- Zona Sul (South Zone) - this is the more affluent and well-structured part of town you're probably most familiar with from post cards, and where you will find a majority of the Rio's major legacy tourist attractions
- For the most part, every every famous landmark you've likely ever heard about in Rio (Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Arpoador Rock, Dois Irmãos mountain, the Botanical Garden, the Lagoon, Leblon Beach, Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach, etc. is in the Zona Sul
- Everything you'll need for all intensive purposes, from the best restaurants, bars, malls, shops, salons, parties, services, etc are heavily concentrated in this high-density urban area
- Common "no-go" areas near the Zona Sul to be aware of (unless you are being escorted by a highly trusted local for a specific purpose):
- Vidigal - Even though this hillside neighborhood was pacified over the past several years, the security situation can still be precarious depending on the latest whims of the Rio police (and their interaction with local gangs). Check with a trusted local first for the latest before going up, as conditions can change depending on the week or month. Though this is the access point to the famous (and very popular) Dois Irmãos hike, it's recommended to exercise caution when entering the slum and before spending several hours at a time there.
- Morro do Cantagalo (otherwise just called Cantagalo)
- Morro da Babilônia
- Zona Oeste (West Zone) - This is the vastest section of the city, to the west of the more glamorous beach neighborhoods of the Zona Sul. It's very mixed socioeconomically, from very rich new-money suburbs with sprawling strip malls, to very poor ghettos ridden with corrupt police (remember the film City of God? Yeah, it was highly sensationalized for the movie, but that's a real place, and guess what, it's in the West Zone--a perfect example of place you simply do not want to venture into if you are a foreigner... For better or worse, just don't bother my people!).
- In a nutshell, if you are a visitor, you will mostly only head into the West Zone to visit shopping malls or parties in Barra da Tijuca or to get to more remote beaches in Recreio. But generally that is only on the agenda of the more ambitious Rio visitor, so choose accordingly depending on how much time you have during your trip.
- Zona Norte (North Zone) - As a foreigner there is pretty much no reason to go to the North Zone, especially without a trusted local guide.
Favelas: 'Favela' is the Brazilian term for slum. Please be aware of them and don't go exploring a Favela just because. A friend once was held up at gun point and forced to hand over his camera and then delete his photos... You just never might know which gangster or amateur gunman you might aggravate.
Beach Culture in Rio: The main Zona Sul beach districts are lined with lifeguard posts, or, locally, postos. The postos are arranged 1 to 12 from the northern end of Copacabana (Leme Beach) to the Southwestern edge of Leblon. A carioca's social identity tends to revolve quite a bit around his or her selection of beach post, so demographics will change as you descend the Zona Sul. And when meeting friends at the beach, a local's reference point is always his or her favorite posto! Some locals might grumble that pickpockets are more prevalent near posts 8 and lower, but take all of that with a grain of salt as, as just about anything (and mostly tons of fun) can happen at any beach. Admittedly, the clientele tends to get higher class as you move toward posto 12. While the upper middle class will tend to stick somewhere between posts 6 and 9, things are ritzier from posts 10 and beyond (as are the rents per square foot in those corresponding parts of Ipanema and Leblon). But that's not to say you shouldn't check out many different postos, as each one has a bit of distinctive local charm to offer, and all are equally beautiful in their own way. Keep an open mind and go exploring!
Public Transportation in Rio:
The Rio Metro or Uber are excellent ways to get around most central sites and famous landmarks in the city. The Metro's service is concentrated in the South Zone, with some service heading north toward the Centro (downtown) and North Zone. But again, it's not recommended to go to the North Zone neighborhoods without at least a local companion who knows the lay of the land.
As a tourist in Brazil, as in much of the world, it's expected that you will be profiled. You may be spotted a mile away from those that are interested in victimizing you, especially if you wind up in the wrong part of town. Maybe you think you look Brazilian and can blend in; don't let that sway you as there is something about the way us tourists carry ourselves that is a surefire sign to locals that might have the wrong intentions. With that being said, keep in mind that as you're going about your day and activities, someone or the other could be watching you. Here are some scams you should avoid:
- Distractions - If you are asked for an address, or to light someone's cigarette, or hold someone's bag... This can be designed as a ploy to distract you so something can be taken from you. Keep your possessions in sight and stay alert! If you happen to be riding on the metro or on a bus with a backpack or purse--keep it in front of you! This is all common sense to a Brazilian, and when in the Brazilian big cities, try to internalize it.
- Arrastão - There is an (uncommon though still present) phenomenon in some Rio neighborhoods or along some beaches in which young burglars will run furiously in a group across a major section of beachdwellers, scooping up as many possessions as possible in the process and then bolting away. In some extreme and rare cases, the young moleques (punks) might be armed. What this suggests is, when you're on the beach in Rio, someone in your group should always be assigned to watch belongings, even if some of the group heads for a swim. Keep backpacks and purses within plain sight and secured. The more you actively keep in mind and exercise these local practices, the far lower will be your probability of having any mishaps!
- To reiterate, the main type of robbery that happens at Rio beaches is pick pocketing. You must be cautious of all of your belongings. Don't hang your beach-bag on the back of a beach chair. I recommend having it in your lap or tied up to your wrist at all times. Don't let this discourage you from going, it would be a sin not to enjoy the beach in Rio! Just do as locals do and exercise the right precautions.
Do's & Don'ts:
- Don't bring any flashy jewelry out and about with you to the beach, or especially to street parties (blocos) during Carnaval! Even if your jewelry isn't considered "flashy," I would recommend avoiding bringing anything of yours that is of significant value.
- Do dress like a local. Brazilians often dress in comfortable clothing especially during the summer and aren't afraid of showing skin. That means casual shorts and tanks for men, sun dresses and spaghetti straps for women, and sandals (especially the customary Havaianas) for all!
- If there is a need to withdraw cash from an ATM, please do so in a mall or a shopping center. You'll notice most Brazilian ATMs in outdoor places are shut down at nighttime--and there's a reason for that!
- Don't have your phone out while you're walking around the streets, beach, etc. Yes you'll use Google maps, order Ubers, text and check social media sites. But if you do so while walking aimlessly and in a distracted way, it will be a sure fire signal to possible predators that you are foreign. Look around and you'll see that most Brazilians aren't walking around with their phones in their hands like we do in the U.S. Again: there is a reason for that--mimic the locals.
- Similar to having your phone out, be weary of the electronics you carry on you. If you're planning to go on a run and are going to use your airpods or something of the equivalent, note that your gringo is showing. Devices like air-pods cost almost twice the amount compared to what we purchase them in the US for (due to corruption in the Brazilian import tax). It is advisable not to have such electronics on you.
- Travel with others; there is safety in numbers.
- Don't go to the beach and stay on the sand after dark.
- Do carry cash but only a reasonable amount needed for your immediate daily activities. Note: most vendors at the beach only take cash.
- Only book tours from credible companies. Do the due diligence to ensure your tour company is legit, it has online reviews, and you're not getting scammed by a freelancer.
- Don't be loud and bring unnecessary attention to yourself, especially when speaking in English and especially in poor lit areas at night!
- In the case that anything happens, hand over what you have and contact the local police immediately.
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)