With its scenery and beautiful people, Rio is the perfect getaway for the guys (or girls).
Getting There and Back
Departed: JFK to GIG
Returned: GIG to JFK
Took a much-needed winter vacation with friends, leaving chilly North America for the sunny beaches of Rio de Janeiro. We flew out from JFK and arrived at International Airport Galeão in Rio at 10:40 the next day. It’s a long trip, so book your seats in business class for seats that recline like beds. I advise catching red-eye flights each way to avoid missing any days.
Food at the Rio airport stinks! Eat before you leave for your flight or on the flight home.
We paid $300BRA for a van for our group of 10 from the airport to the hotel. It’s $90BRA per person for a single reserved ride from the airport to Marina All Suites.
We stayed at the Marina All Suites in Leblon — the most exclusive neighborhood in Rio. It’s hard to beat this hotel for price and location. It’s right on the beach, with beach service available (chairs, towels and umbrella). The rooftop pool and fitness center has a great view and there’s a fun bar scene — Bar d’Hotel and Bar do Lado are very popular, chic nightspots.
Beware of a possible bait-and-switch on the Marina All Suites and the Marina Palace. We read this in the reviews and it was certainly true. In our booking, we only discussed the Marina All Suites but when we received the confirmation they put us in the Marina Palace. We were able to move some of our rooms back over to the Marina All Suites.
The Marina Palace is not a bad hotel, but it’s inferior to Marina All Suites. Located just two buildings over from Marina All Suites, Marina Palace is also located on the beach but it doesn’t have a fun bar or nightlife scene. There are renovated and non-renovated rooms available. The renovated rooms are nice and clean.
Another hotel to consider is Fasano Hotel, with its modern design and efficient service. The hotel offers a fitness center, a great spa and a very fun bar scene. However, the location is inferior to the Marina Hotel and you need to taxi everywhere.
What to Do
Located between Pedra da Gávea and Tijuca Forest, Gavea Golf and Country Club is a beautiful private golf course in a jungle setting, just a $20BRA cab ride from our hotel. On our cab ride to the club we passed through some of the poorer Rio neighborhoods — it was pretty hard to imagine such a prestigious club in the area. However, be wary of the cost. They charge for every single thing you could possibly imagine — they even tried to charge for umbrellas when it was raining! But if you’re into golf, a trip here is highly recommended. We paid $350BRA per player for one round, $50 for golf club, $100 for a caddy for each player (required) and $200BRA per golf cart.
Marina da Gloria is just 25 minutes from hotel so we thought a day on the water would be fun. You can rent a boat for a 6-hour tour and lunch stop in Itaipu (home of the world’s largest dam). Half the deposit is required upfront to reserve the boat. The approximate cost for 10 people is $1,300. Although we booked a boat trip — we rented a 36’ speed boat named Cheers — we opted not to take it due to rainy weather. It seemed like they were available every day, so you don’t necessarily need to book them ahead of time since you must put up half of the deposit upfront.
We had a great time taking in a soccer game at Rio’s Maracana stadium. We signed up for the group experience which was very costly, but still great fun. If you go through the hotel, which seemed like the only option, they definitely rip you off. We paid $350BRA per person for the tickets plus transportation and a guide. Then we found out it wasn’t private transportation and the actual tickets we got were $30BRA per person. We ended up just paying for our own transportation and ditching the guide. It was great actually seeing the championship team. Things to know: there is no assigned seating in the stadium and no alcohol for sale. Eat before or after the game because the food sold in the stadium was awful. While it’s safe in the stadium, it’s not safe to walk around outside the stadium, which is located in a favela. Leave early to avoid the crowds emptying the stadium.
On the Beach
Leblon and Ipanema are the best and safest beaches to sun, swim and watch the girls walk by in Rio. Leblon beach was right across from our hotel, and our hotel had stations where they set up beach chairs and umbrellas. The water isn’t extremely warm but on a nice hot day, it feels great. Beware of the sun, it’s really strong by the equator. Everyone in our group got burned, even applying sunscreen. We highly recommend using California Tan SPF 30 Broad Spectrum. Stay hydrated! The fresh coconut water on the beach in Leblon was safe and delicious.
Bibi Café is the perfect place to grab a quick breakfast in the morning in Leblon. Get the Acai yogurt with granola and a coconut water each morning for a healthy start to your day. For lunch, try the Café at the Leblon Design Mall. The café boasts quick service and good Italian food.
For dinner, a must-visit is Sushi Leblon. This is the best sushi restaurant in town, as well as the place to see and be seen. The sushi was fresh and fantastic. If you can’t get into Sushi Leblon, because it does get crowded each night, there are several other restaurants across the street. Most are a mix of Italian and tapas food. All are pretty trendy and fun with a good scene.
Brazil is meat-eating country. Rio’s Brazilian steakhouses — called churrascarias — are all pretty similar, so pick the one in Leblon or Ipanema. We made the trip to Porcao’s but didn’t find it worth the 30-minute drive.
Clubs get going around midnight in Rio. Be aware of the special process they use in nightclubs in Brazil: You get an entrance card to use to rack up your tab all night at the bar, then you pay the cover plus your tab as you leave. This process is to avoid the people inside handling cash and stealing money. There is a long line when leaving the club because you have to pay to leave the club so try to make your exit before the club closes. Champagne and bottles of vodka were about $100 per bottle.
We had heard a lot about Melt, a live music club with a great location, but we didn’t think it had a great scene. Rio Scenario was another we didn’t think worth the drive or long line to get in. Miroir is a very cool club with great clientele, but it’s really crowded. The location is awesome with a cool view — directly in front of the statue of Christ. They play fantastic house music and feature a rotating lineup of the hottest up-and-coming DJs. Another bonus is it’s just a 20-minute drive from Leblon on the lagoon.
Our favorite spot was probably Barzin, which is fun and trendy. Located on the third level of a restaurant, Barzin has good music and a vibrant atmosphere. There’s an upstairs VIP area where you can hang with your friends. The nightclub also has a great location in Ipanema not too far from our hotel.
For drinks, the bars around Leblon are definitely worth a visit. It’s fun and safe all over Leblon, and there are great spots to hang out from 10 p.m. to midnight. Plus, you can actually have a conversation prior to hitting the loud, later hours clubs.
Quick Tips While in Rio:
- Most places, including your hotel, let you put things on your room and pay by credit card (extra charge of 10%). If you pay in cash you can avoid this 10% surcharge.
- Look for Citibank ATMs or ATMs that say “24 hour” on them — the 30 hour ATMS and others will not work with US debit cards.
- American Express doesn’t charge you foreign charges when traveling abroad.
- Admirals Club in Rio was decently comfortable and had showers, but I wouldn’t say it was very nice (Note: A new Admirals Club is being built in 2013 in preparation for the Olympics)
- Make sure you leave plenty of time to get your visa for Brazil (this can be quite a hassle).
- Use Wi-Fi at hotels and restaurants to avoid roaming charges on your phone.
- Don’t wear nice watches or flashy jewelry and don’t carry too much cash on you at one time.
- Get corporate rates on the hotels and you can get 50% off the room rates (JP Morgan rate works great).
- It’s a three-hour time change from New York.