How to rock Rio like a local


Speaking the lingo can give you a completely different experience of a city – and save you a lot of cash. Part-time local, Elizabeth Sharma shares her secrets on what Rio has to offer to those in the know…

Clubbing like a Carioca

Carioca is the name for local people in Rio. And you’re not going to find them in the usual tourist trap bars. If you want to experience a part of the real Brazil you will find phenomenal local dancers at Clube dos Democráticos. Each night has a different flavour – on Wednesdays you can dance to traditional North Eastern music “forró” (pronounced fo-ho). But Sundays are the best – live bands and professional dancers will make sure no one is standing still. We saw some amazing samba de gafeira dancers, which is a more ballroom style of samba, danced in partners. One for the Strictly fans!

Traditional Samba de gafeira in Rio

Free samba school rehearsals

No trip to the cidade maravilhosa (that’s “marvellous city” in Portuguese) is complete without seeing the samba schools in full swing. We’re talking speakers the size of monster trucks and sparkling bikinis you could fit on a postage stamp. There are spectacular drummers and dancers everywhere you look. Of course, you can pay to see a show – I’m sure the guidebook will send you in the right direction – but why not turn up and see the teams rehearse in the real carnival venue, the Sambódromo itself? This is the arena where the parades take place every February and rehearsals begin in late December. Check out the Rio Carnival website for details of which schools will be rehearsing and when (though remember, they may be operating on Brazilian time, which is approximately 1-2 hours behind schedule…) This is a true taste of “traditional” Rio, and is guaranteed to blow your mind. You can also grab some top street food outside the Sambódromo. What do the locals go for? A skewer of chicken hearts or “coraçãozinha”. Trust us, it’s good.

Be dazzled by the samba school (photo:

Hitting the best beaches

No matter which stretch of beach you choose to catch your rays in Rio, you can’t go wrong. Posts eight and nine remain the most popular (close to trendy Ipanema with incredible views) but for a quieter spot you could try Leblon Beach, which has a chilled-out deck for watching the sunset. Another favourite location for those wanting to avoid the cruise ship crowds and watch the sun setting is Arpoador, the north eastern tip of Ipanema Beach. Rock up early to claim your spot.

Leblon Beach sunset (Photo: Rodrigo Soldon)

A cafe hidden in the hills

Taking a stroll around the arty district of Santa Teresa is a peaceful way to spend the afternoon, but don’t miss the Argentine-run Cafecito, one of Rio’s brightest hidden gems. A charming, rustic café nestled in the steep hills where you will find coffee and cakes to rival any artisan bakery. We couldn’t get enough of the melt-in-the-middle brownies served with warm raspberry jam.

Coffee with a view (Photo: James Adamson)

Favela funk parties (*without the VIP treatment)

If you are into your hip hop and fancy a true taste of Carioca culture, get yourself down to a favela funk party. Run a mile from the “VIP tours” that the hostels and hotels will try and sell you – it costs a bomb and you won’t be able to get down onto the real dance floor. Instead, get a group together and get a taxi to the club “Emoçoes” (eh-mo-soys) in Rocinha on a Sunday night from 11pm. A bucket of beer will cost you next to nothing and you’ll get a real feel for how the locals get down (literally). You will need to wear shorts. This youtube clip might help explain what it’s all about:

For a more mainstream event, try Via Show or Barra Music. These can’t be reached by the subway (unless you take it to the end of the line and then get a cab) but hip and hot locals flock to these flashy parties in packs, so it’s worth the cab fare to join the club.

Party with the locals in Rio

Favelas – to tour or not to tour?

Brazilians are incredibly warm and welcoming and for most visitors that’s the only experience they’ll have. But remember, with over 30% of people living below the poverty line, not everyone is lucky enough to know where their next meal is coming from so don’t make yourself an easy target. If you’ve seen City of God you’ll have and idea of the city slums that sprang up on the hillsides of Rio when rural populations migrated to the city. There is always the sensitive subject of whether you should you really pay to go and see how poor people live. Our answer is yes! A decent company like Favela Tour will take you safely around Rocinha (the biggest favela in Brazil) and will also provide some income for the local businesses inside. We sampled goods from the local bakery, bought some bracelets made from discarded telephone cable and enjoyed a drumming show from some local boys who will be performing in the next carnival – provided they keep up their attendance rates at school. The businesses and NGOs working inside the favela get some good exposure and a bit of income from these tours, so we decided this is a good thing. These communities have to be seen to be believed – and the motorbike ride to the top is a pretty unforgettable experience in itself.

Markets in Rio (Photo: Nick Grapsy)


A few phrases to help you get by:
Bom día (bom jee-ah) – Good morning/hello
Obrigado (if you are a man) / Obrigada (if you are a woman) – Thank you
Não falo português (now falo portu-gays) – I don’t speak Portuguese
Quanto é? (Kwan-to eh) – How much is it?
Quero… (care-oh) – I want…
Onde fica… (on-jee fee-cah) – Where is…
Legal! (leh-gal) – Awesome!
Você – (vo-say) – You
Beleza (be-leh-zah) – Great / all good!

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