lunch because you can choose whatever you want from the buffet and pay by the kilo. You can have feijoada, all types of seafood, meats, salads, and Brazilian specialties. The best kilo restaurants are in Centro and Zona Sul. I saw many packed Kilo restaurants in Centro near Cinelandia metro station. They’re affordable, but lunch will set you back at least 25 reais ($12.50 USD) with a drink. Food is not cheap in Brazil unless you’re only eating street food.
4. Rain really takes the enjoyment out of Rio – Since Rio de Janeiro is tropical, it can often rain with thunderstorms. On my last unintentional day (due to a flight cancellation) in Rio de Janeiro, it was pouring cats and dogs starting from noon until the late evening. It was cloudy, pouring rain, and humid (mind you that it was still 80F). This is the absolutely worst conditions for visiting Rio de Janeiro as you can’t enjoy the beach and touristy sights.
5. ATM Scams in GIG airport – Most ATM’s in Rio de Janeiro’s Galeao International Airport have skimmers installed. I personally know of someone who recently got their ATM card skimmed at GIG airport and it was an unfortunate event. I highly advise you to avoid the 2nd floor bank of ATMs since scammers have pretty much hijacked them. The scammers install a skimmer device over the ATM card entry and install hidden camera nearby to see your PIN key movements. There have been reports that hackers have access to the encrypted PIN even if you cover your hand when entering your ATM PIN number. Once they obtain your card number and PIN, they will clone your card and drain your bank account over time.
6. Onibuses are amazing – Most tourists don’t take the onibus because it can be a little bit overwhelming. I take it because I’m used to local transportation and I absolutely loathe taking taxis whenever possible. Onibuses are 3 reais (~$1.50) and they can get you all the way from Centro to Barra de Tijuca (where I stayed). The bus drivers drive really fast and are sometimes ruthless when cutting other people off. Be careful when getting up because it can get quite bumpy. It’s the cheapest form of public transportation and I found it quite reliable and fast.
7. The ferry from Centro to Niteroi is a must do – It costs 4.80 reais (~$2.40 USD) for a one way ferry ride from Centro to Niteroi and vice versa. It reminded me of New York’s Staten Island ferry, but too bad the ride has a cost unlike New York. Niteroi felt like a whole different culture to me and I intend to explore more of it on future trips to Rio de Janeiro.
8. Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) has amazing views of Rio – This is one of the highlights on my trip to Rio de Janeiro. Last year, I didn’t get to take the cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain, but this time I went. It’s a pricey attraction at 62 reais ($31 USD), but well worth the money. You must go when it’s not cloudy or rainy so you can see the amazing sweeping views of Rio de Janeiro.
9. Everything dies out on the weekends – Saturdays and Sundays are pretty much dead zones in Centro and most of Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon). Many shops close because these two days are rest days for Brazilians. Most restaurants stay open though. The exceptions are large supermarkets and shopping malls which stay open, but have limited hours as opposed to Monday through Friday.
10. Brazilians love their soccer teams – This past Sunday, I was at Maracana Stadium during the Finals game of Flemengo and Vasco. There were security officers, police, police in riot gear, and military police present at and around Maracana Stadium. Vasco fans were out of control and were heckling Flemengo fans before the game. Warning – Don’t wear an opponent’s jersey in the wrong territory because you might be in for a rude awakening.