How to get there:
- By plane: There are many airlines that fly directly to Rio; that would be the preferred option. Where I live usually I take a flight on SAA (South African Airways) directly to São Paulo and by personal choice I stay a couple of nights in SP (will explain why in a dedicated post). From São Paulo you can choose to fly to Rio, using a company like Azul, TAM or GOL. I confess I find their prices high, and when you book online, as a foreigner, you will pay the double a Brazilian does. So, if price is an issue, buy the ticket at the airport, and always leave room for a one night stay in São Paulo (Sampa, as we call it) in case the flights are full. Do not change money at the airport, the exchange rate is very low and taxes are added. Preferably take Reais with you or only change money if you really need. Coffe shops and restaurants only take the local currency but the free shop accepts USD or Euros. Credit Cards are accepted almost everywhere. Visa, American Express or Mastercard. Do not miss having your first Pão de Queijo (cheese bread made of cassava flour) at the Airport. When arriving in Rio, the same applies regarding exchange rates. Rio has two airports – Tom Jobim or Galeão (International flights mostly) and Santos Dumont airport. I can tell you that landing at Santos Dumont airport its a breathtaking experience you will never forget, never, the landscape, the colours, the sugar loaf mountain, all the views are something you need to experience, its again breathtaking. From the Airport take a taxi (the taxi kiosks inside the airport are reliable but pricey, the yellow and blue taxis outside are cheaper, specially of you ask them to use the meter (bota no relógio). There is also a Bus service, that takes quite a long time to get to Copacabana or Ipanema, but its cheap and reliable (link below)
Another option is the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport), which is faster as the buses move through exclusive lanes in Rio de Janeiro. There are two BRT options to reach the airport: the TransCarioca line with stops, passing through 47 stations and 5 terminals along the way, and TransCarioca Express, which departs from Terminal Alvorada, with stops on the Fundão Terminal, Vicente de Carvalho Station (integration with the subway) and Madureira. In Galeão Tom Jobim Airport there are two stations serving passengers:
- Galeão – Tom Jobim 1: located in the Terminal 1 arrivals – H door
- Galeão – Tom Jobim 2: located in the Terminal 2 arrivals – D door
Another option would be to book a transfer company, its a safe option but pricey.They have various destinations such as Copacabana, Santa Tereza, Barra da Tijuca, Ipanema, Leblon, Flamengo, Botafogo, Búzios, Angra dos Reis, Paraty, Macae, Cruises Terminal.
- By Car: you can hire a car at any of the rent a car offices at Guarulhos airport and drive to Rio. I never tried and its not the best option for me. If you do not speak Portuguese, getting directions is a difficult task. If traveling solo, its not that safe to do that, you will be vulnerable, specially if you do not speak the language. If you decide to hire a car, remember that in Brazil is driving is like in Europe (not like UK, South Africa, and generally English speaking countries).
- By bus. I must confess I am not a fan of flying and I love seeing the landscape so I usually go by bus. Also, I often go from SP to other destinations along São Paulo or Rio coastline, and from there to Rio so, bus is my choice. Beware that in spite of being a bit daunting and overwhelming, as the bus station is enormous and crowded, Buses generally leave on time and are extremely comfortable (choose leito or semi leito). You can take the Airport bus (much cheaper than taxi and with a fixed fare, no need to negotiate and you will not be a target of dishonest taxi drivers), cabify or Uber, to Rodoviária Tietê. You can even book and pay for your ticket online and collect it at the Bus Station (get there at least 1 hour before to collect it).
From SP to Rio takes approximately 7 to 8 hours depending on traffic (run away from rush hours like the plague. Avoid traveling to Rio by bus during public holidays, festive season and carnival. It is hell on earth). From SP you arrive at Novo Rio Bus Terminal, located very close to downtown, as well as the main city exists such as Linha Vermelha (to Barra and Recreio), Ponte Rio Niteroi (goes to the lakes region) and Avenida Brazil.
The Novo Rio Bus Station connects with most important tourism destinations in the country and in Rio de Janeiro State (Angra dos Reis, Mangaratiba, Paraty, Teresópolis, Petrópolis, Búzios and Arrial do Cabo e.g.).Taxi cooperatives are also present inside the bus terminal. The yellow and Blue taxis are usually cheaper and are located outside. There are also metro buses, public buses and premium buses. From the Bus Terminal to Zona Sul ( South Zone ) take the so called Frescão (premium bus) that departs every 20 minutes. Public buses are at the main entrance ask what lines are available to your destination
When to go there? Anytime is a good time to visit Rio de Janeiro
- Summer: Summer runs from December through the first half of March. I confess I love to travel to Brazil during the festive season. Climate during summer is extremely hot and humid, some days almost unbearable to walk on the street due to the high humidity. It rains a lot during summer, specially at the end of the afternoon. be prepared, and plan your holidays to have something to do on those rainy days. Being at Copacabana to watch the fireworks is an experience you must have at least once in your life. However, if you are looking for peace and tranquility, do not go to Rio during the festive season and Carnival. I have been to Rio in all months of the year with the exception of Carnival season. Its indeed one of the attractions of Rio, just not my style. Over priced and over crowded. Hotels are all full, inflation rates hit the roof, crime rockets.
- Spring and Autumn – These are my favorite seasons. Lower temperatures but still high enough to go to the beach, less crowded and less expensive unless it coincides with “Feriadão” – public holiday. In Brasil, public holidays such as Easter, Independence day, and a couple more are a reason to increase prices, as everyone travels to Rio and other popular destinations. Outside these dates, prices are fairly cheap and the beaches are not very crowded.
- Winter – well, if you can call winter to a season where you are still able to enjoy the beach, with lower and much more enjoyable temperatures and humidity, then its winter. Locals (Cariocas) will say its cold, I rarely used more than a jacket and a scarve at night. On the negative side, it coincides with the European holiday season, so August and September can be pricey and somehow crowded. For surfers its an amazing season to go, as waves are fantastic