The Ungraceful Guide | Budget Travel Guides

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

We ran to Rio.

Over a year of travelling through Latin America our savings were far below the red line.

Brazil itself is one of the biggest countries in the world; it should really be its own continent. For that reason, we knew we couldn’t visit Brazil to its fullest, sure that would take another 6 months at least. But we couldn’t come all this way south and not see such a spectacular country.

A country that has built its way through the thick of the Amazon jungle, a country that despite its huge dangers and safety concerns (tell anyone you are going and be prepared for the warnings) or its obvious class divide, poverty, government corruption and extremely diverse culture (prepare the Portuguese) is, as you would expect, the most beautiful, unusual, unpredictable and mesmerising continents (we have decided it should be one and so let’s fake it ‘til it makes it).

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

Of course, we didn’t visit enough of  Brazil to say such a statement, but by God we are encouraging the hype. We were lucky to have a friend in Rio de Janeiro, who was more than happy to open his doors and offer his home to us for two weeks. Alex, for that, we can never thank you enough.

While still in Argentina, we sat listening to the gasps and shocks of every other traveller who heard we were not going further South to visit Patagonia. It made us concerned as to whether we should blow more of our budget, bite the frostbite, invest in some weather-permitting clothes and equipment (we camp a lot!) and stick out our thumb to see a stunning and natural world wonder.

We debated, we flipped coins, we researched and we stared at our remaining budget knowing too well we still had to make it to Southeast Asia on pennies. And so we sat on the fence.

But then Rio saved the day. It was decided for us. Our relief when we realised that if we went straight to Brazil’s beach city, we would be just in time for one of the biggest parties and celebrations around the world – Carnaval – how lucky we were.

We ran to the festivities, we ran to the most famous beaches around the globe, we ran to the jungle city, and what you could call ‘the capital of the Amazon’, we ran to the biggest corner of South America.

We ran to Rio.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

And as you may have predicted, we have zero regrets. So here we share some of the most obvious and “must do’s/sees” and recommendations in Rio de Janeiro while keeping a close eye on yourself and the bank account.

Read on for how to make the most of Rio de Janeiro as well as some safety tips to help you enjoy the city without fear (but always have your head on a swivel!).

Table of Contents

Accommodation in Rio De Janeiro:

Obviously, safety is a huge concern for any gringo landing in Rio. Usually, we don’t pay too much attention to scaremongering; most countries we have visited have come with some sort of warning. Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia etc. are all “dangerous” and yet we never felt in any way unsafe. However, we will be honest in admitting that even for a local, Rio can be a city with negative possibilities (no way will we label it as ‘dangerous’).

So, where to set up a base to stay safe? The most popular areas for backpackers and tourists are in the South Zone. Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon however these areas come at a hefty cost. Another popular spot is Santa Teresa. There are plenty of hostel and hotel options at various prices. Booking the day of your planned stay means hugely reduced rates via, although it does come with some extra VAT costs so only book a night or two and then discuss paying the same rate but with cash. Overall, the cheapest choice would be Airbnb.

As mentioned, we stayed with a friend about 30 minutes from Copacabana via metro in a beautiful and prosperous area called Barra da Tijuca and if safety is a concern, this is the place for you. Let’s just say that walking alongside the secluded river to visit some Capybara (a cute and giant guinea pig) at 4am wasn’t an issue.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

The good news is that if you would like to stay in Barra da Tijuca, Alex has a two bedroom 5th storey apartment with city views, a swimming pool, a gym, and excellent amenities, only 10 minutes from the long stretch of beach, public transport including the metro shops, ATMs and anything else you can think of.

Alex is in the process of setting up an Airbnb account, however, if you would like to avail of affordable rates and either rent a room or the entire apartment pop us an email at and we can put you in touch.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

Just remember that Barra is a completely different area to Barra da Tijuca so Google correctly. We can vouch for it anyway!

And if you do decide to stay in Barra de Tijuca, or if, you arrive at the main bus terminal in Rio Terminal Rodoviário Menezes Cortes, cross the road to the ONI bus terminal and jump the 103 or 105 to the Barra de Tijuca beach. It costs 3.60 (€1) the flat fee for all buses in Rio de Janeiro.


Things To Do in Rio De Janeiro:

Christ The Redeemer:

The first thing on everyone’s list is the world wonder, the big man, the big giant Jesus with arms open wide hugging the habitants of Rio de Janeiro. The Cristo Redentor a.k.a Christ the Redeemer.

First thing first is to pick a clear day to visit. We went on a partly cloudy day and even though the sun was bursting with pride, as we climbed to the top we entered the clouds which made the stunning landscape below less visible. It took a while for Jesus to show his face from behind the clouds and this resulted in a long time there waiting for a break to capture God’s eye view, or in this case should we say Jesus’ eye view.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

We had expected the ultimate Rio tourist attraction to be quite expensive, but to our surprise it was far from it. The three main options to visit are by train, minivan or a hike; the latter two being the more affordable options.

Jaunt to Jesus:

The price to take the minivan up through the Parque Lage includes transport up and down and the entry fee. At only 45 Real (€12), you cannot go wrong really.

The main pick up areas are Praca do Lido in Copacabana, Largo do Machado and Corcovado Paineiras, the last van usually leaves around 6pm. The drive itself takes around 20 to 30 minutes to the entrance, followed by a short 5 minute walk up some stairs to the foot of Christ.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

To reach any of the above destinations, jump a metro for less than 4.50Real, again the fixed price for the metro no matter the journey. The metro is an excellent mode of transport around Rio; it is efficient, affordable and safe. Obviously, keep an eye out for pickpockets but same goes for any city. Oh! And men be aware that during certain times some carriages are female only. Let’s just say Luke got a bollocking.

We’re not sure if this is of any help or not, but we also found out that the minivans that leave from the “old” Hotel Paineiras, along the Estrada das Paineiras road cost half the price at only 25 Real (that too includes transport and entry). The catch is that to reach the hotel itself, you will need to arrange a lift, drive or take a taxi. This may suit the larger groups who can split the cost of the cab. And if you do decide to book, Uber is your new friend. Uber is way cheaper than the local cabs.

Hike To Christ:

Unusual for us not to choose the walking route, we do regret not attempting the free hike up to Christ. We heard that it is a tough enough hike; it can take anything up to two hours and at times can become so steep you may need to scramble up rocks or hold onto a chain rail for assistance.

But doesn’t that just sound like an epic adventure?!

A beautiful option as you plough your way through the jungle, inhaling the fresh air, absorbing the home of the flora and fauna and having a good day of exercise. This hike is doable for all, but if you are not in a great state of health and tire easily don’t put yourself through it.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

There will be whispers that the trail is dangerous. Unguarded, a simple Google will return searches of robberies along it but the majority of people who have managed to successfully complete it did so without any issues. When we were going to take the hike, we had planned to do it early in the morning. In fact, the earlier the better as not only will it increase your chances of that clear morning but also allows you to spend as much time as you need at the top.

So, how to get started?

The trail starts in Parque Lage Which opens from 8am-5pm. It can be easily accessed by bus or metro, depending on where you stay.

Any bus with ‘Jardim Botanico‘ displayed passing by, for example the #309 from Barra da Tijuca or the #10 from Copacabana, Ipanema etc.

Another, and most likely the quicker alternative, is to take the metro to Botafogo station and then jump the bus for Topsail or ask any local for the Parque Lago bus and they’ll help you out.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

Once there, head to the large mansion. A stone building with a large pool-like fountain in front, now an art school. From there, at the back end, seek out signs to ‘Corcovado’ and follow the two hour hike through dense jungle, passing tropical birds and gushing waterfalls.

The hike will end as the trail meets the main road. When you arrive swing right, keep heading upwards and follow all the collectivos bringing us lazy tourists to see Jesus.

Oh and remember to bring cash with you, cards are not accepted.

Sugarloaf Mountain:

Facing the giant, hugging Christ is the hugely impressive Pão de Açúcar. Peaked at 1,300ft, for panoramic city views (with Jesus included) and a chance to float above and across Rio, this is the ideal day out.

Arrive anytime after 8am for the morning glow as the sun aims for the high rise, or get in before gates close at 6pm to catch Rio’s finest sunset.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

How To Get There:

Take the metro to Botafogo station and exit via the Voluntários da Pátria Street. Take a left and walk towards the junction. Across the road, on the right hand corner, is a bus stop for the #513 bus.

The bus takes 15 minutes to reach the Pão de Açúcar entrance. Mention your destination to the driver and be sure to jump off in the town of Urca, you will see the cable cars.

Climb The Sugarloaf:

Across from the cable cars is a small park that leads towards Praia Vermelha beach. Start the visit by hiking up Morro de Urca, the smaller mountain that sits in front of the Sugarloaf. To begin the hike, walk towards the water and on your left hand side is the Claudio Coutinho park, and entrance to the trail.

The trail is stunning. Perfectly guided by stone steps and wooden bridges, it is easy to accomplish. There are places to stop, chill and grab a view or two along the way, overall taking around an hour to reach the top.

The budget conscious traveller will be happy to learn that, in our opinion, the Morro da Urca lookout point will suffice that hope and hunger for a jaw-dropping landscape view of Rio de Janeiro. A hike here and back will cost nothing, and although a little lower on the large granite scale, it still offers the same views. No cost and all the gain!

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

In even better news, if Morro just doesn’t seem to scratch the itch, for 40 Real (€10) take the cable car up, up and away to the mother of all vantage points, the Pão de Açúcar.

To float from Morro de Urca up to Pão de Açúcar and back to ground level is 65 Real (€15) which is decent value considering you get in a hike and two cable car spins.

If the hike up and Morro da Urca views are satisfied yet you want to squeeze in the cable car, for only 25 Real (€6) you can skate across cable back down to Praia Vermelha Beach.

But before you make your mind up… alas, another trick! To spend even less is if you hike up to Morro da Urca before 6pm, take the cable car up to Pão de Açúcar for 40 Real (€9.50) and hang around until 7-7.30pm, between these hours, travelling all the way back down is free, gotta love closing time.

Note that Morro da Urca is open from 8am to 6pm, so get in early if you are chasing a sunset.

Ride the Cable Car:

Hiking is fun but sailing sky high for a God’s eye view of Rio is an experience in itself.

So sod the exercise and stick to the window as you float across one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen. Bring a packed lunch and make a day out of it!

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

The office is open from 8.00am-7.30pm and any of the following tickets can be bought:

Urca to Pão de Açúcar (return):

For 80 Real (€19) jump the cable car from the ground right up to the top peak with the option to get off to visit Morro da Urca and return back to Praia Vermelha.

Morro de Urca to Pão de Açúcar:

As mentioned above, it is possible to hike up to Morro da Urca and then jump a cable car higher onto the Sugarloaf. The one way ride costs 40 Real (€9.50).

A return ticket from Morro da Urca up and back down is 65 Real (€15). But as we discovered, if you hang around until closing time (between 7-7.30pm), you will most likely be given a free lift back. Well, they do need to close!

Visit A Favela:


In late February 2018 the government announced that the Brazilian army would take over from local law enforcement with the aim of tackling Rio’s criminals, particularly in the favelas. Throughout the month of March, there was an increase in violent incidents throughout the tourist shanty towns.

On 14th March, Marielle Franco, a well-respected city counsellor, human rights activist and favela resident was gunned down as she returned home. Franco was outspoken about the unfair treatment of those who live in the slums and the issue of police brutality. The alleged assassination has sparked outrage and tensions across the dense neighbourhoods.

With this political unrest in mind, please proceed with extra caution and take the time to follow the news, speak with locals and ask their opinion on entering the favelas. For extra safety, take a tour with an agency recognised by the Ministry of Tourism.

The main safety concern when visiting a favela is not assault or theft but being caught in a crossfire.


The idea of visiting a favela in Rio de Janeiro might seem insane to some, and anyone who has watched ‘City of God’ will surely agree. So let us start by saying that we would never encourage any of our readers to endanger themselves and we are not suggesting that you must visit one.

This is us merely sharing our experience and the information, so you have the choice to visit one in the safest way possible and without a tour. And even though we visited without any issues or concerns, this does not guarantee that it is safe. Anyone who knows Rio knows it is a vastly changing city which unfortunately means that it is unsettled, unpredictable and anything can change or happen.

So call us stupid or call us courageous but we couldn’t stop ourselves. We didn’t want to just bathe in the falsehood that Rio likes to portray. Set its dangerous reputation aside and it is easy to be misled into thinking that there is only one face to Rio. World-famous celebrations that attract thousands of tourists each year, postcard beaches, world wonders, lush green jungles, life-loving people and an impressive list of tourist attractions. Walking among it all, it doesn’t seem like this is a city where the crime rate is rising and over a fifth of its population is living below the poverty line.

We chatted, we researched, we debated and in the end, we both agreed that we didn’t want to only experience “Hollywood Rio”. We wanted to see its dark side, we wanted to witness exactly where over 1.4 million Cariocas lived, and we wanted to see Rio de Janeiro through their eyes.

Our research returned that a number of favelas such as Vidigal and Rocinha, the largest favela of all, had been pacified by the UPP (a police unit dedicated to taking territorial control away from local drug lords) making it even safer for favela tours to take place in both. We also heard about the small number of hostels and hotels popping up across Vidigal, all catering to the intrigued tourists.

Neither of the above guarantees safety, obviously, but it did push us off the fence and made us turn to our friend Alex who, thankfully, put on his tour guide hat and brought us to Favela Vidigal.

Alex mentioned that in reality no favela is pacified. That the Rio drug dealers will always have control, that the police force is not paid well enough and that in recent months, due to conflict between gangs and the police, there have been scenes of gunfire.

It is common knowledge that these gangs do not want the hassle and certainly not the attention that harming a tourist will bring, so it’s not exactly a gringo hunt. In fact, the majority of cases where tourists were harmed while in a favela were due to mistaken identity, miscommunication or bad directions.

We read every story; a family gets lost while driving to buy a bottle of water, they make the wrong turn and are faced with armed men who think the intruders are rival gang members. A couple taking an Uber (with tinted windows) is mistaken for an undercover police car and is held up at gunpoint. A Spanish woman, who just finished a favela walking tour, is shot by police as she leaves by car in the company of family and a tour guide. Police claim the vehicle, which also had tinted windows, didn’t stop at the checkpoint and so launched an attack.

In the end, it is only the residents who suffer. Fears of becoming the innocent bystander caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, or subject to any and all negative backlash caused by scumbag drug dealers and pissed-off, trigger-happy cops.

With all this information whirling its way around our busy minds, we arrived at Favela Vidigal when Alex sensed an unsettling feeling about the place. So he made the call to visit the favela by collectivo instead of on foot.

There to quietly acknowledge and observe, we thought this was the perfect way to get a sense of the favela without intruding or putting ourselves in danger. Other than the “motos” (the lads giving lifts on the back of their motorbikes) the collectivo is the main method of transport up and through the shanty town. You could even go as far as to say that it is an “official” vehicle, one that will not be mistaken for anything other than a shared minivan.

From the bottom of Morro Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Hill), at the foot of the favela, we climbed in, grabbed a window seat and waited for the van to fill up.

For only 5 Real (€1.20) each, we began the ascend through the organised bedlam. Struggling up the sharp steep alleys, zig-zagging through the narrow streets and passing the thousands of stacked shacks that layer the hillside. Clusters of people sporadically split around each bend making every alley seem as crowded as Carnival. Freshly washed clothes paint the Jenga-style homes while fighting for some drying space. The buzz of the electricity pole, smothered with black sparking wire, competes with the clashing of two distant, already overlapping, songs.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

The smiles, the welcomes, the eye-to-eye contact and the sense of an undefeated population. Brave, strong, kind, positive and deserving of more than just the negative connotations and media slandering.

We took the collectivo to the Hostel Mirante do Arvrão (mention the name to the driver) who dropped us five minutes from the entrance. A brisk walk, the driver will point you in the direction and locals will happily help along the way. The favela is one giant maze. Take any turn and the repetitive alleys will confuse you for days. So don’t try to find your own way and keep repeating the hostel name. A local kid may offer to bring you to the door in exchange for a few coins and don’t worry, this isn’t a decoy.

Alternatively, you can take a moto to the hostel’s door for only 3 Real (€0.70) but hold on tight and prepare for a thrilling ride. We didn’t take one but from the slightly blurred helmets we saw these guys laugh at the word ‘fast’.

The upmarket hostel, which charges nearly €100 per night, is becoming a little tourist attraction of its own. Perched high on the hill, the mirador is met with a powerful view, one that certainly satisfied our yearning to see the real Rio.

What lay in front was Rio’s blatant economic and social divide. The favela underneath gasping for breath while the elongated resorts, businesses and hotels stretch neatly along the Ipanema peninsula.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

As we looked down upon the south zone, we didn’t see the bright, white happy place we walked through the day previous. A picture worth a thousand words, it was that moment that exceeded any welcoming smile and gave us the unforgettable sense that taking the trip into Favela Vidigal was a way of removing Rio’s curtain to unveil her true self.

A day we certainly don’t regret and the reason why we share this with you. Not to urge or encourage but to give you the information and therefore the choice as to whether this lil risk is right up your narrow, shanty-shack-ridden alley.

There are plenty of reputable tours to visit Vidigal and/or Rocinha for around $25 USD. The 4-hour tour usually starts with a pick-up and drive through one of the two shanty towns while learning about the history, culture, crime and residents. Usually, you will have the opportunity to meet and chat with some inhabitants with the help of the bilingual guide. Vidigal is known for its culture, nightlife, charm and quirk, whereas the neighbouring Rocinha is the largest and one of the oldest favelas in town.

So why didn’t we avail of this option? To be blunt, it didn’t appeal to us. Not to sound risky, we are extremely careful when travelling, we’re just not comfortable with the idea of visiting an area such as this to simply gawk even though the residents are more than happy to see you visit.

Instead, we wanted to visit such an area to gawk, but without dragging the locals’ attention to us.

Usually, we tend to avoid tours as we much prefer to ‘DIY it’. And sure why pay for a guide when we were lucky to have our Rio-born-friend Alex to show us around.

Being with Alex did put us at ease, but after visiting Vidigal we wouldn’t hesitate in returning just the two of us.

If you’re still not 100% but want to see a favela, definitely splash out on a tour.

Coast The Coastline:

When you think of Rio what is the first thing that jumps to mind?!


The whole world and their Granny have heard of Copacabana Beach (good on ya Lola) even if they couldn’t name the country it belongs to.

You genuinely cannot visit Rio without taking at least one beach day so why not go one further and visit EVERY Rio beach?

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

Walk the entire promenade to discover if music and passion really is the fashion, or whether the stereotypical Brazilian bum exists.

Start West at Leblon (accessible via Antero de Quental metro station) and sink sand deep, kick up a splash or step aside and observe from the lengthy promenade.

Depending on your strolling speed, and how many stops you make, it can take up to two hours to complete the 8 km stretch of famous beaches.

Skip through the different sandy scenes all the way from Leblon to Ipanema, Copacabana and Leme. Along the route are 12 ‘postos’ – numbered lifeguard stations surrounded by sweet and food stalls and equipped with toilets and showers (small fee included).

Sitting at the foot of Favela Vidigal is Leblon Beach, one the most affluent areas in Rio de Janeiro so keep your eyes open for some celebrity-spotting as you pass.

Continue onwards to Ipanema and follow the waving rainbow flags for the LGBT section of the beach or the gym equipment for a workout. Lovers of surfing will want to make the most of the morning or evening waves at Ipanema.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

Adjacent to Rio’s shores are cafes, bars, restaurants and kiosks majority with live music. As you gain on Copacabana the sheer buzz from this beach is enough to make you wanna down a cocktail or two. As non-drinkers, we chased the sugar rush by buying way too many churros and snacking as we observed all the sights and sounds of volleyball and frescobol, a “keep the ball on the stick” type of sport.

Finish the walk with a simple climb up to Forte Duque de Caxias, a restored fort and the ideal seat to rest look back on that beach walk. We managed to catch a sunset here and even with some clouds, it was so rewarding.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

We hear the sunrise is even better here so maybe you could start your day and walk from Leme and end it with some relaxing sitting on your favourite Rio beach.

A worthy shoutout to our local Barra da Tijuca beach. If you want some peace and quiet but with all of the fun and beauty, take the metro to Jardim Oceânico Station and swing left to find the coast.

All You Can Eat:

Spend two minutes in Rio and you will see the popular churrascarias sizzling all over the city. Alex had kindly treated us to a welcome breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, snack. He brought us to one of such classes that without anyone to hold our hand we would have not neared the doors of Fogo de Chão ourselves. We are just too middle-class for that shit.

But forever grateful for all Alex did for us, it was the best meal in Brazil and filled us for days. We are still rolling around the place.

There are plenty around the north and south zones, some with prices starting from 20Real (€5) but for a decent dish of meat, you might have to fork out a whipping 40-50 Real (€10-12)

Unfortunately, for our budgeteers, we cannot suggest anything top quality for low buck. I can imagine that the best place to start the search is in your hostel.

Either way… go find one, pig out and do us proud.

Rio De Janeiro Safety Tips:

From the minute we decided to visit Rio de Janeiro along came every safety warning imaginable. Yes, Rio is far safer during Carnival, due to the increased police presence, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that this notorious city has a bad reputation, and every gringo and tourist is warned to constantly be aware.

Staying safe is at the forefront of every backpacker’s mind, and no one wants to travel while constantly peering over one shoulder in a state of anxiety. This has made us let down our guard a little, in terms of travelling with a more relaxed attitude. Probably not a good thing but I have always felt that if you live in fear you will attract negativity i.e. if you believe you will be mugged, it has a greater chance of happening.

Not to contradict myself, although we have always travelled with ease, we do follow our gut, we always stick together and we don’t drink. The latter means we avoid the messy nightlife as in our experience, the majority of frightening stories told by backpackers happened at all hours and while intoxicated. I’m not saying that this means staying indoors after dark, it just means that even at 3am in Rio de Janeiro we were sober and therefore less vulnerable.

Originally, I thought to list and include all the warnings our ears endured but instead of fuelling the fear let’s look at ways of exploring unnoticed and therefore avoid becoming a target.

Dress Appropriately:

Let’s start with the more obvious. Please for the love of God above do not walk around Rio flashing the good stuff. Of course by all means enjoy your time in Rio, party it up, dress up, go gold and flash to your heart’s content but as you visit the streets of Rio, do you really need to wear your best jewellery?!

Remember, you are a foreigner, a visiting tourist so automatically there is a preconceived notion that you have money and must be well off. Bear in mind, that Rio de Janeiro has a blatant divide of classes. At first glance, it may seem like this is an economically thriving city but it is in fact the total opposite.

So even the fake jewellery can be mistaken for real. And let’s face it. No one wants to be mugged for a rip-off purchase.

So with all your valuables hidden from the glaring eye, if beating the pavement without a giant “I AM A GRINGO” neon sign floating above your head is what you want, be mindful of how you dress.

Our beach days were that, beach days so waltzing around in shorts and a bikini top isn’t unusual. Sure, along the coastline, people do their weekly shopping in bikinis – no joke! So by all means, go full tourist here.

However, on the days we went city exploring, our phones in pockets, cameras in bags and cash split and hidden, we wanted rid of that “I AM A GRINGO” sign and so made the extra effort to dress like a local. And we suggest you do the same.

For example, despite the mind-sizzling heat, there were days we hit the streets wearing jeans and a T-shirt. It’s actually quite interesting how flashing less skin and suffering in heated silence can help you blend in that little more.

OK, so it doesn’t hide my green eyes, red hair and Caucasian skin but there are definitely fewer eyes following your movement, especially when wearing jeans, a tank top and converse.

Don’t panic! We’re not saying that to stay safe you need to dress for winter. What we are saying is, especially on those city exploring days, avoid the Hawaiian shirts, the floral surfer shorts, the “I heart Rio” t-shirts, the bikini and short combo, and the ripped denim hotpants and instead dress as you would exploring say the closest city to where you live.

Think how easy it is for you to spot tourists in your own city or town. In our case, everyone is wearing winter coats and scarves or carrying umbrellas (the Irish rarely bother with umbrellas) but you get our drift.

So, split your days into beach days and tourist days. On the tourist days dress as “non touristy” as you can (jeans are a winner!) and don’t flash anything personal (even if it is a cheap or fake bracelet).

Personal Belongings:

The usual rules apply here. Be mindful of all your personal belongings especially when stored in a backpack. These city-slick pickpockets are absolute pros and can gain access to a bag within a blink of an eye.

Usually, I store all my gadgets and gizmos in my backpack and carry it on my front. But even in Rio I changed it up a little and carried my gadgets in my pockets while filling my back with the less valuable items. Should an up, close and personal mugging happen, handing over my backpack isn’t of any huge loss and the thieves have only gained some water, snacks and a change of clothes.

I’m aware that not every valuable can be shoved into pockets, but if you are overly conscious about carrying your camera for example, another alternative is to carry it in a plastic bag.

Sounds mental but as your gringo-ass jumps from city street to city street, any potential thieves will eye your backpack, never the local supermarket plastic bag. Just be careful not to put it down and make sure to cover any valuables with a light item of clothing (or some actual shopping!).

Another habit to drag yourself away from is to stop giving your phone attention. This one was tough for me. I rely heavily on my phone for everything from directions to social media, videos, pictures etc. My Samsung is permanently glued to my hand.

Unfortunately in Rio de Janeiro, those fast and furious biker thieves will snatch the phone so easily from your grip. Another cause for concern is when sitting on a bus by an open window. Don’t think it is not easy for them to snatch and grab while passing a stopped bus.

Again, I’m not saying never use your phone in Rio, I’m saying to pick your moments.

If you need to check the map, pick a spot with your back to a wall for example. If you’re sitting on a bus texting, activate your peripheral vision and split your attention in two.

If taking a photo, be mindful of your surroundings before you do and ask for your better half or travelling partner in crime to also keep an eye out. It’s not paranoia, it’s caution!

Beach Time:

The beach is the ultimate hotspot for these criminals who steal up to thousands worth on any given beach day.

The problem is that these con men are smart, quick and professional, taking advantage of one of the world’s famous stretches of beaches. This is also a moment when our guard is relaxed and limp as we soak up some sun or make a sea splash.

Keep the valuable belongings in a bag under your person on the sunbed or towel. Keep it covered and hidden. Any bags placed under sun beds could be targeted and easily forgotten.

It has been known for thieves to operate in two. One may distract you by striking up a conversation or by asking a simple question. In the meantime, your bag has been lifted and placed in a small hole dug nearby. Here is where the thief will go through your bag, take what they want and cover your bag in sand, leaving it there.

Every beach bum is targeted, so fellow sunbathers won’t have any issues watching your bags while you pop in for a cool off. And don’t freak out if someone does try to randomly talk to you. There is no point believing everyone is out to get you, and it is normal for locals to approach and chat with foreigners. Enjoy the chat while being aware of your bags, and keep them close.

Local Transport:

Thankfully, we did not find ourselves in a dangerous situation, not once. During Carnival season the metro runs 24/7 and although we had concerns about jumping the subway at 3.30 am it was a dream ride home.

The Metro itself is an extremely safe method of transport around the city, safer than buses.

Uber is suggested a lot, and locals love it but we don’t have any worries in recommending the local transport, especially the metro. During certain times some carriages are female only which is a wonderful peace of mind for female solo travellers.

Another thing that cropped up during our visit was the use of Uber and how some tourists have found themselves in dangerous situations (mostly in favelas) because they either remain hidden behind tinted windows or are following a veering GPS.

Sometimes, passing through favelas is unavoidable. We usually took the metro or bus up and back from Barra da Tijuca to the city centre. The latter means a short detour through one. In this case, we felt safe and sound but should we take an Uber we would request that the windows be down and our gringo presence be known so as to remove the possibility that we could be mistaken for police or rival gangs.

So if you do take an Uber, taxi or private transport ensure you know the route you are taking and if passing through a shanty town be a little more conscious and aware.

Our advice would be to stick with and trust in local transport.

A Quick Carnival Ticket Tip:

As soon as we touched down in Rio, we went and bought our Carnival tickets.

Four days before “C day”.

A little panicked that we may have left it too late (we lost our credit card and so couldn’t book online) we sprinted to the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, Santo Cristo, the large stage stadium and home to one of the most exhilarating events in the world.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

We went to “Sector 11” and walked down through the middle of the arena. Asking for “bilhetes” and following the finger-pointing. Towards the end of the stadium, the ticket booth is on the right-hand side.

Here, we bought two Sector 12 tickets for a ‘Special Group’ show on Sunday night for only 10 Reals (€2). Despite a poster pinned beside the ticket booth advertising 15Reals (€3).

Originally, we were eyeing up similar seats but at $45 online. And that right there is the moment when losing your credit card becomes a blessing in disguise.

Unless you are an avid Samba fan, attending any night will be a spectacular show so there really is no need to fork out a fortune just to attend the finale.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

There will also be scalpers outside attempting to sell you, which to our best knowledge, are legit tickets, confirmed by our Brazilian friend. But at a higher cost of 30 Real (€70), we were delighted to stick our heads into the official ticket offices and secure tickets at more than half the price.

Crazy to think that when we searched all official and reputable ticket seller websites the cheapest Carnival price was $46USD (157 Real). So based on our experience, we suggest buying it from the Arena.

Brazil: Running Rampant in Rio de Jainero

If you plan on hitting Rio for Carnival and need any other help with where to sit, block parties or what to expect overall, get in touch at



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