Ask Getaway: Plan the Perfect Trip to Rio de Janeiro

Photo Courtesy: João Pedro Vergara/Unsplash

Despite increased vaccination efforts, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has grounded most folks’ international travel plans this summer. For now, the safest (and smartest) way to visit faraway escapes might still be via your phone or computer screen, but, on the other hand, there’s no harm in doing a bit of planning for the near future. 

So, what locale should you start daydreaming about? We have a top-notch suggestion: Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s buzzing metropolis is a mix of cultures — including Portuguese, African, European and South American — and, in non-pandemic years, more than 2 million people visit Rio annually to enjoy its famous beaches and rich nightlife. 

Although travel is complicated right now, we can still embark on virtual adventures — and start planning those soon-to-be-realized IRL trips. So, come with us to Rio as we take a look at need-to-know booking info to must-see attractions and all the content you should delve into pre-trip. 

Editor’s Note: For information on the latest pandemic-related travel requirements and advisories, be sure to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites, as well as airline and destination requirements regarding mask wearing, quarantine, and COVID-19 testing.

Getting to Rio: Flights & Accommodations

Although traveling to Rio, or anywhere international, might not be on the table right now due to the global rise in Delta variant cases, there’s no harm in doing a little research. More likely than not, two of the biggest items on your checklist will be booking flights and finding a place to stay.

If you’re flying from the United States, you’ll have several options when it comes to airlines. If you’re looking for direct flights, you’ll get those options when flying out of Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and New York City, due to the eastern half of the country’s relatively closer proximity to South America. From the U.S., United, American Airlines and Delta all offer connection-free options. Flying from Europe? Try KLM (Amsterdam), British Airways (London), Air France (Paris), TAP Portugal (Lisbon), Iberia (Madrid) or Lufthansa (Frankfurt). 

If you don’t mind a stop over, airlines based in Latin and South America, such as LATAM, offer flights to various locations throughout South America, so if destination-hopping is in the cards for you, check out their offerings. Even now, you can try and save on a future flight by tracking prices on a site like Hopper. Not only is this a great budgeting strategy, but it’s also a solid way to familiarize yourself with flight offerings to Rio in general. 

Photo Courtesy: Christian Adams/The Image Bank/Getty Images

When it comes to finding a place to stay, there are many options, as one might expect given that Rio is a major city and tourist hub. The good news? No matter where you choose to stay during your trip, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views, from mountains to beaches. 

If it’s your first time visiting Rio, the spectacular urban beaches might present the biggest draw. If that’s the case, neighborhoods like Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are all suited to beach-going. Want something off the beaten path? Try the ever-artsy Santa Teresa. And, if nightlife and bar-hopping are your prime motivations for visiting Rio, you can’t go wrong with a hotel in Botafogo. 

Rio also has accommodations for every traveler’s budget. In the infamous Copacabana, for example, you could splurge on a luxurious hotel or take a more budget-friendly approach without sacrificing the beautiful views, airy rooms and other other amenities. For neighborhoods like Santa Teresa, which don’t feel as a immediately tourist-centric, Airbnb, VRBO and other owner-run rentals might be a better fit. 

Rio’s Most Breathtaking Vistas

First stop: the iconic Ipanema beach. It’s easy to see why Cariocas (residents of Rio) and tourists flock here. With jaw-dropping views of blue waters and mountains, Ipanema beach offers the picture-perfect backdrop. It’s also the best place to meet friendly Cariocas and watch athletes play football and volleyball in the sand during the day. At night, the beach turns into a huge party, where people socialize and dance all night long.

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Photo Courtesy: MAURO PIMENTEL//Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

Now, it’s time to take a trip up Corcovado Mountain to admire the Christ the Redeemer statue. Symbolizing love and redemption, the legendary landmark is an attraction you don’t want to miss. The 98-foot masterpiece was built between 1922 and 1931 on top of a 2,330-foot mountain. Christ the Redeemer stands with open arms, which also represents the welcoming nature of Brazilians.

Another major reason millions of travelers visit Rio is to celebrate Carnival, a colorful street festival with music, dancing and elaborate costumes. Many of the dance routines actually tell a short story. Rio’s celebration is considered the biggest carnival in the world and dates back to the 1640s. Every year, the massive festival takes place before Lent. However, it’s always possible to relive the magic at home. We’re sure these tours must have built up an appetite by now.

Get in a Good Mood with Good Food

There’s nothing like getting to know a city through its food. It’s time to check out traditional Brazilian specialties. The popular coxinha (croquette) is made of shredded chicken meat covered in dough. It’s then deep-fried to golden perfection. Coxinha is a street food that’s easy to eat on the go, and, thankfully, they are also easy to make when you have your own counter-top deep fryer.

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Photo Courtesy: Kansas City Star/Contributor/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Galinhada is another tasty Brazilian dish. Combining chicken, rice and all the best spices, you can create the mouthwatering Galinhada yourself at home. Your stomach will be happy, and your taste buds will be even happier. Watch Elisabete cook the meal and easily translate and grab the recipe from the video’s description. Try not to drool!

A couple of Brazilian drinks you must try are caipirinha and coffee. Caipirinha is the national cocktail that’s made with brown sugar, lime, ice and cachaça (a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice). Brazilian coffee is also a sweet treat, which mixes black coffee (made from freshly ground coffee beans) and tablespoons of sugar. Now that you’re full, let’s explore great films and shows about Rio.

Before You Go

Movies

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Watching a movie that takes place in a famous city often gives us the travel bug. There’s no doubt that Central Station makes us more curious about Rio. Even better, it gives us a closer look into the lives of Cariocas. The film follows the heartwarming friendship between a young boy, who is searching for his father, and a middle-aged woman, whose life is full of bad luck. Rio landscapes are featured in the 1998 drama film, but, most importantly, it shows the real interactions of Brazilians.

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Photo Courtesy: Audiovisual Development Bureau/IMDb

Favelas have a bad reputation for being dangerous. Some travel guides suggest avoiding these areas at all costs. However, others recommend visiting safe favelas to learn about the complex and rich history of the poor communities that make up 25% of Rio. Vox takes us inside favelas and discusses how they were formed. The documentary also covers how art and creativity are growing within these vibrant areas.

Some popular movies have also been filmed in Rio, including the 11th James Bond film, Moonraker (1979). The spy film boasts the city’s incredible Sugarloaf Cable Car in an intense fight scene with Agent 007 and bad guy Jaws. The amazing clip shows the scenic views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, which millions of people come to see each year. It’s easy to see that Hollywood also appreciates the city’s beauty.

Music

Brazil is widely known for its samba and bossa nova. These styles will easily transport you to a romantic, tropical night. For samba, listen to the legendary Chico Buarque. One of his most popular songs is “A Banda.” Another famous samba singer to check out is Clara Nunes, a.k.a. the “Queen of Samba.”

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One song that put Rio in the spotlight is “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”). The bossa nova and jazz tune was so popular that it won the 1965 Grammy for Record of the Year. Many folks worldwide recognize the musical style of bossa nova, which means “new trend.”

Have you ever heard of funk carioca (favela funk)? It’s Rio’s version of hip hop. When people think of funk carioca, they often associate it with Brazilian singer Ludmilla, formerly known as MC Beyoncé. She went viral in 2012 with the song “Fala Mal de Mim,” which mixes funk melodies with pop.

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