Rio de Janeiro: 5 Little Things That Make a Big Difference

Jul 15, 2015
Bound for Brazil? Here's what you need to know before landing in Rio:

The sun’s the only thing that goes to bed early

Because I arrived off a red-eye on a recent trip, I made through lunch and one caipirinha before I needed a nap. I woke up in total darkness … yet the room clock said 5:50 p.m. As it turns out, the sun sets around 5:30 p.m. in early winter due to the equator’s proximity. However, that’s the only thing that ends early -- some clubs don’t even open until 11 p.m. and finding a spot to drink and dance until sunrise is easier than um, dois, três.

Everyone waits in the same traffic … even buses

Catarina Belova /

My flight got into Rio at a prime commute hour so, with no real rush to get to a hotel that I likely couldn’t check into for hours, I decided to take Frescão Rio, the executive ônibus for R$13.50. With Wi-Fi and A/C, it was a pleasant experience for about US$4. It didn’t take much longer than my flat-fare hotel town car I took back to the airport during evening rush hour. Black cars (and taxis) are much cheaper than major U.S. cities so while my ride was a bargain, a cab is not unreasonably priced either. You’ll also see popular American apps here, too -- my driver used Waze to find the quickest way through evening rush hour and GIG has free Wi-Fi making Uber another transportation option.

Here’s a tip, there’s a charge

While you may notice some unfamiliar charges on your bills, a tip is neither expected nor given in Brazil. It’s customary to round up to the nearest dollar when paying for taxis, but I got the strangest look from my driver when I handed him several reais (a couple dollars) as change. I said obrigada, walked into the hotel and promptly asked the concierge. He told me that tipping is not normal so the driver was actually looking at me in surprise, not in anger. Most food or drink bills will have a 10% serviço fee, which is actually not mandatory. Bars -- which are actually more casual restaurants vs. solely drinking establishments -- with live music may charge a per-person couvert (for the music) as will some restaurants upon serving a bread basket. Many pubs or clubs also add on an entrance charge. Instead of paying for drinks, you receive a card upon entry and order all drinks on that. You then settle up the bill (along with the one-time couvert and 10% serviço, if applicable) before leaving.

Take a bus tour

I am not a big fan of escorted tours and, only having a few days in Rio, I opted to head to a local designer fair -- Babilônia Feira Hype -- instead of taking a trip to the Cristo Redentor Little did I know that this small choice brought me through Barra -- home to many future Rio 2016 Olympic sites -- as well as the cutest town, Joá, ... all via a city bus for R$2.40 (about 75 cents). I got to shop and eat among locals and see a different side of the city in the process. Just be smart about your surroundings and your destination as some people will advise against taking these at night or on routes passing through favelas. One note: If you have a pré-pago card for the Metro, it doesn’t work on the bus … but drivers will make change if you’re coming up short.

If you see locals lining up to eat it, it’s probably worth a try

I’ve never purchased food from a street vendor in NYC, and I don’t know many locals that line up to buy those dirty water hot dogs either. Not ready to venture into street meat territory, I asked a friend what sweet treats I should try. I wouldn’t recommend leaving Cidade Maravilhosa without sampling pipoca (sweet popcorn), tapioca (crepe-like dishes folded and filled with sweet or savory options) and churros com dulce de leite (sugar-covered hollow donuts piped full of sweet caramel on the spot).

More Great Deals & Tips