Rio De Janeiro, Brazil :
Rio de Janeiro: The Ultimate Guide with Kids
Helen Dias is a Brazil native who takes her 3-year old son home at every opportunity. Here are Helen's tips on where to go, see and be in one of the most lively cities in the world.
Rio de Janeiro is by far one of the most picturesque cities in the world. If you are going to Brazil, this is a must see. Even if you are travelling with a toddler, it should not be less fun.
Although Rio is warm all year around, August and September are the best times to go to avoid unbearably high temperatures. School holidays run from December to February and world-famous carnival is also in February, which is when prices and temperatures are at their peak.
Getting to Rio
Rio's closest international airport is Galeão - Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport (better known as Galeão International Airport). You can get a direct flight from New York, Miami, Houston and other major cities in the US, as well as from Paris, Madrid, London and Frankfurt in Europe. You can find plenty of information on getting to Rio de Janeiro on the web.
Neighborhoods/Places to Stay in Rio with Kids:
I have been to Rio several times, however, each time on my own, never with a kid. So in Nov 2009 we decided to stop there for a few nights on the way back home after visiting my family who lives in Goiânia. I wanted to stay right by the beach to avoid commuting as much as I could - knowing that traffic is usually dreadful. So looking for a room on the beach (with a view) in a fairly safe area and that is also kid-friendly turned out to be quite a challenge, unless of course, you are up for paying a bomb and staying at the Copacabana Palace or Hotel Fasano which are considered the best hotels in town.
One thing you will find is that a lot of buildings in Ipanema or Copacabana beach are very old construction and the rooms are outdated, but the rates are still high. I finally decided we should stay in Hotel Praia Ipanema and we were pleased with its hospitality. Also an old building, but at least the room was very spacious, we had a beautiful view and a balcony! The hotel is located on the west end of Ipanema Beach, near Leblon. It has a privileged corner location, meaning all the rooms have a view plus it's one of the fews hotels in the area where all rooms have a balcony. We were within walking distance of many great restaurants and across the street from the beach - just what I wanted. Breakfast was included, like in most hotels. You will love having breakfast in Brazil. Brazilian hoteliers take pride in their breakfast service and they should. Most hotels will provide a great variety of dishes, tropical fruits, breads and fresh juices. At Hotel Praia Ipanema, on the top floor, there’s a tiny swimming pool, and a bar with amazing views to Ipanema beach. For us it worked out great, because as much as we love the beach, our son is not too crazy about it, and with the heat you can’t help but want to be in the water for as long as possible. We loved hanging out there, and we could order fresh juices or a caipirinha (Brazilian national drink) without even getting out of the water. We were the only ones in the pool at that time, which was great, so even though the amenities in this hotel were small, it didn’t feel cramped.
Our last stay (Dec 2010) was in the Copacabana Area. Although we wanted to be in Ipanema for safety reasons (read more on safety tips below), we found that the deal being offered at the JW Marriot was far better than our last hotel. So we tried it and were pleasantly surprised. If you don’t speak Portuguese, this could be the hotel for you! Everyone on staff spoke English and was super-friendly. Across the street from Copacabana beach, this hotel is well located . Food and room service were excellent . Our room didn’t have a view or balcony, although the pool and spa on the roof is big and has great views.
For information on other hotels and apts to rent in Rio , this is the site I use every time I go and it has a great map of all the areas in Rio.
Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro With Kids:
You can’t leave the city without visiting these two sites:
Even if you have never been to Rio, you will be familiar with this picture: the statue of Christ blessing the city with open arms. It can be seen from most South Side neighborhoods. The statue stands on the hill of Corcovado, which is 710 m tall (about 2,400 feet). The Statue of Christ, the Redeemer is 30 meters tall (100 feet). On its base there is a chapel big enough for 150 people. This spot offers a 360° view to Rio. Come on a day with clear sky and take lovely photos! If you go on your own, take a taxi to Rua Cosme Velho, 513. This is where you buy tickets for the small train that goes uphill.
The Sugarloaf competes with Corcovado for the position of Rio's most famous postcard. Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar) is the name of a hill 369 meters high (about 1,100 feet). It stands around scenic Guanabara Bay, and is connected by cable car to a shorter hill named Morro da Urca . The cable ride takes two stages (3 minutes each), and it is definitely worthwhile. From the top you have a wonderful view of Rio, including historical downtown, and even Niterói - the city across the bay. Sugarloaf is in a neighborhood known as Urca, and can easily reached by taxi. Rio Sul and Rio Off Shopping are two malls along the way, in Botafogo.
Dining in Rio with Kids:
Most restaurants in Brazil are family oriented and will have something for kids to get distracted by. Families have the habit of taking their little ones wherever they go. Even at bars it’s not at all uncommon to find toddlers running around at late hours. As a native, yet a paranoid mom, I never had to worry about what restaurant we could eat at with our son. Frequently, we would just ask our concierge for a recommendation of something nearby where we could walk to. Other times, when walking about town, as we passed by a few places, we would peek in, and if it seemed kid-friendly, stay and eat. In Rio, restaurant options are overwhelming. The only thing is to avoid eating at the hotel where they charge you 3 times as much as if you were in a good restaurant – although with a toddler, there are definitely times where room service is oh so convenient!
If you are a meat lover, “churrascarias” are Brazilian style steak houses and even the most simple steak house will have a huge variety of cuts that you will find nowhere else in the world. These steak houses charge per person – buffet style - and the good news is that usually kids under 3 eat for free.
Shopping in Rio with Kids:
I’m a shopping mall type of shopper. I hate driving from one place to another. I love the convenience of the shopping malls where you can find all your favorite stores and eat a good meal when you are done.
In Rio check out Barra Shopping - Rio’s largest mall (and one of the biggest in South America). It's an easy place to shop away a few hours or days. Over 500 stores clutter the 4km-long stretch of stores, along with five movie screens, a children’s parkland, bowling, and a wealth of dining options.
The last visit to Rio, we were there for just 2 days, but ended up taking our son to Barra Shopping twice because he loved the attractions so much. Also, it was during summer and very hot outside. This mall was so big and had all sorts of cool stuff for husband, kid and I that it seemed a comfortable place to hang out for a few hours. Not only does the mall offer a wonderful children’s playland with childcare services (I called it his "mini city") where you can drop off your child for a few hours and go hit your favorites stores, but also they provide special strollers for children up to 2 years (or weighing up to 15 kg). On every level you will find bathrooms with diaper changing tables.
As far as brands go, here are a few tips:
Music & Videos: Brazil is known for its amazing music, and that is also true when it comes to children’s songs. Everytime we visit, we get so excited with the new additions to our collection. A few great CDs/DVDs to own are Galinha Pintadinha Vol 1 & 2 and Xuxa Só Para Baixinhos Vol 4-10. However, you need to know or want to learn Portuguese!
For Clothing: Brazilians love fashion and that is true for kids as well. For the best deals, make sure to hit department stores such as C&A - it has great selection and prices. Hering Kids features high quality cotton and you can shop for the entire family. Some famous brands are Bicho Comeu and JoanaJoão.
Footwear: Try the internationally famous Havainas for a cool and relaxed beach look.
For Toys: Lojas Americanas
Only a 3-hour-drive from the big city Rio de Janeiro, this town must be one of the top 5 most beautiful places in Brazil. Some say it was elected the top 10 most beautiful places in the world. Originally settled by European pirates and slave traders, this picturesque fishing village is an incredible combination of paradisaical beaches, beautiful and rustic architecture, sophisticated boutiques and restaurants and wild night life. Búzios became world famous after the actress Brigitte Bardot’s visit in the 60’s.
What to do in Búzios with Kids:
Brazilians love the beach, and that’s where they all go during the day. Don’t miss Ferradurinah & João Fernandes Beaches, they are perfect to go with your toddler: small with calm and crystal-clear water and served by numerous picturesque bars serving typical "Buzios Style" meals and drinks.
Where to stay in Búzios with Kids:
Look no further than Pousada Vila Deste, one of the best Bed & Breakfasts in Búzios. Not only does it feature breathtaking views of the bay and the little islands around it, it is also located a few steps from the center of town, which can be very convenient if your toddler gets very tired and you need to head back to your hotel at short notice. Their delicious breakfasts with fresh juices are a highlight I still remember. We abosultely loved this place and can guarantee that the entire family will love it!
Another paradise only 3 hours from Rio, this is where the rich and famous and Brazil own beach houses. It is located on the Costa Verde (Green Coast), which is a 175-mile stretch of beautiful sandy beaches and lush inland forests between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Pauloa. Parati is a colonial city, considered a National Historical Monument.
What to do in Parati with Kids:
Make sure you go on a boat ride so that you can see a few of the 400+ islands that exist on this bay. At night, all shops are open and there’s live music everywhere, in every restaurant , in every corner or square. We were “bar-hoping”with our 3 year-old, cause he enjoyed listening to the music so much. Yes, remember, in Brazil , you can take your kids along with you to bars and restaurants at any time of the night! Sounds like paradise, no?
Where to stay in Parati with Kids:
We were there for the first time with our son and my in-laws in Dec 2010 and had a wonderful time. We stayed right downtown in a Pousada (literally: lodging) recommended by a local friend – Pousada do Sandi . Wonderful place! Our room was huge, had a balcony with view to the pool, and the staff was very gracious.
Both Búzios and Parati are very safe towns . You can walk around with your toddler any time of the day or night without worrying so much. For me, that’s what vacation is about. I hope you enjoy it!
Safety in Rio de Janeiro with Kids:
The crime rate is Rio is still very high. However you can do tons to avoid being robbed or assaulted:
• Don’t wear jewelry –EVER! Or anything eye catching…
• Leave your valuables and documents in a safe in a hotel! Carry as little cash as possible. If you have 2 or more credit cards, make sure you leave the hotel with only one. In case you need to cancel a stolen credit card, you will have the option of using the other one to get much needed cash, etc.
• Keep a copy of your passport in your hotel.
• Avoid walking on dark streets
• Avoid taking public transportation, especially at night - always take cabs!
• Always walk in groups rather than alone.
• Avoid taking your kid out at night. Hotels can arrange for child care services. Plus it's more fun this way.
English to Portuguese translations of important words:
Doctor – médico
Emergency – emergência
Taxi – taxi
Bathroom- Toalete or Banheiro
Please – Por Favor
How much does it cost? - Quanto Custa isto?
The bill , please! – A conta, por favor!
Thank You – Obrigado
Bye, bye! – Tchau!
Keep in mind Copacabana Beach is one of the most popular among tourists. For this same reason, at night it is common to come across prostitutes on the sidewalk waiting to see if some gringos who are traveling are up for some fun. If possible and budget allows, try to stay in Ipanema Beach, hotel prices are slightly more expensive but you will find it is safer.
Enjoy your trip to one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world!
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