Like a lot of places, ten days is not enough to experience all that Rio de Janeiro has to offer. Yet with some planning and good weather, it is possible to hit the highlights and still not have to rush too much.
The first thing to consider is the general itinerary, and for those that require a tourist visa, it can take up to a 2-4 weeks depending if one lives in a city where a Brazilian consulate exists. Next is deciding where in Rio you want to make your ‘home base’ and if you want to stay in a hotel or a temporary apartment.
Most travelers will want to stay in the Zona Sul (South Zone) beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon. Copacabana by far has the most hotels and accommodations, the biggest beachfront, and is just a more energetic/hectic area. Unfortunately it also has more petty theft and crime, so a traveler has to be more alert and take less risks here.
Ipanema hosts a more even mix of tourists and locals, and has the most popular beach, with a more upscale variety of shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Leblon is the more residential and less touristy area, but by far the most expensive and home of the highest-end restaurants.
So after picking your neighborhood, travelers will then need to decide if a hotel or temporary apartment is the better fit. The hotels range from budget to luxury, and provide more security and amenities. Temporary apartments can offer much more space and privacy, however they require a little more independence, which is not for everyone.
Most flights into Rio are overnight which means arriving without much sleep, and getting somewhere quickly will save a lot of stress. For this reason it is advised to book at least the first night in a major hotel, that can be an easy trip from the airport.
After arriving and checking in, a short walk to see the beach and quick meal at one of the many luncheonettes or casual restaurants will make sense. Then a nap, so one can feel refreshed and ready to explore the city and the many exciting nightlife options.
The first weekend it is best to stay close to your accommodations, spend time with toes in the sand and explore the different beach-cultures. There are great bars and clubs for evenings, and make sure to write down the address of where you are going for taxis (or get a local cell phone sim card and use Uber).
After a few days of city beach and nightlife, it’s time to go for an adventure to either Buzios to the north, or Ilha Grande to the south. Both are amazing and about the same 3-4 hour distance, but it is a question of taste. Buzios is more built up and has much more in terms of shops and restaurants, even a little nightlife. Ilha Grande is very rustic and remote, but offers more pristine beaches.
After three nights at either of these destinations it will be time to get back to the city. At this point it will be important to tick-off a couple more ‘must-sees’ in Rio, like a day trip to Santa Teresa and if you have time, also visit the refurbished Port Zone. Another day can be spent visiting both the famous Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf, but make sure to go to these on a clear day to see the best views.
Samia Sahloul who traveled from London to Rio last year explained, “I enjoyed the day in Santa Teresa the most because it was so pretty, with really interesting architecture.”
Adding, “[I loved] being able to see the view of Rio from above, and it was nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the city below. It felt very different from where we stayed [Zona Sul], and so it was nice to experience something that felt more local.”
Another adventure to experience before leaving is an evening in Lapa to see some of the unique and colorful samba bands, and even try to take a run at the dance floor where usually there are a few eager samba dancing experts to teach some moves. One can take a taxi in and out of the larger samba clubs, again just write down where you are going because not many drivers speak English.
The streets of Lapa on the weekends are very informal, so if you plan to walk around and get immersed in the local energy, make sure to dress casual and leave all valuables at home. The weekend street party starts late and goes on all night, but again one must be alert because it is a major city and crime can be a concern.
By now most travelers have picked their favorite spots on the beach and it is more fun when you have become friendly with a barraca and know where you like to get your acai. It is the simple pleasures of urban beach-living that makes Rio an excellent ten day adventure.