A Brazilian’s Guide to Visiting Rio!

What an amazing trip we had friends! So many of you were pumped to visit Rio while others were a little concerned with the “dangers” of it. That’s why I wanted to put together a Brazilian’s guide to visiting Rio with the scoop on everything from local’s favorite spots, restaurants, beaches, activities and also give tips to keep you safe and sound while you enjoy visiting the most astonishing place on earth!

How you get there: Flight Options

You’ll fly to Galeão (GIG), Rio’s international airport. All the major airlines fly there. From Indy, we have a connection but NYC, Newark, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington all fly direct. I was really blown away with Delta’s service this time around flying from Atlanta, the flight time is about 9:30 hours. I also love the shorter route via Miami, which is about 8 hours flying. The long flights can really wreck us so I’m working on a full post with tips for long flights! Meanwhile, these are a few things I always bring with me to make me comfortable and help me sleep 🙂

Equilibria Organic CBD soft gels, I swear by these not only when I fly but on my every night! Got me relaxed enough to be able to sleep in a tiny seat!

Rio de Janeiro's Satellite Map Christ Sugarloaf Mountain

Where to Stay: Choosing a Hotel

In order to select your hotel, you need to decide in which location you want to stay in and that’s why I’m here! Haha. I’ve stayed in multiple places in Rio (I was a flight attendant before moving to the US and traveled there at least 3x/month). So I feel like I have some grounds to make a suggestion! You’ll most definitely want to stay in the South zone (Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Ipanema, Leblon) or West (Barra da Tijuca).

Copacabana

If you’re into the touristic scene, like to party (I mean who doesn’t) and don’t mind a crowded beach you will be happy in Copacabana. They have great hotels beachfront (watch this VID to see where Hubs and I stayed when we went together a few years back). If you like more peace and calm but want to stay close enough to the fun, Leme beach is a great spot and a more local extension of Copacabana.

Peaceful Leme is known for Pedra do Leme, a forested rocky outcropping crowned by the colonial Duque de Caxias fort, with a history museum and sweeping coastal views. From here, a path winds down to Leme Beach, a wide stretch of sand popular with surfers, fishermen, and local families. Back from the seafront, residential streets are lined with traditional bakeries, relaxed bars, and old-school Italian restaurants.

Ipanema & Arpoador

If you want a bit of the scene but with an upscale vibe, better restaurants and have no prejudice with the LGBT community you’ll enjoy Ipanema. It was my all-time favorite until this time. I found it to be a lot more touristic than the previous times I’ve been there, especially on the weekends. But still very enjoyable. Fashionable Ipanema is known for its iconic namesake beach, which draws a diverse crowd for sunbathing and socializing. The rocky Pedra do Arpoador peninsula (where we stayed this time!) is a popular surfing spot that also offers trails and sunset views. Inland, the neighborhood’s leafy streets have high-end fashion boutiques, fine-dining restaurants and relaxed bars playing bossa nova.

We stayed at the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel. It was a couple of blocks from the Arpoador area, a 5-7 min walk to the Ipanema beach and a 30 min beachfront walk to Leblon! It’s great if you’re on a budget, very clean and new. However, if you’ve got a little more to invest in a beachfront hotel I highly recommend it. At the end of the day, it’s a much easier walk everywhere, I didn’t like walking back to our hotel at night, so I took Ubers (super cheap btw!) the rooftop pools give you the views and sensation of the beach without the crowds too. We stayed in the Hotel Pestana in Copa last time and it was amazing!

Leblon & Barra Da Tijuca

Finally, if you want to be around the locals you want to book your stay in Leblon (they don’t have any resort-like hotels, most are executive smaller hotels for business people). Upscale Leblon is known for its beach, one of the city’s trendiest, most tranquil stretches of sand. Inland, leafy streets have restaurants ranging from cozy French bistros to lively steakhouses, plus mellow bars for beers and caipirinhas. Shopping options include designer fashion boutiques and Shopping Leblon, a modern mall. Teatro do Leblon is a grassroots venue with a packed, eclectic program.

Barra da Tijuca is home for a lot of wealthy locals, artists, celebrities, and businessmen mainly live here. Barra da Tijuca is a sprawling suburb of upmarket condos and shopping centers anchored by long, scenic Barra Beach. Other sandy stretches include trendy Praia do Pepê and the surf-friendly areas of Recreio and Macumba, where casual bars and seafood restaurants line the seafront. Inland, much of the action takes place at giant malls like BarraShopping, with cinemas, trendy clubs, gourmet eateries and bowling alleys. In my opinion, you won’t get the Rio life at Barra!

Things to do:

Man oh man, where do I begin??! Let’s start with the most obvi!

Christ The Redeemer

The gigantic statue of Christ is one of the 7 wonders of the world and it doesn’t disappoint. The feeling of being “hugged” by the open arms of Christ is indescribable. The monument is an art deco statue of Jesus Christ located in the peak of 2,300ft Corcovado in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic views.

Travel Blogger Karina Style Diaries visiting Christ The Redeemer in Rio

Going down Corcovado peak you’ll find the Mirante Dona Marta.

Which is s a cliffside point offering a wide view of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf, and the Christ. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.

Karina Style Diaires Morro Dona Marta view

Right below the Mirante, there’s a slum. Favela Dona Marta is where Michael Jackson filmed a portion of his “They don’t care about us” video clip back in the day.

You can take a group tour or hire a private tour guide. We did the private and it was so worth it and not much more between the three of us. Our guide Rodrigo (@erredecastro) basically took us to all the places we wanted to go and made recommendations, unexpected stops and even went back to our hotel to get Bella’s student ID so we could save $$ on tickets for the paid attractions. Make sure to bring your kids school id’s as they offer great discounts!

It was so helpful and convenient to do private but you can also do shorter group ones in different days. You’ll find tours all over the city as well as being offered at your hotel. Shop around, you might find some great deals.

Sugarloaf Mountain

It is a peak situated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising 396 m above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar.

First, you go up to a smaller mound (Morro da Urca). Then hop on a second cable car up to sugarloaf, the taller peak. The view from here is so pretty too!

Karina Style Diaires wearing white long tunic Gicci belt bag Sugarloaf mountain Rio

As you proceed to take the second cable car you’ll be surrounded by a 360˚ view of Rio’s most incredible geography! Up in the peak, they have a Helipad, a restaurant with extraordinary views, little cafés and lots of seating benches for you to seat and take it all in!

Sugarloaf mountain view to Copacabana beach Rio

Next are totally unedited iPhone photos so no blurry backgrounds so you can have a real idea of what to expect!

Sugarloaf Mountain view from the top

Parque Lage / Jardim Botanico

For the Instagram aficionados, Parque Lage has a gorgeous background. A mansion from the 20’s turned into an Art School, has set stage on music videos for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams and the Black Eye Peas.

It is a public park in the city, located in the Jardim Botânico neighborhood at the foot of the Corcovado with views to the Christ monument. they have a charming little café that unfortunately we didn’t have time to enjoy. But looked great from the line to take pictures – haha!

Parque Lage
Karina Style Diaries at Parque Lage wearing agolde shorts stripped shirt straw hat chloe sandals

Escadaria Selaron

Escadaria Selarón, also known as the ‘Selaron Steps’, is a set of world-famous steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claimed it as “my tribute to the Brazilian people”. You can see them in the Snoop Dog video as well.

Escadaria Selaron Rio de Janeiro

Jorge Selarón was born in Chile in 1947.[1] He traveled, lived and worked as a painter and sculptor in over 50 countries around the world before arriving and deciding to settle in Rio de Janeiro in 1983. He began renovating the steps on a whim in 1990.[1] Many times, his phone was cut off and he was threatened to be evicted from his house due to being unable to afford the living costs. He sold many paintings and accepted donations from locals and travelers to continue his work. Since 1977, Selarón claimed to have sold over 25,000 portraits, all featuring the same pregnant woman which mostly funded his work.[3] It was a labor of love for the artist who resided in the same house by the steps he lived in when he started the work. He was mostly unfazed by the attention given to him by curious onlookers and tourists alike. He was constantly spotted at the steps working by day and treating drunken revelers to fascinating anecdotes by night.

Selarón was found dead January 10, 2013, on the famous Lapa steps. His body was found with burn marks.” – Wikipedia. Such a sad ending to his story but his work is well and alive with hundreds of visitors daily!

Beaches

See the section WHERE TO STAY for my favorite beaches! You must plan a couple days to just lounge and soak in the Rio beach vibe. Joyful, loud and very creative vendors walk up and down the stretches of sand all day long to make a living. It puts things into perspective for me. I don’t mean to get sappy here but the day we left it was a raining and I couldn’t help but wonder what do those vendors do on raining days…

Hang gliding / Paragliding

This is a pretty pricy ticket item for the locals but with the exchange so good for us Dollar holders, it’s truly a bargain for the type of experience you’ll have! It costs an average of R$600 per person to fly, in today’s exchange rate it’s about U$160. In Rio, the minimum age to fly is 16.

WARNING: Look for reputable businesses, nowadays it’s more regulated but if something seems too cheap you should wonder how old their equipment is and how well trained the staff is as well.

So one of the most reputable hang gliding business in the city (Beto and Carla) recommended Bella and me to Ciro (@ciroanimau) in Niteroi, and crossing the bridge to Niterói was the best decision we made! We went Paragliding and our flight lasted around 35min. It was AMAZING. We were in touch with them since we got there and waited for the best conditions to fly.

The flying time depends on weather conditions as well as how many people want to fly. In Rio, flights are quicker due to the high demand but in Niteroi, you’re flying with lots of locals and overlooking Rio’s Skyline – BREATHTAKING! Plus we ended up going to lunch with our paragliders and had the best time in one of the yummiest restaurants in Niterói, Seu Antonio. If it wasn’t for the paragliding we wouldn’t have known this gem! GO if you have a chance 🙂 – scroll down for more places to eat!

What To Wear

Check out THIS POST to see what I packed as well as packing tips and hacks! I did bring more than I wore considering I wanted to create content for the blog, and give you tips about upcoming trends. But if you want to pack light and to the point, I recommend lightweight clothing, neutral dresses that double as a cover-up tunic, you can style in multiple ways and wear it multiple times. Shorts, tops, slide sandals (this one is so versatile I wore them day and night!). A pair of comfy Havaianas for the beach – but that I recommend you buy there since they have the latest styles and SO MANY designs to choose from!

Karina Reske Ipanema beach wearing animal print bathing suit black crochet coverup
Travel Blogger Karina Reske wearing two piece bandeau high waist mauve bikini
Chloe slides beach style

Bathing suits and coverups (quantity depends on how long you’ll be there for) I’ve traveled with one pair, wash them at night in the shower and they were ready to go again in the morning!

Praia do Leblon look de verão

At night, little light dresses or shorts and a nicer little top will do it!

Lastly, leave room in your suitcase for local shopping. Brazil has amazing fashions and you’ll want to bring some extra Cangas, jewelry, handmade handbags, etc!

Arpoador street vendors colorful handmade handbags

Where to Eat

Guys the options are truly endless! You can find fancy meals at the beach kiosks as well as homemade style meals in every corner. In Brazil, our main meal is lunch so you can expect to eat an amazing meal at lunchtime. Sandwiches and pizzas are more of a dinner thing but you can find amazing restaurants for dinner too.

Our favorite for lunch this time around was Aipo & Aipim. They’re a “by the weight” type of restaurant. Usually more affordable for business people who work in the surrounding areas. This one had lots of fresh veggies and delicious feijoada ( a Brazilian bean soup that you eat with rice and collard greens!). This dish costs on average $8 bucks! Get why we went back twice 🙂

Aipo & Aipim Ipanema
rice and beans with cooked collard greens and lots of raw fresh veggies

For dinner, I can’t recommend the Leblon neighborhood enough. They have all kinds of restaurants, trendy bars, French Bistros, fancy sushi and so much more. You want to go to Dias Ferreira Street, get out of your Uber there and walk up and down the street to find your place!

We went to Nola for Bella’s bday and our first night in the city. It’s the typical restaurant vibe in Rio, full of happy chatty friends and families meeting for dinner. We loved the food (both of us went with vegetarian options) and Bella had her first-ever Caipirinha (our Brazilian National drink made with sugar cane rum, fresh fruit, and sugar).

Nola Rio de Janeiro
Mushroom Risotto and sweet potato gnocchi with mushrooms

If you’re into Sushi, Sushi Leblon was HIGHLY recommended by my carioca insta friends! It’s pricy but totally worth it!

Kiosk Marea was amazing! The Kiosk that serves the guests of Fasano Hotel (V fancy + V pricey beachfront hotel). The kiosk/beachfront restaurant has pretty compatible prices and the best caipirinhas I’ve had there!

Quiosque Marea Fasano
Karina Style Diaries wearing floral wrap top Agolde shorts straw hat sipping caipirinhas in Ipanema

Cantina da Praça is one that was close to our hotel with very chef-like meals. It’s a charming spot with outdoor seating. They are Italian but had a variety of dishes and the most delicious salad!

Cantina da Praca Ipanema

One more worth mentioning because we had lunch there a couple of times as well is Brasinha Ipanema. Very low key and simple place but good comforting food. We had Feijoada one day and salads the next. Cold beer, and very affordable!

Other places I’ve been before that are totally worth checking out and are Bar Jobi (V traditional spot, where local celebs love to have a beer standing in the sidewalk!), Boteco Belmonte, Garota de Ipanema and so many more!

How to get around

Uber Uber Uber! It’s sad to say but the taxi system in Rio is a lot like NYC. Expensive and not the best cars. Ubers can run as low as half the taxi prices for the nicest rides. They also have bikes all over town with stations everywhere and you pay the equivalent to a couple of dollars per day and also have the option of “renting” the bike for a month which can be even cheaper (if that’s possible!).

Ok, I know I’m leaving something out but can’t think of what else I need to tell ya at the moment! So I’ll be updating this post as things come up. Biut this post should be a great start for you to get around Rio local style 🙂

Beijos,

-K