Port of Rio de Janeiro
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While not the largest city in the 190 million-resident behemoth that is Brazil -- that honor goes to Sao Paulo -- Rio's six million diverse residents (called "Cariocas") are keenly proud of their city's stature. They are the most outspoken, lively and just plain fun people you'll probably ever encounter. The Cariocas' unmistakable joie de vivre and welcoming spirit is infectious, as they'll gladly share their local secrets on where to go to experience the most important architectural treasures, the most cutting-edge art museums, the most action-packed water sports, or the most memorable caipirinha (the national drink that packs a wallop). But this isn't surprising. Who wouldn't have an open outlook on life living in this perpetually sunny, joyful and fascinating melange of Portuguese, African, European and South American cultures?
Another definite advantage to visiting Rio and Brazil as a tourist is that it remains one of the few true travel bargains left today in this age of the declining dollar. Like its more dressed-up cousin to the south, Buenos Aires, Rio offers the opportunity to live grandly for a day or a week on a much smaller budget than in comparable cities like Paris or Rome, with reasonable prices for five-star accommodations, good bargain prices for world-class cuisine and wine, and the ability to shop until you drop when searching out the latest trendy fashion items and jewelry.
While inarguably exciting, visiting Rio is still equated with the word "danger" in some conversations. In reality, there are some safety concerns if you venture far out of the normal tourist quarters. But the overall situation for visitors has improved greatly in the past decade, and pickpocketing and mugging incidents are not common. So kick back and relax as you are drawn into Rio's magnificent orbit.
Note: To enter Brazil, U.S. travelers must have visas, which cost $140 - $160, depending on how application is made. Visas are valid for stays of up to 90 days at a time over a 10-year period. Visit the Brazilian Consulate's Web site for visa information.
Top Rio de Janeiro Itineraries
Viking Sun86 Night the Americas & Chilean FjordsNew York , New York , Hamilton, Hamilton, Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Tortola, St. Thomas, San Juan, San Juan, San Juan, Barbados, Santarem, Manaus, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Stanley, Stanley, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, Santiago , Santiago , Santiago , Lima, Fuerte Amador, Puntarenas , Puerto Quetzal , Cabo San Lucas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Los AngelesNow
Zaandam33-day Panama Canal Inca & S. America DiscoveryFort Lauderdale , Aruba, Fuerte Amador, Fuerte Amador, Lima, Lima, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Stanley, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Santos , Rio de JaneiroNow
Viking Sun46 Night West Indies,Amazon & South AmericaSan Juan, San Juan, Barbados, Santarem, Manaus, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Stanley, Stanley, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, Santiago , SantiagoNow
Seven Seas Mariner66 Night World CruiseMiami, Curacao, Cartagena , Lima, Lima, Antigua, Santiago , Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Punta del Este, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Punta del Este, Santos , Ilha Grande, Buzios, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, Manaus, Santarem, St. Lucia, St. Barts, MiamiNow
Zaandam16-day South America PassagePuerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Stanley, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Santos , Rio de JaneiroNow
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the city's commercial port, Pier Maua. The downtown business district is within walking distance of the port.
There's absolutely no reason to stay around the pier -- it's a working cargo port with no services. Ships may arrange transportation to Copacabana, the Ipanema beaches, and the city center, or you can simply hail a taxi.
Good to Know
Because Rio has been so famous for its relatively high crime rate -- particularly for pickpocketing -- this is a port of call where organized ship tours can be a good idea. But in recent years, the city government has made an effort to "clean up" the city, and there are abundant tourist police in major areas which has helped deter some crime. Whichever option you choose, absolutely leave anything valuable in your stateroom safe (including items like earrings, wedding rings and expensive cameras). Follow the lead of locals: When Cariocas go to the local beaches, they just carry a towel, sunscreen and some petty cash to buy snacks and drinks from the numerous beach vendors.
The central part of Rio de Janeiro where the major sights are located is very walkable. Taxis are also readily available. While Rio has an excellent public transportation system (buses and metro), they can be tricky to figure out for first-timers. The metro extends along Copacabana beach and includes Ipanema.
Another option many cruise passengers have is free transportation, courtesy of internationally known jewelers; companies like H. Stern often offer complimentary roundtrip sedan rides to its jewelry store in Rio, which is in Ipanema -- the city's chic-est neighborhood. No purchase is required and passengers who don't buy aren't hassled about it. But if you do accept the free ride (cars go back and forth between the ship and the store all day), be courteous and at least browse the store before heading off to the beach or town.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Brazilian real (pronounced rey-al; plural is reais, pronounced ray-eyes). For currency conversion figures, go to www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are plenty of ATM machines and exchange bureaus in town. Bank hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Brazilian Portuguese. English is widely understood in hotels and shops. If spoken slowly, Spanish is understood by many residents as well.
Food and Drink
The quintessential Rio dining experience is eating "rodizio" (or all-you-can-eat) style in one of the many meat-focused "churrascarias." There are numerous restaurants in the city where platters of delicious grilled meats and sides are brought to your table until you say "no more!" Most of these popular establishments feature expansive salad bars as well. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices for a satisfying lunch. There are many other dining choices in this international city as well, but while in Rio, you must try feijoada, a dish of black beans and pork served with rice, and pair it with a caipirinha, a typical Brazilian cocktail made of sugar cane rum, lime and sugar.
For convenient and easy lunch choices, we've had great luck wandering the streets of Ipanema and Copacabana and just going to any local lanchonetes (lunch counters) where you can sample any kind of fruit juice imaginable, along with a good selection of sandwiches and snacks (one example is Big Nectar at 34A Teixiera de Melo in Ipanema). Also, look for restaurants in the tourist areas with menus that are posted outside. Most are excellent and offer fresh selections and good value. Make sure that you verify whether credit cards are accepted. And note that some churrasco restaurants charge based on what you take, rather than a fixed, all-you-can eat American-style buffet.
Here are some highly recommended restaurants to sample typical or interesting cuisine in the city:
Confeitaria Colombo (Rua Goncalves Dias 32): This ornate historic restaurant is a magnificent showcase for Brazil's Belle Epoque architecture, as well as the best in local meats and seafood, served buffet-style. Tourists and locals alike rave about the selection and quality here.
Marius Crustaceos (Av. Atlantica 290): This traditional all-you-can-eat Brazilian rodizio restaurant has evolved -- into an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant, located right next door to its carnivorous cousin. Besides the delicious buffet of antipasto and cold seafood, ravenous diners can look forward to the prime catch that waiters bring to your table: fresher-than-fresh lobster, prawns, salmon, tuna, etc.
Case de Feijoada (Rua Prudente de Morais 10, Ipanema): The Brazilian national dish of feijoda (bean stew) is usually served only on once a week, but you can join the locals who have a hankering for the ultimate comfort food any day of the week at this popular Ipanema restaurant. The actual bean stew is served in a traditional clay pot with whatever meat you choose (bacon, sausage, dried meat, etc.). A plethora of side dishes as well as a large cocktail menu make for a memorable taste of the city.
Bar d'Hotel (Av. Delfim Moreira 696 -- inside Marina All Suites Hotel -- Ipanema): This hip eatery located inside the coolest boutique hotel in the city is the place where the trendy, younger set and in-the-know diners come to enjoy some of the best Italian and regional cuisine in the city.
Brazil is the world's largest producer of colored gemstones (hence the presence of so many reputable international retailers like H. Stern) and is also a major gold producer. Other possibilities to add to your Rio shopping list include designer clothing, handicrafts, leather goods and unique fabrics.