9 First Impressions of Living Rio de Janeiro

The View of Rio de Janeiro from Mirante Dona Marta
The View of Rio de Janeiro from Mirante Dona Marta

Two weeks deep and the reality of living in Rio de Janeiro is just starting to set in.

I spent my first six days in Brazil at a hostel in the upscale neighborhood of Ipanema, where it felt more like a vacation than the start of a new adventure.

It can be difficult to comprehend the true essence of a city when you’re positioned between the Rolex shop and the Louis Vuitton store, but then again, while it’s not the life of most Cariocas, it is the life of some.

From Ipanema, I moved into an apartment in the working class neighborhood of Laranjeiras, where I’ve experienced a more realistic approach to life in Rio.

My knowledge of the city and it’s people is still superficial, but I’ve managed a few first impressions and observations worth sharing. 

Ipanema Beach at Sunset in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Everyone loves the beach, especially at sunset.

1. The beach is the one constant for all

While social lines can be drawn from one area to the next, the beaches of Rio are what bring people together. From Baha to Flamengo, all classes enjoy the beach exactly the same. Beach volleyball, footvolley, paddleball, soccer and body surfing are common activities of princes and paupers alike.

2. The women people are beautiful

THE HYPE IS REAL. Tan skin, toned bodies and all the Latin features a guy (or gal) could ask for.  I’ve never felt so intimidated than I do running along Ipanema Beach on a Sunday afternoon. This place is going to whip me into the best shape of my life, just so I can fit in. 

Juice Shops are on many street corners across Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Every time I come I try a new juice. Favorite so far: Watermelon and Strawberry.

3. Addicted to juice 

After the beaches and beauties, my favorite aspect of living in Rio de Janeiro so far has been the accessibility to amazingly fresh fruit juices. On many street corners across the city, there are small shops that offer an endless variety of sucos (juices) from watermelon to kiwi. They also serve sandwiches and an assortment of fried Brazilian snacks like pao de quejo (cheese bread) and salgadinhos (a savory stuffed fried or baked dough). 

4. Acai and coconut water

Acai is the magic Brazilian berry that’s becoming all the rage in California as the trendy “super food” and coconut water has been marketed as the latest and greatest remedy for the hangover back home.

Here in Brazil, they’re a staple in everyone’s diet and I’ve been downing them like a drunken hipster from Burbank.

Agua de Coco on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil
There's enough Agua de Coco (coconut water) to go around in Rio

5. Spanish is a gift and a curse

My knowledge of Spanish is and will be a gift and a curse. I can understand about 50% of what people are saying and even more when things are written down. Many words overlap and the structure of Spanish and Portuguese are very similar.

My pronunciation in Portuguese however, couldn’t be more off.  Because it sounds similar, I’ve been referring to Spanish instead of attempting to speak in Portuguese so I need to learn to turn that off.

I’m going to start some intensive Portuguese classes in the coming weeks that will hopefully help me draw a line between the two.

6. I feel safe

A relentless sense of paranoia everywhere I go helps limit my risk in many situations. I don’t go out alone late at night and I stay out of questionable neighborhoods if I’m not with a local.

I am aware that something can happen at any moment to anyone, but I have felt very safe in my neighborhood and around the city so far.

It also helps that once I got a bit of sun, it was easy for me to blend in. Unlike everywhere else I’ve been in Latin America (besides Argentina), my height or size here isn’t a factor. In Rio, I’m an average size guy that looks as much Brazilian as I do anything else (until I open my mouth).

Like anywhere, the trick is to not turn on the news or else I would never leave home.

7. So many activities

While many Brazilians are genetically gifted, those less fortunate have plenty of opportunities to get even. The government and businesses of Rio ensure the sexiness of their people by setting up a variety of activities for everyone to enjoy.

There are endless bike and running trails along the beach with workout stations every half-mile or so and local organizations hold exercise classes on the beach every evening.

My personal favorite is the prison style gyms setup in a few hidden spots around town. Locals only of course.

Fitness in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It's easy to follow through on your New Year's resolutions here.

8. It’s (relatively) expensive

Sandwiches cost around $7 US and a basic dinner out will run about $15-20 per person. Like many South American countries, electronics are very, very expensive and (real) name brand clothing is at a premium. Public transportation is reasonable ($1.25/bus ride), but taxis can get pretty expensive ($10-30). 

What’s cheap here? A big beer is $4, a pack of cigarettes is $3 and there is tons of free music and outdoor entertainment.

9. Flip-Flops and Board shorts

Many locals in Rio de Janeiro wear flip-flops and board shorts on a regular basis. This makes me happy because in many Latin American cities people will still where jeans no matter how hot it is – and it is very hot here.

This is great news for all you Australian backpackers out there who look like completely out of place everywhere else in South America.

So far Rio de Janeiro seems to be a mix between the sexy and exclusive Miami beach and the raw and chaotic Buenos Aires. 

The hype is real, the scenery is incredible and the city is filled with so many dramatic and seductive layers that I can’t wait to uncover. Let’s see what happens…


My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


  1. Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself as always & I’ve loved the pictures you’ve taken. Have fun, be safe, & travel deeper!

  2. I wish Guayaquil had as many juice stands as Rio. I have a coworker from there and he travels back and forth but he’s already sure he’ll be there for the world cup. It’d be insane to miss it.
    Have fun!

    1. I agree Claudia! Hopefully I will be able to attend as many World Cup games as possible. I would also like to get to Guayaquil sometime.

  3. Hey Gareth, glad to hear that you’re loving your time in Rio so far.

    When you visit other cities in Brazil you’ll see that each city has a distinct culture that seems at times like you’re in a foreign country.

    Let me know when you want to visit in Belo Horizonte.

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  4. You are going to love it. My partner and I lived there for a full year 2003 – 04 and it’s really a magical place. We are gay and the uniform of the day for guys is a very skimpy Speedo style swimsuit that ALL guys young and old wear on the beach.

    The beach culture is something you really miss after leaving. Each day try to watch the sunset…oh and if you are there for New Year’s it will blow your mind. 2 million people gather together on the beach to watch the fireworks.

    Have a great time and watch for pick pockets…pretty much the only crime we encountered there.

  5. Just came across your blog and loving it! Love this post about Brazil. Always wanted to visit and your post makes me want to book a ticket now! But I’ll wait until next Spring !

  6. Hi, my name is victor. Do you think that rio is a good family place, probably go on the next year for work, thanks for sharing your valuable experience, Victor

  7. Hi Gareth – late to the party here, but I couldn’t agree more with your comment on Brazil being safe. I heard so much about the crime and safety (from people who probably didn’t know what they were talking about) prior to my trip to Rio. But I never felt unsafe while in Rio. As you said, just take the standard precautions you would take anywhere else in the world. Nice write up. Cheers.

  8. It must have been fun and relaxing for you during your stay. I would totally feel the same way and would totally love Brazil for being that awesome place to live at. I agree with you that it is safe in Brazil, I have experience it before when I was on a business trip to Brazil, I stayed in a hotel for 4 days and whenever I roam around the city during at night, I could literally feel at ease with all the people around that are friendly and hospitable. Will absolutely revisit Brazil someday.

    Best Regards,

  9. I heard that Rio de janeiro is the heaven of the world, so i am looking forward to travel over there. And thanks for the points that you have mentioned over here, it will definitely help me during my visit over there. I am more interested in activities. So thanks.

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