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Planning/Planificando

Rio – Where to stay

Rio is divided in zones (as all cities) being Downtown (Centro), North Zone, South Zone and West Zone.

The West Zone is the most modern, its where you will find Barra and Recreio, noted for large avenues, green areas and a concentration of shopping centres per square meter I have never found anywhere else in the world.

Centro has been upgraded lately (after the Olympics and other high attention events in the last few years) and what was before a highly dangerous place to be, is slowly being revitalized and people are also slowly moving back to live there. I confess, as a woman solo traveler, I feel uneasy there, specially at night.

The South Zonis mostly made up of neighbourhoods along the coastline, such as Leblon (the most expensive), Lagoa, Ipanema, São Conrado, Copacabana, Leme, Urca, Botafogo, Flamendo and Glória. Contrasting with the high end shops and restaurants, houses and shopping centres, Zona Sul also includes a number of favelas such as Rocinha, Vidigal, Cantagalo in Copacabana and Dona Marta, in Botafogo.

Its in this zone most tourists usually stay. It is packed with accommodation options – the world famous Copacabana Palace is at Avenida Atlantica, Posto 2 in Copacabana, hostels, guesthouses (not so common) and apartments for renting.

Botafogo is a rapidly becoming the apple of the eyes for people that are looking for nice bars and restaurants and a cheaper option to stay. However, the beach is bad and safety is moderate. Rio Sul, a great shopping mall, is located in Botafogo, as well as Botafogo Praia Shopping, not a good shopping but with a breathtaking view of Sugar Loaf from the terrace at the last floor, worth a couple of visits only for the view.

Urca is a very charming neighborhood (where Roberto Carlos, an Icon of the music scene lives), very safeand ideally located close to Botafogo and Copacabana. The It has a small town feel and you will be surrounded mainly by locals

I must confess I am hooked to the South Zone (Zona Sul). I started being a Copacabana  kind of girl but lately due to various factors I stay at Ipanema. These two parts of Rio are  where most foreigners stay, being touristy and expensive when compared with other parts of the city

Copacabana, also called the Princess of the Sea is home of the famous calçadão, Copacabana palace, Forte de Copacabana and an impressive array of restaurants and bars. Prices range from medium to very high depending on the time of the year. The beaches are good, and crowded, and you will find English speaking people quite easily. Lately safety has become a concern, and that is the main reason why I am now staying at Ipanema, definitely a more expensive option, but where I feel safe most of the time. The beach is excellent, shopping is 5 star, lots of bars and nightlife, and very good restaurants to choose from.

Lagoa and Leblon are extremely pricey, although beautiful neighborhoods to stay, safe enough and also with good options for bars, restaurants and shopping. A walk in the lagoon is a must for everyone. If you are into the famous people scene, Leblon is THE place to find all actresses and actors from the world famous Rede Globo de Televisão (TV broadcasting).

Map

And how to choose accommodation?

Well that highly depends on your budget and what do you want when on holidays. The Hotel offer in Rio is impressive. However, its generally expensive. As closer to the beach the more expensive it gets. The Brazilians are a very welcoming people, very talkative and the customer care at hotels is great. Guesthouses are not as common, but slowly its a niche that is developing. Backpackers/hostels are a few, with really nice options and conditions.

I personally prefer, as I travel alone and for longer periods of time (21 days at least), to rent an holiday apartment. It gives me the independence I like, and the possibility to cook at home (I just love to cook), saving my money for special restaurants. Renting an apartment is easy and you will find really good places to stay, with welcoming owners that will quickly put you at ease and make you feel like family.

For me the best options to find accommodation is by using the sites below posted. They are reliable, you get value for money and there is a lot of options to choose from. To find accommodation in Rio, I mostly used alugue temporada, and was always able to find very good options. I like to stay at the same place every year, so when staying in Copacabana I always rented the apartment from a really nice man called Raul, located in Rua Souza Lima 37, Posto 6, the prime zone of Copacabana. Since I changed to Ipanema, I stay at a very quiet and nice apartment at Barão da Torre, Posto 9, from a lovely lady called Diana, who I strongly recommend. Its clean, it has all you need, extremely organized, located in a very nice area and with a very good restaurant just in front of it, called Salitre. Close to the apartment you can also find lots of Bistros, high end restaurants, botecos, healthy food restaurants, coffee houses, you name it.

Bookings

Alugue Temporada

AirBnB

Tips:

  • Make sure you take enough time to plan and to book, best deals are made when booking in advance
  • Avoid (unless you like it) high season: overpriced and crowded
  • make sure you rent from a trusted source, there are a lot of scams on the internet. If negotiating directly with the owner, try to avoid paying a deposit in advance, unless you trust the person
  • Choose an apartment with a doormen (portaria), it helps with safety as well as luggage if needed
  • Always check the norms and rules of the apartment
  • Beware that some people always push up the price for foreigners, negotiate
  • Always ask for free wifi and aircon
  • When entering the apartment, check it with the owner by your side, to agree on the conditions found and ask for replacements if items are not working or missing
  • An important tip (warning: TMI): sewerage pipes in Brazil have a smaller diameter than usual, always make sure you use the trash can instead of the toilet for throwing paper, etc, otherwise you will get into a very embarrassing situation
  • . Many apartments have electric showers. make sure they are in good conditions, and beware that pressure will be lower and temperature sometimes difficult to control.
  • Make sure you know where the waste disposal is. Many apartments have a dedicated place inside the building (on the stairs), and large bags do not fit there.
  • make sure you bring an adapter for your cell phone, shaving machine, hairdryer, etc. Not all apartments have it.

 

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Rio – How to get there, when to go

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)

Airport Bus Service

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

BRT service

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.

Book a Transfer

  • 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).

Click bus – ticket reservation

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

Cascais – when to go and walking around

My favourite time to visit Cascais is… well it is all year round. Each season has its unique charm in Cascais. In winter, the temperatures are low, but still warm enough to put a coat and a scarf, a pair of boots and walk around the streets all illuminated with Christmas decorations, have a hot chocolate with a Pastel de Nata at one of the cafes, have a hot fish soup or a hearty meal in one of the many restaurants. Cascais never sleeps during Spring and Summer. As soon as the temperatures warm up, the streets are busy with people looking to catch some sun that brings smiles to our faces.

Summer is amazing as we do have long days, hot and sunny, perfect to hit the beach and have sundowners in one of the many terraces around town. Its however the busiest season and if you are looking to tranquility and peace avoid it.

My favorite months are May and September. The town is “quieter” and walking around is easier and more pleasant. The days are long enough to fully enjoy Cascais and warm enough to go to the beach and to stay outside till late.

In September there are many things still happening in Cascais, one of which is the Lumina festival. The streets are full of light attractions, projecting on walls such as the wall of the fortress at the Marina, as well as many other places. The last festival also had gigantic inflatable rabbits on the beach that were the delight of children. The food trucks are stationed in the historical center and you can taste all sorts of food,  from traditional Portuguese food, to wraps and tortillas and to what is called “The best chocolate cake in the world” – I must confess in my opinion there are better, but it is a huge success.

In September 3, 2017, Cascais will host the Triathlon Iron Man, from 31st of August to the 3rd of September the Mercado da Vila (Town Market) will host the sardine market and in May the wine market. The Town market has been rehabilitated and is now a place of excellent gastronomy and good for shopping organics as well as handcrafts.

Event calendar 2017

Cascais is a very safe place to walk around either during the day or at night. The historical center is usually busy till late into the night.

Cascais is well served with public transport – taxis, uber, buses, train, bikes for renting at the Cidadela (Bicas).

The main bus station is located on a basement next to Cascais Villa Shopping, and buses depart to many locations, from Cascais Shopping, to Sintra and Lisbon.The bus to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe departures from Cascais Bus Terminal.

Trains to Cascais depart from Cais do Sodré in Lisbon and take between 30 to 40 minutes, departing at every 20 to 30 minutes, from early in the morning to late at night. Its a beautiful train ride, as most of the train line runs along the coast, being possible to see the beautiful beaches of Estoril and Carcavelos, Belem Tower, the Discoveries Monument, Belém gardens, Alcântara Docks, Santos Docks, etc.

The Buscas is a bus service that circles Cascais town, from downtown at the Train Station to Guia and down along the promenade returning again to the Train station. The bus costs 1euro, and leaves every 15 to 20 minutes, with regular stops. One of my favorites is to pick the bus at the train station and exit at Guia, geared up with my headphones and sneakers for a long stroll along the promenade. Its invigorating and the beauty of the landscape is impressive, high cliffs with the most beautiful sea below, ranging from turquoise to a deep blue that blends with the brownish rocks in a fusion of smells and tones.

Stay tuned, next posts will have some tips for restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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