They say you never truly know a place till you actually go there yourself and experience it first hand. People warn you, advise you, paint a picture of a destination for you. But everyone has their own lens of looking at things so where one finds danger, another may feel safe, where one sees chaos, another may find beauty.
After visiting Rio de Janeiro, I identified some myths that I had about the city that were unraveled. Before I share my discoveries, I do want to say Rio is perhaps one of the most beautiful cities in the world (more on that in another post).
Not all Brazilian women look like supermodels. The image of Rio I had was supermodels in bikinis getting a tan at the Copacabana beaches; others practicing their hip gyrating samba moves wearing outrageous costumes. What I saw was that the Brazilian women (and men) come in every shape and size, just like people anywhere else in the world. There wasn’t a higher concentration of super tanned or toned here.
Beautiful beaches but not to swim. Rio has some of the most beautiful white sand beaches, with a backdrop of lush green hills and open blue Atlantic waters. But the beaches here are used mainly for sun soaking, partying and creative beach games. Very few people actually go for a swim as the water temperatures are not always warm.
There is no fashion in Rio. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but the fashion in Rio was blue jeans and t-shirts. 99% of the population wore the same casual outfit from morning till night. Even restaurants, bars and clubs showed no sign of dressing up. I tried to get a sense of the fashion by visiting some of the stores and was disappointed. I suppose the Cariocas spend all their fashion budget on beach ware.
Portuguese is the official language. This is a true statement. Don’t think that because you are in South America, you can get by with Spanish. Don’t assume everyone will understand at least some English. Majority of the population speaks only Portuguese so you will do yourself by learning a few words when visiting Brazil.
The city does sleep. I read that Rio is a city that “never sleeps” but did not find that to be true. While walking around my hotel at Ipanema at 10:30pm, I wasn’t able to find a decent place to eat. Even the snack shops were serving limited menu as the kitchens were closed. Many of the streets were deserted making me think that everyone is either sleeping or partying someplace I don’t know about.
Rio is expensive. Given their economic growth and abundance of resources, I did not expect Brazil to be more expensive that Europe, but in many ways it was. Dining out and shopping are outrageous compared to world standards. Cost of 1 large scoop of gelato $8, coffee $2.50, entree $18-45, shoes $150, men’s cotton shirt $100. The stores offer 2-3 months installment plans for everyday items such as shoes and clothes. In fact, many Brazilians travel to USA (mainly Orlando and Miami) to shop. Even when accounting for the travel costs, they are able to get a better deal on their purchases.
There is a lot of potential here when it comes to food. My observation was the Cariocas love to eat out. There are thousands of restaurants across Rio including cafes, street vendors, buffets, Rodizios, snack shops, juice stores, bars, informal and formal restaurant. Most of them charge steep prices in comparison to the quality of preparations. The ingredients are fresh and the recipes are original, but many of the chefs in Rio don’t seem to show the finesse where every dish is perfectly executed. I often found the food to be under seasoned, over cooked, over sweet or heavily sauced. One of the locals told me that they are so use to it that they eat everything without much distinction. Hmmm… I doubt that’s true.
I am sure you would have some of your own myth-busters to share after your travels. Please do share in the comments section below.