I have to begin by saying that Rio de Janeiro surprised me. I had no expectations and left with a deep love for brazil, brazilians and Açai!! It was Carnival season while I was there so of course everyone was extremely happy. I’ll tell you here how to enjoy Rio like a local and adapt to the brazilian culture.
The first thing to understand is that Brazil is NOT Latin America, I am Colombian, I know Latin America and Brazil is a whole different world. So to be a local in Rio you need to understand some portuguese (sexiest language ever!), enjoy the great food, and explore the city.
Cariocas use 3 words a lot: Gente, Porra, Pra caralho.
- Gente: I can’t even begin to describe what ‘gente’ means, it can be used as ‘people’, refer to the group you are with, emphasize an emotion, express surprise and many more. You will here it every 5 seconds.
- Porra is like ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’, used when you are surprised, mad or excited.
- Pra caralho is to emphasize something in an exaggerated way
- Example: tá cheio pra caralho = its fucking full.
You will start blending in by using these 3 words, and they will definetely stick with you once you leave.
I have to say brazilians are incredibly nice, of course everyone says this about almost every country they visit but still, its true about brazilians :). I had the fortune of experiencing Rio through a carioca friend so I got see Rio in its truest form and have fun with locals.
Warning! Everyone in Rio is beautiful, super sexy and very flirtatious so be careful of all the sexy cariocas.
What I loved the most of Brazil, compared to other countries in Latin America, is that they have their own, very local foods and flavors that no one else has.
- Farofa which is the greatest food invention in Latin America. Its a yuca (mandioca) powder that you put on beans, eggs, meat, basically anything you want, and it gives it a great crunchy taste.
- Acai. It’s the fruit of the Amazon gods (I made that up, but it should be) it’s a berry that grows in the Amazon. Its made into a very refreshing and nutritious smoothie with a very original taste. You can mix it with granola, banana, or plain. In Brasil they always add some guaraná so it gives you energy too. You can get this literally in every corner.
- Rodizio. Not suitable for vegetarians!! I’m sure most of you know what a Rodizio is: insane amounts of meat being served non-stop until you collapse. I don’t usually eat that much red meat but since I was already in Rio I went for touristic purposes. If you like meat I highly recommend it. All the meat is deliciously cooked and theres also unlimited salad bar so you don’t feel as bad.
- I also went to a restaurant by the Kilo! I’d never seen this before. Countless options, one plate. You can put as much food as you want, it gets weighed and you eat it! Simple as that.
- I have to give a special mention to Pao de Queixo (chessebread). It sounds pretty basic, dough + cheese, but it has a great balance between taste, texture and size. Loved it!!
There’s many more things to try out, seafood, feijoada, coxinha, tapioca the list goes on. The great thing about Rio is that it has the options for everyone, guy selling food on the beach, food carts, fancy restaurants and everything in between.
Rio has everything: mountains, forest and ocean mixed together in harmony. There are countless hikes with incredible views (better that the one from the Christ), many beaches not only Ipanema and Copacabana, there’s around 60 km of coastline in Rio, as well as countless restaurants, bars and parks.
To do sightseeing like a local you need to be skeptical of the ‘main’ tourist attractions and try to look for other alternatives that suit you, Rio will have what you want.
So, the main tourist attractions are Cristo Redentor, Pao de Açucar, Ipanema, Copacabana, Lapa -Selaron steps and the recently renovated Port, some are cool but some are very overrated.
The first you need to do is forget about the Christ, it’s a tourist trap, insanely overpriced, extremely full and the view is not the best. Its the most overpriced atraction I’ve visited.
Its best to do a free hike, escape the tourists and chill at your own pace. I did the Pedra Bonita hike which was awesome. You can also hike the Christ mountain and Pao de Açucar but they are a bit more challenging. The Pao de Açucar is 80 Reais (25 dollars), which to me is a crazy amount for a going up a hill.
View from Pedra Bonita
Also, you might see some cute monkeys if you do a hike.
If you decide to go to the Christ, when you come down to the main road, cross the street and go left (with the christ behind you) and walk 5 minutes. You will pass a bus station and then theres a small alley called Largo do Boticario This alley has beautiful traditional colonial houses that have now been abandoned. Its definetely a good place to see how the architecture was back then. Also a great place to take nice pictures and relax in the shade.
Go to Copacabana, chill on the beach, there’s people walking on the beach and selling food and alcohol all along the shore. I had some esfihas (dough triangles filled with cheese), but I wouldn’t recomend the alcohol since you don’t know what water was used for the cocktails, but if you are brave enought go ahead.
After chilling on the beach go to the Forte de Copacabana, a great hidden spot. Its only 6 reais and you have an amazing view of the whole bay. It’s on the tip of Copacabana beach before reaching Ipanema. This places proves that theres more to Rio than just sitting on the beach or going to the Christ (I hated the christ).
Also, take pictures with these great brazilians
After the fort you can walk to Ipanema (5 minute walk) and see the sunset on the Arpoador rock.
To be a local in Rio you have to love swimming, running, playing football on the beach and all other sports: hiking, paragliding, surfing, rock climbing etc. Being fit in Rio is a given! So be prepared!
There are other beaches like Prainha, a secluded surfer beach outside of Rio. Unfortunately, you need a car since no buses go there.
Aside from the beaches the city has a lot to offer. A great not so touristic place is the new port. The government renovated it for the world cup. Its a nice walk that takes you to the Museo de amanha-Museum un tomorrow. Everything is in portuguese, english and spanish. The idea of the museum is to show the world through science; physics, chemistry, biology and culture and then see whats in store for us. Spoiler alert: global destruction due to climate change and environmental destruction. Its a cool museum despite the tragic (and real) message.
You can also walk to the Ethnicities mural, a huge mural painted for the World Cup that represents our world’s indigenous diversity.
After this you can walk a bit thought downtown to the Pedra do Sal. The Pedra do Sal was the place where the salt shipments used to land, this area was a meeting point for many people, among them slaves. Later, when the city began to grow, liberated slaves started to live there. Its said to be the birthplace of Samba and every monday and friday at 8 pm theres live samba. I was involved in carnaval festivities so I didnt go but I’ve heard its amazing.
The other main tourist attraction is the neighborhood of Lapa, the lapa arches and the Selaron Steps. The whole neighborhood has a chilled out artsy vibe during the day and full party mode at night, so definetely check it out.
The Selaron steps: the leyend says they were just some random steps until Snoop Dogg made a video there, twitted it and made it famous! So now, theres a line of tourists at the first step of the stairs (where it says Escaleras de Selaron – Rio de Janeiro) waiting to tke a picture. You can go up 5 steps and take the same picture with no line.
So, this is the full guide to be a local in Rio. If you search enough you will find anything you want in this amazing city. I have to say its a bit expensive compared to other Latin Countries but its well worth it, and if you like to party going to Carnival is a necessary life goal! Ill write more on that later…