A cab is one of the best ways to move around Rio. All legal cabs are yellow with a blue stripe painted on the sides. Taxis not designed like this are special service cars (to the airport or bus stations) or illegal. Rio taxis are not too expensive on a kilometre basis, but distances can be quite considerable. A journey from Zona Sul to the Centro will cost around R$20, and from the airport to Copacabana is around R$50 for example. The car can usually hold four people. You can ask a cab for a city tour, and arrange a fixed price (may be around US$20). Major taxi companies include Central de Taxi, Ouro Taxi and Yellow Taxi.
After getting into the taxi, check to see if the taximeter has been started, it charges R$4.40 (March 2011) for the minimum ride, called bandeirada), and R$1.60 per kilometer. If not, ask the taxi driver to do so. Some taxi drivers may wish to negotiate a fixed price in lieu of using the taximeter stating that they want to help you out and give you a cheaper fare. This is common for taxi drivers queued at tourist stops such as Pão de Açúcar and may be a confidence trick. Keep in mind that the taximeter may give you a better price. When in doubt, use the taximeter. You are the customer and you are in control. If the taxi driver will not comply, leave the taxi and find another.
You may be ripped off by some taxi drivers. If you have any doubt about drivers being completely honest, consider having your route mapped out on your smart phone with Google Maps and GPS turned on and ready to go before entering the taxi. By doing so, you can see if your taxi driver closely follows this ideal route. Remember that Avenida Atlântica switches traffic directions during the day, so Google Maps might get it wrong during the morning or evening hours on that road.
If you want to avoid being ripped off then it may be worth taking a 'radio-taxi', particularly when arriving at the airport. Radio Taxis are usually the blue, green, or white taxis and they do cost a little more than the typical yellow taxi. The advantage of a radio taxi is that you pay a fixed rate regardless of the time of day or if there's heavy traffic etc., this means that you do not risk the price increasing at the drivers discretion.
For those traveling to Rio for Carnaval it's worth using a company that allows you to book and pay in advance, and to try and pay as much in advance as possible as prices tend to increase a few weeks before Carnaval.
Be aware that traffic jams in Rio can be terrible at times. A taxi ride from Ipanema to the bus terminal for instance can take an hour and a half if you get seriously stuck, so make sure you have margins in case you really can´t afford to be late.
Traffic within some parts of Rio can be daunting, but a car may be the best way to reach distant beaches like Grumari, and that can be an extra adventure. Avoid rush-hour traffic jams in neighborhoods such as Copacabana, Botafogo, Laranjeiras, and Tijuca, where moms line up their cars to pick up their children after school. Buy a map, and have fun.
Note that Rio has an interesting programme of traffic management. Between 7AM and 10AM on weekday mornings the traffic flow of one carriageway on the beachfront roads of Ipanema and Copacabana is reversed, i.e. all traffic on those roads flows in the same direction, towards the city. Note also that on Sundays the carriageway closest to the beach is closed to allow pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, skaters and others to exercise.
Buses are still the cheapest and most convenient way to get around the South Zone (Zona Sul) of the city due to the high number and frequency of lines running through the area. For the adventurous or budget traveler, it is worth asking your hotel or hostel employees how to navigate the system or which routes to take to arrive at specific locations. However, you should be mindful of questionable characters and your belongings. By night buses are more scarce, and most lines will usually not be running by the time the bars and clubs are full. Buses start at R$2.75(Jan 2012); buses with air conditioning charge higher fares. The fare is paid in cash to a controller or the driver inside the bus, by passing through a roulette. There are no tickets, and try to have change/small bills. Some residents and students have a digital pass card. Keep an eye out for pickpockets when the bus is crowded, and don't be surprised if your driver goes a little faster and brakes a little more suddenly than you'd like. Except for minibuses, buses now have two doors: passengers get in through the front door and get off through the back (it was otherwise until 2001-2002).
Some bus stops in the South Zone are equipped with a shelter and a bench, but sometimes, far from tourist areas, they are less obvious and have no signs at all - you might have to ask. As a general rule in most parts of Brazil, buses stop only when you hail them, by extending the arm. If you don't hail and there are no passengers waiting to get off, the bus simply won't stop. The same can be said if you are on the bus wanting to get off at a particular stop. You should know the surroundings or the name of the intersection of the area you are going, or inquire to the employee operating the roulette, so you can signal to the driver that you want to get off, or he may not stop! There are no schedules nor timetables, but there is an invaluable book called Ruas de Rio de Janeiro (The streets of Rio de Janeiro) that has maps of Rio and lists bus routes by bus line. Although it does not list the exact schedule of arrivals and departures, it lists the bus stops, and one an easily orient oneself and navigate the city using it. Usually buses run no less infrequently than every 15 minutes. However, they can run just once an hour or more infrequently late at night or in remote areas of town.
There are a baffling 1000+ bus lines in Rio (including variants), covering nearly all of the city, operated by perhaps a dozen independent operations. (At least 6 operations ply the streets of Copacabana and Ipanema.) The website contains a catalog of the lines, but is of little help unless you know the line number or can enter exact street names. Many lines differ only a few streets from each other in their itineraries, and some even have variants within the same line. Bus lines with a * or a letter means that this bus has a variant. It means that there may be a bus with the same name, same number, same origin, even same destination but with a complete different route. Lines are numbered according to the general route they serve:
Most popular lines for tourists are 583 and 584 (from Copacabana and Ipanema to Corcovado railway station), as well as 464 and 435 (from Copacabana to Maracanã). Buses 511 (Ataulfo de Paiva) and 512 (Bartholomeu Mitre) are also popular as they take you to Urca for the station to take the cable car up the Sugarloaf mountain. Typically bus drivers and controllers won't understand any foreign language. If you can't speak Portuguese at all, use a map. Trying to speak Spanish is usually not particularly useful.
The Metrô Rio subway system is very useful for travel from Ipanema through Copacabana to Downtown and beyond, although it closes after midnight (24 hours during Carnaval). The air-conditioned subway is safe, clean, comfortable, and quick, and has much better signage, etc., than most transport in Rio, making the lives of foreign tourists easier. There are two main lines: Line 1 (Orange) has service to Ipanema (General Osorio), the Saara district, and much of Downtown, as well as Tijuca. Line 2 (Green) stops at the zoo, Maracanã stadium, and Rio State University. The two lines are integrated between Central and Botafogo, so check the train's destination if you board within the integrated section for a destination in the Zona Norte. A one-way subway-only "unitario" ticket is R$3.20 (May 2012). The ticket window will give you a card that you insert in the turnstile; do not pull it out unless you've purchased a multi-trip or transfer pass. Rechargeable IC cards (minimum charge R$5, no deposit required) are also available and definitely worth getting if you'll be in town for a few days.
Since 2003, the Metrô company operates bus lines from some stations to nearby neighborhoods which are not served by the subway system. This is particularly helpful for places uphill such as Gávea, Laranjeiras, Grajaú and Usina. Since the city grew around the Tijuca Range mountains, these neighborhoods will never be served by the subway, but you now can take the integração (connection) minibuses. The company calls it Metrônibus and Metrô na Superfície (literally, Subway on Ground), but actually they are ordinary buses in special routes for subway commuters. You can buy tickets for these - just ask for expresso (pronounced "eysh-PREH-sso", not "express-o") when buying a ticket, then keep it after crossing the roulette (prices range from R$ 2.80 to 4.40, depending on the transfer you want, as of Sep 2010). When you leave the subway, give the ticket to the bus driver (who shall be waiting in the bus stop just outside of the station). If you buy an ordinary ticket, you won't be able to get this bus for free - then it will cost a regular fee.
Recently the last car of each train has been marked women-only with a pink window sticker, in order to avoid potential harassment in crowded trains. Some men, however, are not yet used to this separation (since it is very recent) and many women, who are accustomed to hassle-free everyday travel in Rio's subway, also think the measure is unnecessary. Anyway, if you're a man, avoid getting into trouble with local security staff and stay off the pink-marked cars. Note that the women-only policy for the wagon is valid only in the rush hour.
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