Rio de Janeiro may not be the city everybody talks about when you think about backpacking around South America, but you will find here cheap accommodation, great food, and friendly people, and this will all make your experience here a positive one. The city does have its problems, such as drug crime and pollution, but on the whole, tourists will enjoy what the city has to offer – and let us not forget the glorious beaches that are scattered around the coastline…
With tourist infrastructure FAIRLY cheap by South American standards (though not as cheap as in Peru), you can really get around anywhere in Rio de Janeiro without too much hassle, and the tourist buses are fairly frequent (public buses are reliable, too). However, basic common sense tell us that perhaps you should avoid late night rides on the buses, especially if you are a solo female traveller.
Wherever you are in Rio de Janeiro, you will come across Christian religious statues of God and Jesus on almost every street corner. Brazil is a very religious country, and Rio epitomises this. Of course, you will know about Christ the Redeemer perched up high in the mountains which can be seen from all around the city. I think viewing the statue from down below is a better option that hiking up to its feet, but nonetheless it remains a major tourist draw.
Like the fact or not, sex is everyone’s lips in Rio. You cannot step outside of your hostel without being offered a condom (I guess this is a good thing, right?) and when you go to the famous beaches like Copacabana or Ipanema you can be sure of some scantily-clad women bouncing across the sand. For many people, this is one of the main sights of Brazil. Brazilian women, especially those from Rio, are very outgoing and relaxed, and are used to a live of sex and samba beside the beach!
Not all of life in Rio is rosy, however. There is a lot of street crime, much of it related to drugs and prostitution. I was told that many areas of the city are no-go areas because the territory is controlled by gangs. In this regard, it is very much like Cape Town in South Africa, where you have to keep your wits about you, especially as a tourist. Don’t walk around urban areas with your camera and iPhone on show, and never carry much cash in your wallet just in case you get mugged.
For the party life, you cannot go wrong in Rio. Whether you like being extrovert in carnivals or whether you just like sitting in the corner of a bar somewhere with friends and listening to some local music, then you will still be able to find what you are looking here somewhere in the city. Local people are genuinely friendly (well, most of them) and over a few caipirinhas you will get used to their company, especially if you are travelling solo.
Tourist attractions mainly centre around Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the famous beaches, but there are some gems to be discovered, such as Jardim Botanico, which is a huge botanical garden, perfect for burning off the calories if you’ve had too much churrasco. Then there’s the Maracana football stadium for soccer fans, which is a great way to take a tour behind the scenes of the world’s most successful national football team. The Santa Teresa District is also one of the most quirky and happening places in the city, where you can find good food, good drink, and plenty of other “good stuff”, legal or otherwise…
Enjoy your time in Rio de Janeiro, as aside from adventure trips to the likes of the Amazon and Iguassu Falls (and maybe Fernando de Noronha), Rio is probably the ONLY city in Brazil worth visiting if you’re on a tight budget and/or schedule.