By Public Transportation
Rio may seem like a large and sprawling city, but the neighborhoods in which visitors spend most of their time are very easy to get around in. From Centro south to São Conrado, the neighborhoods hang like beads on a string on the narrow strip of land between the ocean and the mountains. You can almost always see one or the other; with landmarks like these it's pretty hard to stray too far from where you want to go.
By Metrô -- The easiest way to get around is by subway; in Centro and the Zona Sul it covers almost every major area of interest, particularly now that there are integrated bus/subway lines for the parts of the city where the Metrô has not yet reached. There are only two lines: Line 1 goes north from downtown -- it's useful for going to the Maracanã and the Quinta da Boa Vista -- while Line 2 begins at the Central Station and goes south, covering most of Centro, then swinging thorough Glória, Catete, Flamengo, and Botafogo before ducking through the mountain to its final destination in Ipanema. The trip takes about 20 minutes to move you from Centro to Copacabana (as compared to a 40-60-min. bus ride in rush hour). The system is very safe and efficient. You purchase a magnetic ticket card at the entrance of the station, either from a machine or from a ticket booth. You can buy a single ride card (R$2.80), or opt for a rechargeable magnetic card, to which you then add value, which gets deducted when you swipe the card passing through the turnstile. There is no charge for the magnetic card, but the minimum recharge value is R$10.
The subway system recently expanded its integrated Metrô/bus service, and now has new air-conditioned buses feeding into the Metrô system from all parts of the city. The more popular routes include: Metrô/Ipanema (to Ipanema; transfer at Siqueira Campos); Metrô/Gavea or Barra (to Leblon and Gavea or Barra; transfer at Siqueira Campos); Metrô/Rodoviaria (to the main bus terminal; transfer at Largo do Machado); Metrô-Urca (to the Sugarloaf; transfer at Botafogo); and Metrô-Cosme Velho (to the Corcovado; transfer at Largo do Machado). The price is R$3.60, cheaper than paying separately for the Metrô and bus. After you use the electronic ticket to enter the subway turnstile, the ticket is returned so that you can present it on the bus at the transfer station.
Know the Subway Hours -- The Metrô operates Monday through Saturday from 5am to midnight. On Sundays and statutory holidays the Metrô runs from 7am to 11pm. Special schedules apply during New Year's and Carnaval when trains will run all night.
By Bus -- Rio's buses follow direct, logical pathways, sticking to the main streets along much the same route you'd take if you were driving. What's more, they're fast. Indeed, it's a good idea to wedge yourself in your seat; Rio drivers like to lean into the turns.
More than 30 different buses run from Centro to Copacabana alone. Figuring out which to take is straightforward. The route number and final destination are displayed in big letters on the front of the bus. Smaller signs displayed inside the front window (usually below and to the left of the driver) and posted on the side of the bus list the intermediate stops. Armed with that information and a map, it's fairly uncomplicated to figure out which route the bus will take and how close you will get to your destination. A bus going from Praça XV in Centro out to Copacabana, for example, would show COPACABANA as the final destination, and on the smaller sign list intermediate destinations such as CINELANDIA, GLORIA, LARGO DO MACHADO (in Flamengo), and RIO SUL (the big mall in Botafogo). Tip: If you're going from Ipanema or Copacabana all the way to Centro (or vice versa), look for a bus that says VIA ATERRO in its smaller window sign. These buses get on the waterfront boulevard in Botafogo and don't stop until they reach downtown.
Buses only stop if someone wants to board. If you see your bus coming, wave your hand at the driver. Most buses are boarded from the front and exited from the rear. Have your bus money ready -- R$2.50 to R$3.50 -- as you will go through a turnstile right away. You pay for each ride; there are no transfers. Buses are safe during the day; just watch for pickpockets when it gets busy. In the evening, when fewer passengers ride, it is better to take a taxi.
Taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. They're the perfect way to reach those out-of-the-way places and the best way to get around in the evening. Regular taxis can be hailed anywhere on the street. You will also find taxi stands throughout the city. A ride from Copacabana to Praça XV in Centro costs about R$25 to R$30; a ride from the main bus station to Leblon is about R$35, R$40 in traffic. Radio taxis are about 20% more expensive, often work with a set fee per destination, and can be contacted by phone; try Coopertramo (tel. 021/2209-9292) or TransCoopass (tel. 021/2209-1555). Most hotels work with radio taxis so if you don't want to pay extra just walk to the corner and hail your own regular taxi. Radio taxis are said to be more reliable (and they have air-conditioning as well), but -- aside from at the airport -- we've never had a problem with any regular taxi.
When you see the chaotic bus-ridden streets of Rio de Janeiro, it's hard to believe that there could be a shortage of buses. However, in the last few years the city has seen an explosion of additional bus services provided by Volkswagen vans and microbuses. Some of these vans are licensed, many more remain officially illegal. Fares range from R$2 to R$4.50 and quality ranges from downright scary to clean, modern vehicles. Those that circulate along the Zona Sul waterfront and farther out to Barra da Tijuca are generally quick and efficient. Vans can be hailed anywhere and will let you off anywhere on their route.
Rio has a number of ferries operated by Barcas SA (tel. 0800/704-4113; www.barcas-sa.com.br), departing from Praça XV downtown. The busiest routes link downtown Rio with downtown Niterói or Charitas (also in Niterói) across the bay -- also reached by car and bus by crossing the 14km (8 1/2-mile) bridge. The service to Niterói runs daily from 6am to 11:30pm; to Charitas the service is Monday to Friday 6:50am to 9pm; departures on both routes run at approximately half-hour intervals. On the Niterói route, the cheapest ferry (R$2.80) is the regular one, taking about 25 minutes to cross. The catamaran and aerobarco, a hydrofoil, cross the same route in less than 10 minutes and cost R$5. The Charitas ferry costs R$8. A popular ferry for tourists as well as Cariocas on the weekend is the route to Paquetá, a large car-free island in the Baia da Guanabara. The ferries to Paquetá depart Rio at 5:15, 7:10, 10:30am, 1:30, 3:30, 4, 7, 9, and 11pm; the fare is R$4.50.
A car is not required for exploring Rio; a combination of public transit (in the daytime and evening) and taxis (late at night) gets you pretty much anywhere in the city for very little money.
The truth is, driving in Rio is not for the weak of heart. Traffic is hectic, street patterns confusing, drivers just a few shades shy of courteous, and parking next to nonexistent. Better to get used to the city traffic as a pedestrian first and rent a car only if you're going out to destinations such as Petrópolis and the historic towns of the Minas Gerais region.
Special Driving Rules -- The rule is, there are no rules. Okay, maybe we're exaggerating. Traffic has improved immensely in recent years since police began using photo-radars. People now wear seat belts and stop at red lights during the day. However, Cariocas still drive aggressively. Lane dividers are either absent or ignored. Any space larger than 10 centimeters (4 in.) between your car and the one in front will be instantly occupied by another driver. Later at night red lights become optional. Be careful when approaching intersections.
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.