Before you book your trip, make sure you understand what going to Rio de Janeiro really means.
I’m prepping for another trip to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval 2019. As always I’ve invited my friends and family to join me. In my discussions, I’ve realized there are a few things that people need to know before traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
(1) You’ll need a visa to go to Brazil.
I know for some people the passport thing is common sense, but most people don’t seem to know that you need a visa before you go. Americans can not get the visa in the airport. You must obtain it from your nearest Brazilian Consulate weeks in advance. Each city has its own process and requirements. I found Georgia to be really stringent. California requires almost nothing. So do your research and don’t get stuck at the airport unable to check-in for your flight. NOTE: If you have a stop in a neighboring country before or after, you may be required to have a yellow fever vaccine to enter.
(2) The people of Brazil speak Portuguese.
There is no need to brush up on your Spanish before because no one will understand you. Brazil historically was settled by the French and the Spanish, but it was officially colonized by Portugal and therefore present day residents of the land speak portuguese. Certain phrases are the same, but by-and-large they are different languages. Even the things that look the same on paper are pronounced totally different. My recommendation for a quick-learn handbook is “Dirty Portuguese“. The title is suggestive, but it actually includes pronunciation for many useful things like ordering in restaurants, booking hotels, etc.
(3) Rio de Janeiro is a large city in a small state in a very large country.
Brazil is larger than America and it also has a very diverse topography and population. Cities like Sao Paulo (gotham), Brasilia (government), Manaus (amazon rain forest), Salvador (historical afro-brazil), Belo Horizonte (culinary capital) and Florianopolis (silicon valley) all have very distinct identities and cultures. So going to another city in Brazil is not at all like going to Rio. And going to Rio doesn’t mean you’ve experienced the best of Brazil. You can do so many amazing things in Rio de Janeiro. Some people say a week is long enough, but not for me. The city is huge so I never seem to get my booty in gear to go anywhere else. Because I love the city, it’s not that big of a deal to me.
(4) Rio de Janeiro can be very dangerous.
The wealth disparity in Rio de Janeiro is huge, meaning the gap between rich and poor is visible. As in most places of extreme poverty, desperate acts of violence frequently occur. Muggings, robberies, kidnappings, shootings, etc. are a daily part of life and they dominate the new cycles. Despite the presence of the military police, no one is immune to these troubles. But there are steps you can take to make your travels there safer. NOTE: The US Dollar is valued higher than the Brazilian Real, so tourists can be targets. See my earlier post with safety tips.
(5) The city is not really made for solo travel.
Cariocas, the people of Rio de Janeiro, are very social. They are always in groups when going to the beach, grabbing a beer, or meeting for dinner. Going out alone is not a common thing, so it makes you stand out. Also, you’ll want to make memories in all the gorgeous places that you’ll see. And therefore the city is best experienced in groups. Plus, my mother taught me that there is safety in numbers. So grab your gang, rent an apartment and enjoy “the marvellous city”!