Getting Here and Around
Rio's shuttle system currently extends from the Zona Norte to Ipanema, with shuttles to areas west of the final stop. The Metro system, extended to Barra da Tijuca in 2016, is a convenient and quick way to get around town and avoid the city's often troublesome traffic jams. Within Ipanema and Copacabana, it's easy to get around on foot, but some attractions are far apart, so a taxi might be in order. After dark you should always take a taxi if you're venturing into unexplored territory. Cabs are yellow and easy to hail on every main street. Public buses are cheap and cover every inch of the city, but can be difficult to figure out if you don't speak Portuguese.
Nearly three-dozen airlines regularly serve Rio, but most flights from North America stop first in São Paulo. Several international carriers offer Rio–São Paulo flights.
All international flights and most domestic flights arrive and depart from the Aeroporto Internacional Antônio Carlos Jobim, also known as Galeão (GIG). The airport is about 40 minutes northwest of the beach area and most of Rio's hotels. Taxis are plentiful and operate on a fixed-fare basis (those outside the arrivals area are cheaper than those from kiosks inside), and comfortable, spacious air-conditioned buses leave the airport for Centro, the Zona Sul, and Barra da Tijuca. Aeroporto Santos Dumont (SDU), 20 minutes from the beaches and within walking distance of Centro, is served by the Rio–São Paulo air shuttle and other domestic flights.
Aeroporto Internacional Antônio Carlos Jobim. Av. 20 de Janeiro s/n, Ilha do Governador, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 21942–900. 21/3004–6050; www.riogaleao.com.
Aeroporto Santos Dumont. Praça Senador Salgado Filho s/n, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 20021–340. 21/3814–7070; www.aeroportosantosdumont.net.
Airport Transfers: Buses and Taxis
Most visitors arrive at Rio International Airport, about a 40-minute car ride from the tourist destinations. The speediest way to reach Centro and the Zona Sul is to take a taxi. Prices are steep, however. Expect to pay up to R$90 to reach Copacabana, and slightly more to Ipanema and Leblon. There are taxi booths in the arrivals area, and passengers pay a set fare in advance, though drivers may charge extra if you have lots of luggage. Also trustworthy are the white radio taxis parked in front of arrivals; these metered vehicles cost an average of 20% less than the airport taxis.
Comfortable, air-conditioned buses run by Real (marked Real Premium) park curbside outside the arrivals lounge; there is plenty of luggage storage space, and staff will safely stow your luggage beneath the bus. The buses (R$14) make the hour-long trip from Galeão to the Zona Sul, following the beachfront drives and stopping at major hotels along the way. If your hotel is inland, the driver will let you off at the nearest corner. Buses operate from 5:30 am to 11:45 pm .
Arriving and Departing
Long-distance and international buses leave from and arrive at the Rodoviária Novo Rio. Any local bus marked "rodoviária" will take you to the station. You can buy tickets at the depot or, for some destinations, from travel agents. To buy online you will need a CPF (Brazilian Social Security) number. A staff member at your hotel may be able to help you with online purchases.
Rodoviária Novo Rio. Av. Francisco Bicalho 1, Santo Cristo, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 20220–310. 21/3213–1800; 021/3213–1800; www.novorio.com.br.
Travel within Rio de Janeiro
Rio's urban buses are cheap, frequent, and generally safe to use, but do not show cameras or wallets, and do not wear expensive-looking clothes or jewelry. Wear backpacks on your front, and avoid getting on or off the bus in deserted areas. Local buses have a fixed price (R$3), and can take you anywhere you want to go. Route maps aren't available, but local tourist offices have route lists for the most popular sights. Enter buses at the front, pay the attendant, and pass through a turnstile. Have your fare in hand when you board to avoid flashing bills or your wallet. When you want to get off, pull the overhead cord and the driver will pause at the next designated stop. Exit from the rear of the bus.
The comfortable, privately run, and air-conditioned Real Premium buses serve the beaches, downtown, and Rio's two airports. These vehicles, which look like highway buses, stop at regular bus stops but also may be flagged down wherever you see them. Expect to pay around three times the price of the regular bus.
The carioca style of driving is passionate to the point of abandon: speeding is de rigueur, traffic jams are common, the streets aren't well marked, and red lights are often ignored by drivers. Although there are parking areas along the beachfront boulevards, finding a spot can be a real problem. If you do choose to drive, exercise extreme caution, wear seat belts at all times, and keep the doors locked.
Car rentals can be arranged through hotels, agencies, or online sites like www.rentcars.com.br, which tend to offer the best value. While international companies such as Hertz and Avis are present, the best customer service can be found at local agency Movida, which has affiliates in the International and Domestic airports and Copacabana. Rental costs range from R$80-R$800 a day.
Turismo Clássico Travel can arrange for a driver to get you around the city, with or without an English-speaking guide (US$50 per hour). Clássico's owners, Liliana and Vera, speak English, and each has more than 20 years of experience in organizing transportation. They also lead sightseeing tours.
Car Rental Contacts
TURISMO Clássico. Av.N.S. Copacabana 1059, , grupo 805 , Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 22060. www.classicdmctravel.com.
Metrô Rio, the subway system, is clean, relatively safe, and efficient, but it's not comprehensive. Line 1 covers the Zona Sul, with 20 stops between Tijuca and Ipanema, along with integrated metro-bus services going to Barra da Tijuca, Gávea and Botafogo. Line 2 goes from the Zona Norte neighborhood of Pavuna to Cidade Nova in Rio’s City Center (Centro). Line 4 was extended in time for the 2016 Olympics and now stretches through São Conrado to Jardim Ocêanico in Barra da Tijuca. Reaching sights distant from metro stations can be a challenge, especially in summer, when beach traffic increases. Tourism offices and some metro stations have maps.
Trains operate daily between 5 am and midnight except on Sunday and holidays, when they run between 7 am and 11 pm. A single metro ticket costs R$4.30, but it is quicker and easier to use a pre-pay card. Machines at each metro station allow passengers to buy and load up cards from R$5 to the value of their choice, and although there are no financial savings, you'll avoid queues and hassle each time you take the subway.
Metrô Rio. Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 20210–031. 800/595–1111; www.metrorio.com.br.
Taxis are plentiful in Rio, and in most parts of the city you can easily flag one down on the street. Yellow taxis have meters that start at a set price and have two rates. The "1" rate applies to fares before 8 pm, and the "2" rate applies to fares after 8 pm, on Sunday, on holidays, throughout December, in the neighborhoods of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca, and when climbing steep hills, such as those in Santa Teresa. Drivers are required to post a chart noting the current fares on the inside of the left rear window. CentralTaxi has a fare calculator on its website that will give you a general idea of what the fare from one destination to another might be. Taxi drivers may be reluctant to make the steep climb to Santa Teresa, so if you are heading here wait until you are already inside the taxi before stating your destination, and stand your ground—by law drivers cannot refuse to take you here.
Radio taxis and several companies that routinely serve hotels (and whose drivers often speak English) are also options. They charge 30% more than other taxis but are reliable and usually air-conditioned. Other cabs working with the hotels also charge more, normally a fixed fee that you should agree on before you leave. Reliable radio-cab companies include Coopacarioca and Coopatur.
Most carioca cabbies are pleasant, but there are exceptions. If flagging down a taxi on the street, check to see that an official phone number is displayed on the side and that the driver's official identity card is displayed. Remain alert and trust your instincts. Unless you've negotiated a flat fee with the driver, be sure the meter is turned on. Few cab drivers speak English, so it's a good idea to have your destination written down to show the driver, in case there's a communication gap.
CentralTaxi. Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro. 21/2195–1000; www.centraltaxi.com.br.
Coopacarioca. Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro. 21/2518–3857; 021/2158–1818; www.cooparioca.com.br.
Coopatur. Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro. 21/3885–1000.