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What You Should Know Before Living in Rio de Janeiro

by Shannon Steinberg on Oct 19, 2023

Few cities evoke such heady exuberance as Rio de Janeiro. The cultural capital of Brazil, Rio is home to most of the country’s leading artists and institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Letters and the Brazilian Academy of Science. It’s also a major center of learning. The National Museum of Brazil, the nation’s oldest scientific establishment, contains a vast collection of natural science and anthropological artifacts. But the city’s extensive cultural foundations aren’t the only things that make living in Rio de Janeiro such an unforgettable experience.

Life here is unique, unplanned, and original, bigger and bolder than almost any other major city. In Rio, nature, music, dance, color, cuisine, surf, sand, and sunshine combine in a welcoming mosaic where people are eager for the chance to make new friends and acquaintances. For Americans interested in the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), here is what you ought to know before moving to Rio de Janeiro.

Residents are Called Cariocas

Brazilians living in Rio de Janeiro call themselves Cariocas, a nickname derived from a Tupi Indian word meaning “beautiful house.” Though it began as a slur for people on the outskirts of the city, it was gradually embraced during the 1970s. Don’t expect to see it on any official documents, however. Cariocas is a strictly grassroots term adopted by the people, not the government.

It Contains Breathtaking Natural Beauty

Rio is one of the most stunning cities in the world. While most towns exist apart from nature, Rio is surrounded by it. Sandwiched between Guanabara Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the city is built along a narrow coastal plain, punctuated by steep, wooded mountains. The tallest lies just east of the city, on the edge of the Tijuca National Park ‒ the largest urban forest in the world.

Spread out over 15 square miles, the park contains over 30 waterfalls and over 1,600 native plants. The vegetation is so thick and lush, temperatures on the jungle floor are 16 degrees cooler than they are in the city. Its most famous landmark, Christ the Redeemer, is located atop Corcovado Mountain, overlooking the city.

Though you have to pay to visit, the staggering view is clearly worth the price: rugged peaks cascading down into the ocean, dotted with homes, high rises, and historic architecture laid out at your feet, juxtaposed by swathes of blooming tropical jungle. Looming above the entrance to Guanabara Bay is Sugarloaf Mountain: a massive granite tower rising 1,283 feet above sea level. The rolling hills and leafy trees provide a vivid backdrop to the city’s churches, museums, and buildings. In fact, the landscape is so magnificent, UNESCO has designated the entire area a World Heritage Site.

Cariocas Live at the Beach

Rio de Janeiro has over 122 miles of coastline and temperatures that rarely drop below 70°F, so it’s not a surprise Cariocas love spending time at the beach. You’ll find them there in warm and cold weather, not only to swim, surf, and sunbathe, but to read, dance, play soccer, even walk their dogs. People come to exercise during the mornings and evenings. There are stations up and down the beach for stretching, pull ups, and chin ups. It’s also a favorite spot for yoga classes.

But the beach isn’t just for sport and relaxation. People mark out “postos,” favorite patches of sand where they meet to catch up with their friends. Musicians and street vendors work their way through the crowds. People dance, flirt, and laugh. Some come just to soak up the atmosphere. Anyone interested in a little peace and quiet should head south to Barra da Tijuca. It’s further out, but less crowded.

Everyone Dresses Casually

Perhaps because they spend so much time at the beach, Cariocas mostly wear shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. A lot of men go around without their shirts and women aren’t afraid to show a little skin. “Too racy” isn’t a phrase that gets thrown around a lot down here.

Bikinis, however, are just for the beach. Things get a bit more buttoned up as you move further inland. If they’re walking around the city, women generally wear loose shirts with skirts or shorts. If they’re visiting the ocean, most bring a change of clothes so they can cover up before they go to lunch. Men switch to jeans or slacks when they’re away from the sand, but don’t lose the sandals.

Unless they’re on their way to work, it’s rare to see anyone in a suit. However, if they’re going someplace special, women prefer to dress up a bit. Heels and form-fitting outfits are very popular, as are bright colors. Cariocas like to make a splash.

One of the few times you’ll see people bundled up is when it rains. As soon as storm clouds roll in, people grab scarves, jackets, and boots. People sometimes wear warmer clothes during winter as well. Seasons are opposite here, but during the colder months of June, July, August, and September, when temperatures dip down close to 70°F, it’s not unusual to see people dressed in layers.

People Take Fitness Very Seriously

Just because Cariocas like to keep it casual doesn’t mean they aren’t conscious of their appearance. Because they spend so much time in their swimsuits, people here put a lot of effort into being beach body ready. Brazilians work out a lot and there are fitness clubs throughout the city. In fact, Brazil has almost as many gyms as the United States, despite having 117 million fewer people.

The emphasis on fitness accelerated in the wake of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, which led to government initiatives to encourage exercise and healthy diets. People who can’t afford a gym membership normally workout in public parks, which, like beaches, are often equipped with basic exercise equipment. Sports such as soccer and swimming are also popular alternatives for anyone uninterested in paying club dues.

Food is Everywhere

It’s hard to go hungry in Rio. No matter where you live, you’re never far from a restaurant or street vendor. You can smell them cooking from morning to night and most Cariocas buy breakfast from one of the food carts lining sidewalks throughout the city. Sausages, served on a French baguette smothered in herbs, mayonnaise, and aioli, are a staple for commuters on their way to work.

Street vendors are also a great place to enjoy traditional Brazilian cuisine, which normally consists of grilled meats, feijão (black beans), rice, vegetables, and farofa (a popular side dish made from toasted manioc flour, eaten with a spoon, similar to couscous). But when Cariocas get really hungry, they visit a rodízio, all-you-can-eat buffets like churrascarias or kilo restaurants. Churrascarias specialize in barbecued meat. Sit back as servers bring waves of grilled pork, beef, sausage, chicken, and lamb straight to your table. Kilo restaurants don’t bring the food to you. Instead, you load up your plate, then weigh your food at the cashier station. The more you eat, the more you pay.

But while churrascarias and kilos specialize in Brazilian cuisine, you can find plenty of rodízios serving other types of food, like sushi and pizza. Brazilians love to experiment with pizza toppings, and Rio de Janeiro is no different. Besides the traditional mozzarella, pepperoni, and tomato sauce, you can also get fried shrimp, chicken with catupiry (processed cheese), and hard-boiled eggs. There are even dessert pizzas, made with chocolate, strawberries, bananas, and cinnamon.

If you’re thirsty, order a cup of caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink: a blend of ice, crushed lime, and cachaça (sugar cane spirit). Be careful though. Caipirinha provides a powerful kick and most Cariocas don’t drink more than three at a sitting.

Partying Is a Way of Life

Rio is fun during the day, but comes alive at night. Once the sun sets, the excitement starts. Music, dancing, and drinking carry on until the small hours seven days a week. Anyone looking for fun won’t have to search hard to find it. The city has several party districts, including:

  • Lapa. Home to the hottest bars and clubs in the city. Vibrant and bohemian, it’s famous for its weekend block parties, which shut down whole streets. Public samba lessons, mellow jazz clubs, Brazilian funk, and live music, it’s the number one destination for locals and tourists eager for an exciting night out on the town.
  • Botafogo. Prides itself on its unique, quirky atmosphere. Bars here decorate their walls with vines and plants, repurpose beer kegs into tables, light their bathrooms with blacklight, and invite local street artists to turn their dance floors into living murals.
  • Pedra do Sal. A sacred landmark to African Cariocas. Every Monday and Friday, local musicians gather around the big stone in the center of the neighborhood and turn the area into a giant samba wheel. Hundreds of dancers attend, not only to strut their stuff, but to drink, laugh, and socialize.

But as raucous as the city is on an ordinary week, it’s nothing compared to Carnival. For five days before Lent, the city is a manic blur of outlandish costumes, elaborate floats, and colorful street fairs. Besides the main parades through the center of town, there are over 600 neighborhood celebrations, some of which start weeks before carnival and don’t end until weeks afterwards. Bands march through the city with hundreds of partygoers following behind them, dancing and carousing. Some neighborhood parties even have specific themes, like 1990s music or the Beatles, played in the country’s signature samba style.

Moving to Rio de Janeiro

Allied’s international network makes it easy to relocate overseas. Whether you’re moving to Rio de Janeiro or anywhere else in the world, our agents provide on-the-ground support all the way to your destination. From packing to shipping to customs and final delivery, we help you navigate the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles involved in international moves. Contact us today for a free quote!

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