Guides

Beaches, Street Parties & Açai: A 48 Hour Guide To Rio

Just in time for the Olympics.

Rio de Janeiro is a city world renowned for it’s crazy carnaval, wild nightlife, beautiful beaches and even more beautiful people. But, as anyone who has ever lived in Rio can tell you, it’s not the most friendly city for those in a hurry. Whether it’s the crippling Brazilian bureaucracy or just the sweltering tropical heat, simple things can seem to take ages to accomplish. However, as a traveller fortified with the right information and a strong cafezinho (Brazilian coffee), you would be surprised how much you can pack into 48 hours in the cidade maravilhosa!

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Arriving

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Rio Airport
Av. Vinte de Janeiro, s/nº – Ilha do Governador, Rio de Janeiro

Most visitors will arrive to GIG, the city’s international airport. Once you’ve been stamped for entry and collected your bags, make your way into the arrivals hall and promptly ignore the woman screaming for your attention from the prepaid taxi stands; they’re a rip off and totally unnecessary.

If you didn’t bring any reals (Brazil’s unit of currency) with you, try using an ATM on the upper floor where you will likely get a better rate than from the cambrios (currency exchange)Then, head back down to where you arrived, make your way out the door and hang a right to the queue for regular metered taxis. Despite what you may have read in the guidebook, these guys are generally trustworthy and will get you where you need to go. Fares to zona sul, the city’s southern zone where you will most likely be staying, run about 50 to 60 reals ($20-25AUD). Alternatively, you can take the big blue bus labeled Onibus Real from right near the taxi queue. It’s cheaper but be warned that the journey on these can take forever.

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Checking in

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Photo: Bonita Ipanema Hostel

Bonita Ipanema Pousada & Hostel,
Barão da Torre Street, 107 – Ipanema

Rio Management,
Various locations

Rio Exclusives,
Various locations

Hotels in Rio are not cheap, especially when considering the level of service you are likely to receive. If you’re on a budget, consider one of the beach area’s great hostel or pousada options such as the cute and lively, Bonita Ipanema Pousada & Hostel.

There’s a pool and a bar to entertain the young and up-for-it crowd that tends to stay there and the converted house receives bonus culture points for being a former residence of Tom Jobim – you know, that guy that wrote that little song about a girl from Ipanema? It offers private or shared rooms and is situated within a short walk to the beaches.If your budget allows, consider splashing out on an apartment rental; they’re generally far better value than a hotel and offer a more personal and comfortable environment to kick your feet up after a long day. The friendly folks at Rio Management maintain a huge selection of high quality yet affordable options in Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon (the three neighbourhoods to look up when beach proximity is a priority). If you prefer to do Rio like Rihanna – all penthouses and private chefs – the crazy talented team at Rio Exclusives has the ability to make almost anything you can dream of a reality.

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Day one

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Polis Sucos,
Rua Maria Quitéria, 70, Ipanema

Ipanema Beach,
Rio de Janeiro

Porcão,
Rua Barrão de Torre 218 – Ipanema

New Natural,
R. Barão da Torre, 173 – Box 8 – Ipanema

AM

Most hotels, pousadas and hostels – even the more budget oriented – will offer a breakfast included in the room rate, usually consisting of pão frances (french baguettes), sliced meats, cheeses, fruits, juices and strong coffee. You would do well to take up this offering, especially if you’re on a tight budget, and head out for the day with a full tank on which to explore the city. If you’d rather hit the beach straight away (and why wouldn’t you?), consider grabbing a quick bite at one of the city’s ubiquitous juice stands. Sidle up to the packed counter at Polis Sucos in Ipanema and order up a bowl of açai com granola e banana, an icy cool and energy-rich specialty made from açai berries and guarana. Polis Sucus lays claim to being Rio’s original and best natural juice stand and the persistent throng of faithful customers would seem to lend credence to that idea. If açai isn’t your thing, try a frothy glass of abacaxi com hortelã, a delicious blend of pineapple juice and fresh mint leaves. Now you’re ready to hit the beach!

The beaches of Rio are the city’s social centres and they’re your best way to find out what’s on while you’re in town. There’s a saying in Rio that roughly translates to, “you are your posto“, referring to the numbered lifeguard towers (postos) that delineate different sections of the beach. Seeking the sexy LGBTQIA crowd? Head to Ipanema between posto 8 and 9. Eager to hit the surf? Hit up posto 7 next to the rocks at Arpoador. Want to kick it with the cool kids? Between posto 9 and 10 is where you’ll fit in. If you want to meet a particularly interesting group of locals, don’t be afraid to just walk over and strike up a conversation; most are exceedingly open and always eager to practice their English. Or walk down to the water’s edge and get involved in a bit of “keepy uppy”, the unofficial beach pastime of juggling the football with small groups of friends (the ladies represent right alongside the lads, even in their impossibly small bikinis). Just don’t forget to bring your sunscreen and leave the gold iPhone 6 in your room; you’d be amazed how quickly things can “disappear” on the beach.

By mid afternoon you should have worked up a decent appetite. Now would be a good time to check out one of Brazil’s most famous exports, the churrascaria, or steakhouse. These all-you-can-eat temples of gluttony are best for lunch, as you’ll give yourself time to recover before the inevitable big night out. Don’t make the schoolboy error of having your clubbing career cut short because you choose to eat five kilos of picanha mere hours before the discos open for the evening. For a proper carioca experience head over to Porcão, flip the tag next to your plate to the green side and let the games begin. You’ll soon be bombarded with a barrage of meat that will not end until you either pass out or flip the tag back to the red side (preferable). Before it’s all over, try it on like a local and order something special that, while it’s included in the price, is not brought out unless you order it specifically. A highly recommended option is the costela de cordeiro com menta, a succulent rack of lamb ribs served with a mint jelly.

Note to non carnivores: you can take shelter from the carnage a few blocks down the street at New Natural, a per kilo joint catering to vegetarians and pescatarians. Simply take what you like from the expansive buffet and then hand them your plate to weigh. Pay on the way out.

After a day on the beach and a massive lunch, you’ll probably be ready to head back for a kip before the evening begins. Great idea!

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PM

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Photo: Fosfo Box/Facebook

Fosfo Box,
Rua Siqueira Campos, 143 – Copacabana

Rio Scenarium,
R. do Lavradio, 20 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro

Carioca da Gema,
Av. Mem de Sá, 79 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro

Cariocas (people who live in Rio) start their evenings quite late by Australian standards so if your meat-induced coma lasted longer than planned, fret not. Head out around 10pm and you will be right on schedule. Find a nice boteco (small traditional bar with simple food options) and order uma garrafa de Original to share. Sharing beers served in unusually small glasses ensures that your cerveja will never get warm in the tropical night air. On the off chance you are hungry again, order up a plate of carne seca com aipim or linguiça acebolada, two boteco faves that are perfect for sharing. Around midnight, you should be in a properly festive mood and ready for the next episode.

Ask to pay your conta, and head over to Fosfo Box in Copacabana if Nu Disco and Indie Dance is your cuppa tea. For a more “Brazilian” vibe, consider heading over to the Lapa neighbourhood, Rio’s samba-filled street party mecca. It’s possible to have an amazing night just taking it all in, wandering through the crowd while plying yourself with absurdly strong caipirinhas sold by street vendors. If the street scene is a bit too full on for you, consider taking refuge in Rio Scenarium where you can grab an upstairs table overlooking the dancefloor and enjoy the live samba band. If the mood strikes, don’t be afraid to try and learn some moves yourself. A willing teacher is usually never far off. For a more intimate setting for your samba, try Carioca da Gema.

Do try and tear yourself away from it all and take a taxi home just before the sun comes up, as Lapa is not really a place you want to find yourself still partying after sunrise.

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Day two

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Photo: Kraft Cafe & Bistro/Facebook

Kraft Cafe & Bistro,
R. Aníbal de Mendonça, 55 – Ipanema

Galeria River,
R. Francisco Otaviano, 67 – Copacabana

AM

After last night’s festivities, you’ll want to get some caffeine in you straight away. Head over to the Australian-owned Kraft Cafe & Bistro and order up an eggs benedict or a fruit parfait, along with one of their signature lattes, and you’ll be good to go.

Now head back to the beach where the ocean is waiting to wash away your sins. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Galeria River, a small row of surf shops located at the Arpoador end of Ipanema. There you can rent a surfboard and arrange for a private lesson, if you like. Beach cruisers and skateboards are also available by the hour for a ride along the oceanfront. Be sure to stop off at any of the quioskes dotting the way for a cold beer or aqua de coco, served with a side of some world-class people watching at no extra charge. If you fancy a session of stand up paddle boarding (SUP), continue walking past the Galeria River, around the corner to the Copacabana side of Arpoador. There at posto 5, you’ll find an array of outfitters ready to give you your first lesson or set you up on a board and send you off into the surf, if you’re more experienced.

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PM

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Photo: Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr

Confeitaria Colombo,
R. Gonçalves Dias, 32 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro

Santa Teresa Bonde,
212, R. Lélio Gama, 2 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro

Armazém São Thiago,
R. Áurea, 26 – Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

From the General Osorio station in Ipanema, take the metro downtown, exiting at Carioca station. Walk through the bustling scene and step back in time as you enter Confeitaria Colombo. Take a seat beneath the stained glass dome and imagine what life in Rio was like 120-years-ago when the Belle Époque-style cafe first opened it’s doors. Order any one of their delicious chicken salad sandwiches served on homemade bread or, better yet, one of their mouthwatering waffles served with a scoop ice cream. You’re on holiday after all!

Walk back towards the metro station and across the street to catch the bonde, Rio’s classic street car that will take you up to the bohemian enclave of Santa Teresa (arrive before 3pm to ensure you don’t miss the last one up the hill). Spend the afternoon exploring the neighbourhood’s quaint galleries, shops and cafes while taking in the views of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) as well as the famous street art by SWK, Smae, Ment and other local legends. Wind your way down to Armazém São Thiago (known locally as Bar do Gomez) and immerse yourself in over 100 years of cachaça-soaked history. Ask your waiter to recommend a nicely aged pinga (slang for cachaça), Brazil’s sugarcane-based liquor, and sip it like you would a nice tequila. If you are still hungry, go for the sanduíche de picanha defumada, a house favourite. Assuming you still have time left in the day, now would be the time to catch a taxi to Urca for the gondola ride up to Morro do Urca and Pão de Açucar, known to you and me as Sugarloaf Mountain. Time it right and you will be blessed with breathtaking views of the city by day and then by night, as the setting sun electrifies the sky before finally fading to black.

Some of the best parties in Rio happen outside of the traditional club settings. If you’re lucky there will be a multi-genre, vinyl only Selvagem party on near the city’s newly-renovated port area (check on Facebook). Or, if it happens to be a Monday or a Friday, head to Pedra da Sal located in the same area. The small neighbourhood, which was formerly a community of freed and escaped slaves, is reputed to be the birthplace of samba and they still honour the music’s Afro Brazilian roots there twice a week. Grab a super strong and super cheap caipirinha and find a spot to sit up on the big rock to listen to some authentic samba.

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Shopping

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Photo: HomeGrown/Facebook

Gilson Martins,
Rua Figueiredo de Magalhães, 304 – Copacabana

Havaiana shop,
R. Visconde de Pirajá 224 – Ipanema

Homegrown,
R. Gen. Roca, 514 – Tijuca

Oh no! It’s your last morning and you have been so busy getting involved, you forgot to find time to shop for souvenirs. Not to worry though, as Ipanema has a plethora of great options located in a convenient cluster, allowing you to snap up some deals before catching your flight. If you are looking to bring back something cool, unique and quintessentially carioca, you can always head to Gilson Martins for one of their iconic bags, coin purses or passport covers, emblazoned with the flag of Brazil or other iconic motifs. Or head to the Havaiana shop to snap up some colourful thongs.

But those in the know will head to Homegrown, located in a small second floor gallery on the corner of Visconde de Piraja. There you’ll find prints and limited edition t-shirts from local street artists and other unique gifts you won’t find elsewhere.

Pro tips

  • Entrance to clubs can often be quite expensive in Rio, even by international standards, but to find yourself on a reduced admission guest list, you need not be besties with the promoter or DJ. Simply find a party that interests you, search for the name of the event on Facebook and leave your name on the wall to be added to the lista amiga or friends list! The Rio Times, the city’s English language news source of choice, publishes a great nightlife guide with their top picks for live music and DJ nights for each night of the week. Pick up a print edition in your hostel or, better yet, find them online.
  • Crime is an unfortunate reality in Rio but not necessarily worse than any other big city. Minimise your exposure by leaving expensive gear and jewellery at home and, if something happens, hand over what you have and try not to let it ruin your adventure. The most important thing is to just be aware of your surrounding while not letting any irrational fear hamper your trip.
  • A little Portuguese can go a long way. ‘Tudo bom’ and ‘tudo bem’ are among the most common expression you’re likely to encounter. They’re both interchangeable questions and answers meaning, ‘all good?’ and ‘all’s well!’. A simple please and thank you (obrigado for men, obrigada for woman and de nada for ‘you’re welcome’) are also essential words for the well-mannered traveller. Cariocas are also great at using non verbal communication. A simple thumbs up will go a long way!

Tee Cardaci is an American DJ and producer based in Rio de Janeiro. He is a founder of the Botafogo Social Club parties and resident DJ at The Clubhouse in Ipanema. He is also the host of Deep & Dusted on London’s, The Downlow Radio.