Is Rio de Janeiro Ready For the World? Part II Transportation & Food

In the first part of the Is Rio de Janeiro Ready For the World? story we discussed the all-important details of safety and things to do in Rio. We’re rounding out the post with the equally important, if less big picture, issues of transportation and where to eat in Rio.

Transportation | Getting Around Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro is big. Luckily, it has a decent metro (modern, clean, un-crowded but with limited locations), about a million taxis, a fledgling bike share program, and bus lines everywhere (aside from the Favelas—as far as we know Rocinha is the only one with a road large enough for busses). In addition to all that, Rio residents are buying cars like it’s 1999 and traffic is a serious problem.

We were really stoked to see Bike Rio bike shares dotted throughout Zona Sul. A beautiful bike lane runs the length of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and the flat, warm city is a biker’s dream. To rent bikes at any of the stations you need a credit card and a cellphone (or individual sim car) for each bike. That last requirement can be a bit of a pain for travelers, but the rates of 5 reais for a day pass and 10R$ for a monthly pass is just right. We planned to use the bright orange bikes most days (and really enjoyed the ride when we did) but more often than not the wait for an available bike (let alone two) wasn’t worth it. It was a real bummer and a serious problem for locals who try to use Bike Rio for their commute. The city is perfect for a program like this, it just needs more supply to meet the demand.

Bike Rio bike share pickups

Bike Rio bike share pickups

The government is spending billions on sports facilities for the upcoming events and a lot of people feel that money could be better spent improving transportation. Talk to any Carioca and they’ll give you a ear-full: the city can’t handle its current traffic, and it’s only getting worse.

Eats | Food in Rio de Janeiro

Ordinarily we wouldn’t leave this section for last, but with everything else going on, food in Rio is a bit of an afterthought.

Rio has no shortage of places to eat, but for a city so wealthy and so set on an international audience, the restaurant scene is a bit of a flop. Rio de Janeiro definitely put our eating skills to the test.

Açai and a meat pie | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Açai and a meat pie | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to dine out in Rio is at the juice and pastry stands dotting every city block. Cariocas line the bar each morning downing cafe zinho on the way to work. We started most days with an açai. Juice counters also serve a massive (yet homogenous) variety of meat and cheese pastries.

The next step up is the boteco, the neighbourhood bar. The food is almost always fried, cold chopp beer and cheap caipirinhas flow like water, and you won’t find a vegetable on the menu. Overall the food is pretty meh, but on Saturdays botecos spring to life with feijoada, Brazil’s answer to rice and beans flavoured up with a whole lot of pickled pork parts. Almost all botecos serve this tasty dish on Saturdays from 11 – 4PM.

feijoada + caipirinhas +  a nap = Saturday

Pay by the kilo places are a third Carioca favourite. Think Brazilian Fresh Choice. You shop the buffet, pay at a scale, and then chow down.

The fourth typical eatery is the famous Brazilian BBQ. No trip to Rio is complete without subjecting your stomach the collective will of these establishments’ meat-wielding waiters. The main event is meat, but the choices are mind-boggling—it’s all very Las Vegas in scope. An army of servers patrols the dining room slicing to order. The restaurant gives you a double-sided marker to indicate your interest level, but it’s safer to rest between courses with your body shielding your plate from a fresh meat attack.

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Cliff’s folks took us for an incredible meal at Oro to celebrate our engagement. The Brazilian ingredient meets molecular gastronomy tasting menu was on point. Our servers were lovely and attentive, but by no means delivered the finessed experience an equally expensive and well-executed meal would cost in California.

So, where to eat in Rio?

The farmer’s markets! The market scene in Rio is amaze-balls. Everything and anything can be found the Rio’s weekly neighbourhood markets. You should try as many offerings as possible. Fresh fruit and fish are infinantly more delicous and better priced than any Rio restaurant. Fill a couple chico bags, grab some tasty local microbrews, and make a day of it.

So, Is Rio de Janeiro Ready For the World Cup and Olympic Games?

Less than a year before the international eye descends, Rio is riding high. The city still has a long way to go to bridge the gap between its very rich and very poor (we were shocked by the first world price tags on everything in this developing county’s second largest city). And investing in sporting infrastructure is probably not the best way to allocate such massive resources, especially when the poverty lines run so deep. But a lifetime as the capital of Carnival means the city has grown up in the spotlight, flaws and all. Besides the undoubtedly horrendous traffic, we’re sure Rio will rise to the occasion and put on a good, if at very least a beautiful show for the worlds largest sporting events. We wish we could be there to join in the fun.