What to Know Before Coming to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When one thinks of Brazil, images of rainforests, beautiful beaches, delicious food, and night clubs full of sweaty Brazilians dancing to samba and bossa nova rhythms often come to mind. Of course, it is all of that, but so much more. Full of magic and mystique, Brasil will entrance you in it’s cool breeze, sun-kissed skin, and easy smile. However, there are a few unexpected twists and turns that you will only realize once you are here. Read this list, take note, and your transition into Brazilian life will be much smoother.
1) Patience - Nothing happens in a hurry in Brazil. Of course, this is why we love it, the laid back nature of the place and its people. However, if you are traveling here by plane, train, or automobile, you must keep this in mind. Especially if you are coming from the U.S. or Europe, or any other place in the world that rewards punctuality. My trip here from the U.S. went rather smoothly, despite delays and having to rearrange my flights, etc. It was only when I landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, ready to catch my 40 minute flight to Rio de Janeiro, that things hit a snag. My flight was delayed 7 hours, and changed gates multiple times. No one seemed real sure about from where or when it was leaving. I stayed persistent, yet patient, asking folks several times over to make sure I was in the right place at the right time to catch my flight. After a couple of airport beers, some reading, and a short nap, my flight was boarded and we headed off to beautiful Rio. Patient, but persistent, is the key to navigating Brazil.
2) Learn Some Basic Portuguese - People who tell you that everyone speaks English in Brazil are wrong. Starting with the cab ride from the airport, there has been minimal English in my Rio experience. I’m sure, if you spend most of your time holed up in upscale hotels and restaurants, you will find people there who can help you in English. But if you travel like I do, through the streets and homes of the locals, some basic Portuguese will serve you very well. I basically spent an hour per day for one month, learning and practicing Portuguese for this trip. Now, you don't have to spend that much time, but 5-10 hours of study and practice will be extremely helpful. Just two days in, I’m very surprised and pleased at how much this has helped get around. Plus, don’t you want to be able to have a very basic conversation with a local Brazilian? At the very least you will get a smile for your efforts and the butchering of their language ;)
3) Bring Brazilian Real$$ With You - There are surely some exchanges in your country of origin that you can exchange for some Brazilian Reals (pronounced "Hay-Ice") for your trip to Brazil. The rate of exchange of Reals to US Dollars is about 4 to 1. At the airport, that rate is around 3-1, so if you are exchanging a substantial amount of money, you are going to lose quite a bit in that exchange. And here, it’s not as easy to find an ATM that will give you Reals with your credit card, as I’ve found in other countries. I went inside to a bank first, where my card was declined. The teller then sent me down to the metro station where I gathered some cash from the ATM there. Also in Brazil, you want to be careful where you use the ATM. Make sure its in daylight, or a well-lit densely populated area. To make things easier, and to make sure you get a decent exchange rate, bring some Real$$ with you.
4) It’s Not As Hot As Expected - I’m here in Rio in December, the beginning of summer time in Brazil. When I was researching the weather for Brazil in summer, I was told it would be sweltering humid heat with mosquitos swarming everywhere. Now this may become more true the more inland you go and the deeper into summer you get, but as for now, the weather here in Rio during the evening is quite cool and comfortable, And I’ve only seen one mosquito on my arm in two days. Perhaps my tune will change the more I travel and get deeper into Brazil. But if you get cold easily, you will definitely want to pack a sweater or some jeans for a cool Rio night. If you have ever been to New Orleans in the summer, that is what I would call hot. Even at night there is no escape from the sweat. Here in Rio, night is amazingly comfortable. And even during the day, that ocean breeze keeps things manageable. If you overheat, just take a dip in the ocean. The Atlantic waters down here in Rio are quite frigid!
5) Leave Your Expectations at Home - Brazil has so much to offer. Be sure to come with an open mind and heart to really experience this magical place. Whatever you might think you will experience, you are sure to be in for a surprise. Before coming here, you will likely hear a lot of people talk about how dangerous it is. The truth is, it’s just like any other big city around the world. There are places that you should probably stay away from, and there are times where you should be very cognizant of your surroundings. But, by and large, Rio is full of people enjoying their day, eating delicious food, kissing each other, dancing to beautiful music, and enjoying some of the most vibrant nature in the world. So sure, listen to the advice that people would like to give, but be sure to leave those expectations where they belong.
I hope these tips and tricks help in your adventure to Rio de Janeiro. I’ve only explored a tiny portion of the city at this point, so there’s so much more to come from this journey. I thought that my experience getting here and getting settled could help you along the way, and I hope that you find the inspiration to visit this amazing place at sometime in the future, if you haven’t already. I’m so excited to dive deeper into the culture, music, and people of beautiful Brazil. Be well, be brave, and explore. Vamos!