When you think about Rio de Janeiro, you likely think of the coastal neighborhoods (frankly, the beaches) of Copacabana and Ipanema. As a result, it's easy to imagine that walks on the beach or bicycle rides along it are the primary means of getting around in Rio de Janeiro. In fact, Rio de Janeiro transportation is varied and complex, centering around a three-line subway system known as MetrôRio, along with buses, street cars, cable cars, and more. Some travelers might alternatively prefer to travel via private car in Rio de Janeiro. In most cases, ride sharing applications such as Uber are a safer and easier-to-use alternative to traditional taxis.
How to Ride MetrôRio
Here are some general facts you should know to make riding MetrôRio easy and effortless:
- Hours of Operation: MetrôRio is open daily from 5 a.m. to midnight. However, not all lines begin operation promptly at 5 a.m. or run all the way until midnight, so you should expect to depart later than this and prepare to complete your journey earlier.
- Fares: MetrôRio has a flat fare of 4.30 reals as of December 2018. This fare is also valid for the Metrô na Superfície "bus extension" of the metro, though you do need to purchase a combo ticket if you intend to take advantage of this service. If you aren't clear on how to purchase this ticket at a kiosk, seek the assistance of a MetrôRio employee, as opposed to purchasing the wrong ticket type.
- Passes: There are no unlimited passes available for use on MetrôRio or the bus extensions, though you can purchase a reloadable value card so long as you charge it with a minimum of 10 reals. You can enter ticket gates with any amount of money on your card, but if you don't have enough to cover the fare you won't be allowed to exit until you tender additional payment.
- How to Buy Tickets: You can purchase tickets with cash (and, at certain machines, credit cards). As of early 2019, certain turnstiles also allow you to enter using contactless technology such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Visa credit cards with "pay wave" technology. If you plan to use these three payment methods, make sure your bank is aware of your travel plans so that a denial-for-fraud doesn't strand you inside the station.
- Lines: MetrôRio currently has three lines (which are named, somewhat perplexingly, Lines 1, 2, and 4, and are color-coded orange, green, and yellow respectively), plus the Metrô na Superfície bus extension that runs westward from Ipanema Station. A blue "Line 3" is projected to open at some point in the future, though no date has been projected.
- Transfers: You'll never need to exit the MetrôRio system to transfer between lines on a single journey, except for cases where you use the Metrô na Superfície bus extension (in which case you are permitted to use the same ticket, provided that your bus journey takes place within 30 minutes of exiting the metro.
- Accessibility: The city government made many accessibility enhancements to MetrôRio in advance of the 2016 Olympics, but some facilities (particularly on Line 1, which opened in the late 1970s) may still be lacking by international standards. Brazil is generally not an exemplary destination for people who face mobility or vision impairments, due to lack of appropriate federal laws.
Visit the MetrôRio website to plan routes through the city, and to keep up to date with any service modifications or closures. Additionally, attendants within most stations can speak at least some English, so feel free to ask a MetrôRio employee any questions that you might have.
Apart from the Metro na Superfície bus extension, dozens of bus lines operate throughout Rio. While schedules and routes are reasonably well integrated with Google and Apple Maps, using these buses on your own can be difficult if you don't speak at least some Portuguese. On the other hand, Rio de Janeiro buses are the only means of public transportation outside the districts in the very center of the city.
Transportation to Rio's Airports
MetrôRio doesn't go all the way to Rio de Janeiro's main airport Antônio Carlos Jobim Airport (also known as Galeão Airport), though you can ride the metro to Carvalho station and transfer to the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). To reach Santos Dumont Airport, meanwhile, you can ride frequent "executive bus" services from Rio Central Bus Station or take the new VLT light rail.
The historical Santa Teresa Tram operates in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of the same name—kind of. Perpetually closed for remodeling or re-routing, the Santa Teresa Tram has just one line and its more ornamental (it serves mostly tourists), rather than utilitarian.
Regular ferry service runs from Rio to Niterói, the city directly across Guanabara Bay. Among other attractions, Niterói is famous for Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, which is one of the most stunning examples of architecture in Rio.
Suburban and Commuter Rail
As is the case in most of South America, Rio de Janeiro's suburban and commuter rail network is relatively undeveloped compared to other places in the world. With this being said, the network of the SuperVia is certainly nothing to sneeze at, with more than 100 stations and eight lines in 12 cities near Rio de Janeiro. Keep in mind that SuperVia is designed with commuters in mind. If you want to travel to smaller cities outside Rio (such as Buzios or Paraty), it will likely be more convenient to take a direct bus service.
Taxis and Ride Sharing
Several taxi companies operate in Rio de Janeiro. While these are no longer as dangerous as they are reputed to be, they are also not extremely convenient for tourists who can't speak Portuguese. If you wish to travel via private car, the safest, most convenient and most affordable away to explore Rio is using Uber.
Bike Itaú, a partnership between Rio de Janeiro's municipal government and the Brazilian bank of the same name, is a bike sharing service with more than 400 stations throughout Rio de Janeiro. The ubiquity of these stations makes bike share an ideal way to travel through the city, even if you don't have your own bike and don't want to rent one from a shop.
Speaking of rental, another vehicle type you might consider renting in Rio de Janeiro is a car, although this is not an idea option for everyone. If you plan to stay primarily in the city center, this can be more trouble than it's worth, due to perpetual traffic congestion. The travelers who can benefit most from renting a car are those that plan to travel in Rio de Janeiro state outside the city.
Tips for Getting Around in Rio de Janeiro
Here are some other tips for getting around in Rio de Janeiro, regardless of which method you choose—and how well you know the city:
- Be mindful of yourself and your belongings. Although violent crime is unlikely to befall visitors to Rio de Janeiro, petty crime and pickpocketing can be common, especially on public transportation. Wear your backpack in front of you, and put phones and financial instruments as deep within your bag as you can, so that would-be thieves aren't able to prey upon you without you noticing.
- Make sure a map of the city is cached in your phone, especially if you don't have data. Rio de Janeiro's layout is easy to understand once you've been there a while, but the wide array of bays, mountains, and beaches can get confusing if you're not paying close attention. Having a map available at all times will ensure you can find your way if you happen to get lost.
- Use Uber or a trusted taxi company. If you don't have a ride sharing app on your phone, only get into a taxi your hotel or a trusted local friend has called. Although it's unlikely that serious harm will befall you upon getting into any particular taxi, the prevalence of taxis with incomplete or fake registrations in Rio makes this proposition a risky one, at best.
- Pace yourself on walks. Although many parts of Rio de Janeiro are flat, making the city relatively walkable, constant heat throughout the year can make it easier to bite off more than you can chew. Hydrate and seek shade often. Additionally, if you get tired of walking, you can always take advantage of the aforementioned Bike Itaú system.