Destination guide: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro or the “Marvelous City” is undoubtedly the tourist capital of Brazil and where you can see icons as emblematic as the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, as well being the home of the famous Rio Carnival.

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  • Rio de Janeiro- Transportation

    Bicycle

    Although traffic can be intimidating on Rio’s roads, the city has many kilometers of bike paths along the beach, around Lagoa and along Parque do Flamengo. You can rent bikes from stands along the east side of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas for around R$10 per hour. Other places to rent bikes include the following:

    Ciclovia ([tel] 2275-5299; Av Prado Júnior 330, Copacabana & Rua Francisco Otaviano 55A; per hr/day R$9/50; [hrs] 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat) Free delivery to hotels in the Zona Sul.
    Special Bike ([tel] 2513-3951; Rua Visconde de Pirajá 135B, Ipanema; per hr/day R$15/45; [hrs] 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-3pm Sat)

    Boat

    Rio has several islands in the bay that you can visit by ferry; another way to see the city is by taking the commuter ferry to Niterói. Niterói’s main attraction is the Museu do Arte Contemporânea, but many visitors board the ferry just for the fine views of downtown and the surrounding landscape. The ferry ([tel] 0800-704-4113; www.barcas-sa.com.br) costs R$5.60 return and departs every 20 minutes from Praça Quinze de Novembro in Centro.

    Ilha de Paquetá ([tel] ferry 0800-704-4113; www.barcas-sa.com.br) The ferry takes 70 minutes and costs R$9 return, leaving every two to three hours between 5:30am and 11pm. The most useful departure times for travelers are currently 7:10am, 10:30am and 1:30pm.
    Ilha Fiscal ([tel] 2104-6992) Boats depart from the Espaço Cultural da Marinha three times a day (1pm, 2:30pm and 4pm) from Thursday to Sunday and include a guided tour of the Palácio da Ilha Fiscal. It’s a short ride (15 minutes) and costs R$9.

    Bus

    By far the most widespread form of transport is the city bus. You’ll see them traveling at breakneck speeds around hairpin curves or clogged in stifling traffic jams at rush hour. There are hundreds of lines crisscrossing the city, with the most useful for visitors coursing along the corridors between Leblon and Copacabana. Every bus has its destination written on the front and on the side. If you see the bus for you, hail it by sticking your arm straight out (drivers won’t stop unless flagged down).

    Board the bus from the front, and pay the collector (who can make change) sitting at the turnstile. You’ll exit through the rear. Most buses cost around R$2.20 to R$2.80.

    In addition to the various long-distance bus stations, the Terminal Alvorada (cnr Av das Américas & Av Ayrton Senna) is Barra da Tijuca’s main bus station, with connections to the Zona Sul, both airports, Novo Rio Rodoviária and other districts of Rio.

    Car & Motorcycle

    Driving & Parking
    In the city itself, driving can be a frustrating experience even if you know your way around. Traffic snarls and parking problems do not make for an enjoyable holiday. If the bus and metro aren’t your style, there are plenty of taxis. However, if you do drive in the city, it’s good to know a couple of things: At night, Cariocas (residents of Rio) don’t always stop at red lights, because of the small risk of robberies at deserted intersections.

    Between 10pm and 6am, cars slow at red lights and then proceed if no one is around. Another thing to know is that if you park your car on the street, it’s common to pay the flanelinha (parking attendant) a few reais (usually R$2) to look after it. Some of the flanelinhas work for the city, others are ‘freelance, ’ but regardless, it’s a common practice throughout Brazil.

    Rental
    Renting a car is relatively cheap, but gasoline is expensive. If you don’t mind the expense, it’s a great way to explore some of the remote beaches, mountain towns and national parks near Rio. Getting a car is fairly simple as long as you have a driver’s license, a credit card and a passport. Most agencies require renters to be at least 25 years old, though some will rent (with an added fee) to younger drivers. Ideally, you should have an International Driving Permit, which you’ll need to pick up from your home country. In reality, rental-car companies accept any driver’s license – it’s the cops who will want to see an International Driving Permit.

    Prices start around R$100 per day for a car without air-conditioning, but they go down a bit in the low season. There is some competition between the major agencies, so it’s worth shopping around. If you are quoted prices on the phone, make sure they include insurance, which is compulsory.

    Car-rental agencies can be found at either airport or scattered along Av Princesa Isabel in Copacabana. At the international airport, Hertz ([tel] 0800-701-7300), Localiza ([tel] 0800-979-2000) and Unidas ([tel] 2295-3628) provide rentals. InCopacabana, among the many are Hertz ([tel] 2275-7440; Av Princesa Isabel 500) and Localiza ([tel] 2275-3340; Av Princesa Isabel 150).

    Local Transport

    Minivan
    Minivans (Cariocas call them vans) are an alternative form of transportation in Rio and usually much faster than buses. They run along Av Rio Branco to the Zona Sul as far as Barra da Tijuca. On the return trip, they run along the coast almost all the way into the city center. They run frequently, and cost between R$2 and R$4.50. They do get crowded, and are not a good idea if you have luggage. Call out your stop (‘para!’)

    Public Transport

    Metro
    Rio’s subway system (www.metrorio.com.br) is an excellent way to get around. It’s open from 5am to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 7am to 11pm on Sunday and holidays. During Carnaval the metro operates nonstop from 5am Saturday morning until at least 11pm on Tuesday. Both lines are air-conditioned, clean, fast and safe. The main line goes from Ipanema-General Osório (a station that opened in 2009) to Saens Peña, connecting with the secondary line to Estácio (which provides service to São Cristóvão, Maracanã and beyond). The main stops in Centro are Cinelândia and Carioca. More stations are planned in the coming years, and the city plans to integrate the rest of Ipanema and Leblon into the transport system.

    A single ride ticket is called a unitário and costs R$2.80. To avoid waiting in lines, you can purchase a cartão pré-pago (prepaid card) with a minimum of R$10 or more; you can then recharge it (cash only, no change given) at kiosks inside some metro stations. If you’re going somewhere outside of the metro’s range (Cosme Velho or Barra for example), you can purchase metro-bus tickets. Free subway maps are available from most ticket booths.

    Tram
    Rio was once serviced by a multitude of bondes (trams), with routes throughout the city. The only one still running is the Santa Teresa tram, known locally as the bondinho. It’s still the best way to get to this neighborhood from downtown.

    The bonde station (Rua Lélio Gama 65) in Centro is best reached by traveling via Rua Senador Dantas and taking a turn west into Rua Lélio Gama. At the top of the small hill, you’ll find the station. Bondes (R$0.60) depart every 30 minutes. The two routes currently open have been in operation since the 19th century. Both travel over the Arcos da Lapa and along Rua Joaquim Murtinho before reaching Largo do Guimarães on Rua Almirante Alexandrino, in the heart of boho Santa Teresa. From there, one line (Paula Matos) takes a northwestern route, terminating at Largo das Neves. The longer route (Dois Irmãos) continues from Largo do Guimarães uphill and southwest before terminating near the water reservoir at Dois Irmãos.

    Taxi
    Rio’s yellow taxis are prevalent throughout the city. They’re generally a speedy way to zip around and are usually safe. Drivers are mostly honest, though you may occasionally encounter fare inflation or tinkered-with taxi meters. Many of the drivers who hang around the hotels are sharks, so it’s worth walking a block or so to avoid them.

    Always opt for the meter. ‘Set fares’ to Pão de Açúcar or Corcovado are a sure sign you’re being had. Also, make sure the meter works. If it doesn’t, ask to be let out of the taxi. Meters have a flag that switches the tariff; this should be in the number-one position (80% fare), except on Sunday, holidays, between 9pm and 6am, when driving outside the Zona Sul and during December.

    The flat rate is around R$4.35, plus around R$1 per kilometer. Radio taxis are 30% more expensive than regular taxis.

    Most people don’t tip taxi drivers, but it’s common to round up the fare.

    A few radio-taxi companies:
    Coopatur ([tel] 2573-1009)
    Coopertramo ([tel] 2209-9292)
    Cootramo ([tel] 3976-9944)
    Transcoopass ([tel] 2590-6891)
    In Rocinha and some other favelas, moto-taxis (basically a lift on the back of a motorcycle) are a handy way to get around, with short rides (usually from the bottom of the favela to the top or vice versa) costing R$2.

    Train
    The suburban train station, Estação Dom Pedro II (Central do Brasil; [tel] 2111-9494; Praça Cristiano Ottoni, Av Presidente Vargas, Centro), is one of Brazil’s busiest commuter stations, but it’s definitely not the safest area to walk around. To get there, take the metro to Central station and head upstairs. This is the train station that was featured in the Academy Award–nominated film Central do Brasil (Central Station).