DIY When It Comes to Tours -- When booking a tour or outdoor adventure, it's best to make the call yourself. (Don't worry about a language barrier; most tour operators speak English.) If you let the concierge or desk staff make the booking it will cost you anything from 10% to 50% more, and you may not even get the tour you want. Rio concierges are notorious for informing guests that a tour is "full," then putting them on a tour with another company -- one offering the concierge a bigger cut.
Gray Line (tel. 021/2512-9919; www.grayline.com) offers a number of tour itineraries: the 4-hour US$43 walking tour of Rio's historic downtown is a quite reasonable value; the US$55 half-day tours of the Corcovado or Pão de Açúcar are really a bit of a racket; all they're providing is transfer to and from the train station or gondola, at a very hefty markup.
Saveiros Tour (tel. 021/2225-6064; www.saveiros.com.br) offers 2-hour tours of Guanabara Bay aboard an antique wooden fishing schooner. Cost is R$55, children 5 to 10 R$25, children 4 and under free, including snacks of fresh fruit. Departure is at noon Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from the Glória Marina (Metrô: Glória).
Take to the water for sundown. Pink Fleet (tel. 021/2555-4063; www.pinkfleet.com) offers evening dinner cruises on Guanabara Bay. Passengers begin boarding at 6pm; the boat departs at 9:15pm and returns at 11pm. Cost is R$80, not including dinner, which you order from an a la carte menu. On Saturdays, there's an additional afternoon tour, departing at 11:45am. The boats depart from the Enseada da Glória, just behind the Museum of Modern Art.
Rio is a town where taking the high ground is rewarded. Helisight (tel. 021/2511-2141, on weekends 2542-7895; www.helisight.com.br) offers helicopter sightseeing tours. They cost R$150 per person for a 6-minute circuit around the statue of Christ; R$300 per person for a 12-minute flight over the Christ, Botanical Gardens, Rocinha, Lagoa, Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, and the Sugarloaf. Minimum of three people per flight. Tours depart from Urca Hill (halfway up to the Sugarloaf) and the shore of Lagoa (opposite the rowing stadium in Leblon).
Rio's hillside favelas, or shantytowns, are huge, complex, and fascinating -- a whole other world, in fact -- but as an outsider it's difficult (and dangerous) to navigate your way through this world. Licensed guide Marcelo Armstrong of Marcelo Armstrong's Favela Tour (tel. 021/9989-0074 mobile; www.favelatour.com.br) knows the territory; he's been doing tours since 1993, longer than any of his competitors. A 3-hour tour to the favelas of Rocinha and Vila Canoas costs R$85 if booked directly, including pickup and drop-off. A portion of the fee goes to fund a school that tourgoers get to visit. While some foreign visitors have qualms about the ethics of touring a poor community, the fact is most favela residents welcome such visits -- not so much for the economic spinoffs (though these are welcome) but for the sense of validation that comes with having foreigners visit their neighborhood (just as they might visit Ipanema or Copacabana). They too are a part of Brazil, and the tours to their community show it.
Community Visits -- For a very different tour, experience Ikoporan's community tours (tel. 021/3852-2916; www.ikoporan.org). This local organization sets up volunteer projects for foreign visitors who would like to help a community organization. Those who don't have the time to dedicate to volunteering can spend a day visiting one or more community projects, getting to know some of the social projects that support some of Rio's most socially disadvantaged groups, learn more about social issues, and talk to staff, volunteers, and local residents. Tours start at R$150 and include transportation, an English-speaking guide, and lunch. Part of the proceeds are donated to the projects.
Rio Hiking (tel. 021/9721-0594; www.riohiking.com.br) offers a 3-hour guided walking tour of the historic, bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Tours depart daily at 9am and 2pm, and cost R$70.
Tour du Jour -- Rio Hiking (tel. 021/2552-9204; www.riohiking.com.br) offers an excellent day tour (R$200 per person) that includes a visit to Pedra Bonita for the views (with the option of taking a leap in a hang glider) followed by a visit to the Museu Casa do Pontal, Sitio Burle Marx, and time for a swim or a walk along Grumari, one of the city's loveliest beaches.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.