Category: How-To

FIVE (5) Things to Know BEFORE Traveling to Rio de Janeiro

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”!

Safety Tips for Travel to Rio de Janeiro

Praia Leme Aug 2014

Rio de Janeiro has a reputation for being a dangerous city. There are steps you can take to increase your changes of staying safe. |DineWithDani

Before I went to Rio de Janeiro for the first time, just after the World Cup, many people warned me about the dangers of traveling there. I was told all about the “street kids” who will rob you blind and the cab drivers who will rip you off.

Recently, a video surfaced of street kids picking pockets and snatching items from random passersby. It has a lot of people rattled. Admittedly, I was taken aback as well because all 27 incidents happened at the same intersection.

I’m grateful that founder and editor of Brazil Magazine, Bruce Jones, and Miriam Silva of Sweaty Sexy Samba, personally gave me some safety tips that I want to share with you.

Carry a copy of your passport. You don’t need to walk around with your passport. Unless you’re dealing in banks, you probably won’t need actual ID all day. To get into the clubs, the copy will suffice. And of course if you’re robbed, you won’t have lost your most valuable asset.

Invest in a money belt. Money belts are basically fanny packs you wear under your pants or an actual belt with a secret compartment. This is a way for you to store emergency cash, cards and identification in case you are robbed. The trick is to NOT go into the money belt in public. Only do so in a restroom if you must.

money belt options

Avoid the city bus and the train if possible. Your chance of being robbed increase on the bus. There are comedy sketches on youtube and Brazilian TV about it. Cabs, walking in your neighborhood or taking the metro to your destination are preferable. The metro and the train are different. The metro goes through a lot of the popular areas in Rio. The train will take you to the west zone and north zone—poorer suburbs compared to the south zone, which include copacabana and ipanema.

Walk on the beach side of the road. If you want to walk along Avenida Atlantica (the beach road in Copacabana), or any beach road– be sure you walk on the beach side. If you walk on the city side, it is very easy for someone to rob you and disappear down an alley.

Don’t use your smart phone on the street. If you need to look something up, map your location, etc.—do NOT do so while walking the streets. Duck into a store (not just the entry way) to use your phone. Keep your phone in your front pocket or purse.

Don’t carry a lot in public. Large backpacks, big shoulder bag purses, lots of jewelry, big wallets, loads of electronic devices—all of these things can make you a target. If you’re doing video, have an entourage to keep watch.


Don’t give cash to the street kids. I know this sounds heartless, but you kind of open yourself up to being robbed later. If you give cash to one (or two), they may come back with their friends to rob you later because they know you have cash.

Beach kiosk/barraco workers are good resources. Along the beach road in Copacabana and Ipanema, there are covered kiosks where you can buy food and drinks. In the sand, you’ll find a tent pitched that rents chairs and umbrellas to beachgoers– those are the barracos. Typically, the workers speak decent English and are on the beach all day every day. They can be a wealth of information. And if they aren’t in on the petty theivery, they are witness to them and can help you avoid bad situations. PS– don’t eat at the kiosks. Just drink.

Stylized and standardized Kiosk named "Posto 6" with restaurant and bar at Copacabana beach sidewalk. The promenade is a pavement landscape in large scale ( 4 kilometres long ) having a black and white Portuguese pavement design by Roberto Burle Marx, a geometric wave. Sugar Loaf mountain in background.

Don’t chase your robber. Your pocket can be picked at any time of day. And the strangers around you are not likely to help. In fact, they will get out of the way and keep moving. If you chase the robber, you may find yourself alone somewhere.

Don’t expect the military police to help. The police are everywhere in Rio, but keep in mind they are not there to help you. Do not talk to them, do not take pictures of them, just ignore them—like the Brazilians. There are Tourist Police in Rio, but you may not see them as frequently as you like.

Keep a small amount of cash in your front pocket. If you are robbed, you can hand this to robber and say that’s all you have. If you open a wallet or purse–they will take the whole thing.

favelaKnow where you’re going. There are neighborhoods that one should not enter without a Brazilian friend or guide. Some people will say to avoid the favelas all together, but I personally had a great experience in Rocinha. It was a guided walking tour– not a safari trip on truck. I won’t pretend that all favelas are created equal. So just make sure you’re aware of your destination and surroundings.

Petty crime is almost inevitable in a country where the wealth disparity is staggering and virtually ignored by the government. Keeping these things in mind, can decrease your chances of victimization. And none of these tips should impede upon you having a fun time in the marvelous city.

rio safety

Eat Your Way to a Prosperous New Year

Champagne goes with everything!
Champagne goes with everything!

Growing up, my family got together every January 1st for lunch or dinner. It was always the same meal, but I really never realized that pattern. One year, I heard someone say “I gotta get some more collard greens, I need all the money I can get!” This confused me, so of course I asked my mom what that meant and she explained it all to me.


It is a tradition in some cultures to eat a specific meal on New Years Eve or New Years Day. In Span and many latin american countries, they eat 12 grapes at midnight. In Pakistan and India people eat rice to symbolize prosperity. There are even behavior traditions, like packing a suitcase to encourage travel in the new year. Other people believe the first person to cross the home’s threshold will be the most lucky. And in my family, we make sure that we have a very clean house by midnight.


As for food, our tradition is fairly simple. We eat black eyed peas, collard greens, candied sweet potatoes and ham. The black eyed peas and ham are for good luck. The collards represent financial gain. But I have no idea why we always have candied sweet potatoes. There are other foods around too, but those four are the main staples.


Even some restaurants get in on this game. One year a lot of my relatives were traveling, so my mom, my aunt, my cousin and I went out for lunch. In honor of the new year, South City Kitchen was serving a black eyed pea and collard green soup as a special starter. We all indulged. It was fantastic.


Anyway, I wish all of you a very happy new year. If you’re even a little bit superstitious, be sure to eat some good luck foods! The list below could be a good place to start. Happy New Year!!

Click for more ideas for good luck meals on New Years Eve and New Years Day!


How-To: Big Brunch/Tiny Kitchen

In all the confusion, I took no photos. This one is from Clemens & Vogelsang (Lumberjack Breakfast)
In all the confusion, I took no photos. Clemens Vogelsang (Lumberjack Breakfast)

This year I celebrated my birthday all weekend in small patches. I didn’t hit a landmark number like 21, 30 or 40. So I thought that hosting something at home would be an easy, low pressure option. When I hosted my “Globeleza Party” for Brazilian Carnaval in February, the hardest part was getting our tiny apartment ready for our 20 guests. Of course I worried that people wouldn’t like my feijoada, but I wasn’t stressed about food prep– I knew exactly what to do.

This year I decided to cook my favorite meal of the day: brunch. I kept the menu simple, but for some reason I STILL got behind. I invited everyone over for a 1:30pm meal followed by pool time. BUT we didn’t actually eat until after 4pm– so we missed the sun at the pool. I was so embarrassed. Thank goodness for my love who managed the grill and for my girl Gretta who kind of took over in the kitchen while I hosted my guests. Apparently I can drink and cook at the same time, but I cannot TALK and cook at the same time. Ah ha!

Anyway, this experience reiterated some things I knew all along, but clearly didn’t adequately consider for this event. Key learnings: (1) Timing is Everything. (2) You WILL Need an Assistant.

I knew that I needed to do SOME food prep ahead of time. I purchased the ingredients early on Saturday morning and that night I chopped five pounds of potatoes. But I didn’t anticipate that everything else would take forever. Cooking brunch for me and my love takes NO TIME. Cooking for 12 people is a bit more. I should’ve known this, but the concept clearly didn’t register completely. So this is what I will do next time:

MENU (recipes coming soon):

french toast

roasted herbed potatoes

assorted chicken sausages

roasted mini bell peppers

spicy scrambled eggs

scrambled eggs with veggies (mild)

mixed fruit


The Night Before:

  • wash and chop potatoes
  • wash and prep peppers (remove stems, seeds and such)
  • wash fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, mint)
  • thaw veggies for the scrambled eggs (that makes it easier)
  • slice bread (the bakery should be able to do that for you at purchase, but just in case they can’t)
  • chop fruit (remove stems, seeds and such)
  • PLAN where you will serve the food–  I generally set up the food in the kitchen so people can serve themselves and all other space in the small apartment can be used for seating and dining

The Morning of Event:

FIRST begin your potatoes

  • 1(a) herb and spice them with olive oil
  • 1(b) place in oven for roasting (the thinner the layer, the faster they will cook)

SECOND fire up grill and cook sausages (you’ll need the oven and stove top for other things)

THIRD mix the fruit in special bowl and add any special ingredients if you choose [like fresh mint], cover and re-refrigerate

FOURTH roast your mini peppers

FIFTH begin your french toast

  • 5(a) make your french toast batter in a big bowl
  • 5 (b) soak your bread (multiple batches at once)– I had to use disposable roasting trays to accommodate all the bread
  • 5(c) grab every surface you can cook on and heat butter for cooking– I had a nonstick pan on each eye of my stove (i should have also used my electric cooktop too)
  • 5(d) as each slice is cooked, place and stack it in a roasting pan

SIXTH once the potatoes are done, turn the oven down to 200 degrees (or as low as 150), cover and place all cooked food (so far) in the oven to keep warm until you are ready to serve.

SEVENTH begin your eggs

  • 7(a) set up two nonstick pans on the stove
  • 7(b) whisp both batches of eggs together with your fresh herbs
  • 7(c) with a little olive oil and salt, saute mixed veggies in one pan
  • 7(d) when veggies are done, pour half the eggs over the veggies and scramble
  • 7(e) add cayenne or whatever spicy ingredient you choose the remaining eggs, whisp again, then scramble in second pan.

Yes, it seems like common sense, but without an exact game plan, you might find yourself behind the eightball as guests begin to arrive. Especially if some of your friends come early “to help”. And remember, you don’t want the food to be kept warming in the oven for a long time– the texture of breads and meats will start to seem stale. So it is important that you time it right. I say about 1.5 to 2 hours ahead of time, put your potatoes in the oven. They can warm for a while and still be good. 

I hope that these key learnings will make your big brunch more successful than mine. I’m looking forward to a do-over pretty soon! Anyway, happy dining. Remember: life is good, so eat it up!


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