New Year's Eve in Rio De Janeiro
My boyfriend and I have been spending New Year’s Eve outside of NYC for the past 3 years and it's become one of our favorite traditions. This winter we chose to ring in 2019 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil! I've dreamed of wearing all white and dancing on Copacabana Beach as the fireworks fly into the sky for as long as I can remember. Needless to say I WAS EXCITED to plan this trip and make sure we have the very best time there.
In this guide I’ll be sharing some tips based on my experience to help make sure your first trip to Rio De Janeiro is a success. Let’s get started with literally the most important thing you’ll read in this blog: VISA VISA VISA.
Before you even start looking for a hotel or thinking about the outfits you’ll wear, you need to make sure you get a visa in order to enter Brazil. That’s right, all U.S. citizens, including infants, must have both a passport and a tourist visa. Click here to apply online
It costs $45 USD and you’ll need to submit a close up photo with a plain white background (all specs are on the site), personal info and scan your passport’s bio page to them. Processing time took less than a week for me and I was able to download my visa once it was approved. Please note: You will need to PRINT the visa and present it at the airport. They will not allow you on the plane if you show them the visa on your phone.
Best time to go
The best time to visit Rio is between December and March, when the weather is warm and sunny enough to hit the beaches.
My boyfriend has a friend that is Brazilian and while planning the trip, we mentioned to him how expensive the flights were for our desired travel dates and he saved us by telling us about a Brazilian travel agency that he usually books with. This agency was able to get us direct flights from JFK – GIG for $980 round trip on Delta. The flights we were finding for New Year’s were all $1,500 and over, so we were thrilled about this deal. I highly recommend checking the site and comparing the flights to those found on major booking sites.
1 Brazilian Real = 0.27 US Dollars (more or less)
The number one question everyone keeps asking is “Did you feel unsafe?” and to be 100% honest... I didn’t. Not once! We made sure to bring clothing and shoes that weren’t flashy and I left all of my gold jewelry in New York. Well, almost. I forgot to remove a necklace (I guess because I forget I’m even wearing it most days) and as soon as we got to the hotel, the bellman looked at me and said “Please leave that necklace in the safe at all times” and I did exactly as he said. He told us that gold is very valuable in Brazil and kids literally snatch it off people’s bodies in the blink of an eye. He also said not to be afraid to use our iPhones outside because everyone in Brazil has one, but to never leave our belongings unattended when we’re out. In other words, use your common sense.
Also, to the ladies reading this, Hi (ily), always walk with a buddy (especially at night), and never leave a drink unattended. These are tips that should be applied anywhere in the world really. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
I did a ton of research about transportation in Rio and to my surprise, most people recommended Uber instead of local taxis. We decided to follow this advice and requested our first Uber outside of the airport. The price from the airport to Copacabana was lower than I expected (R$ 72 = $19 USD). Our driver was pleasant and we felt totally safe.
Once we saw how easy and affordable it was to get around in Ubers, we decided to use it the rest of the trip. Anytime we’re in a foreign country and Uber is available we always use it. We feel good knowing that if something happens (knocks on wood) our last location will be known and that Uber has the driver’s info.
In Rio, I suggest requesting “Uber Black” if the option is available in your app because the cars are usually nicer and and only a dollar or two more than the regular cars. If you’re getting an Uber at the GIG airport make sure you go up the stairs to departures in order to find your driver.
We arrived on December 27th and stood there until Jan 1st. I was torn between booking a hotel at Leblon, Ipanema and Copa so let me give you a quick breakdown of the 3:
Copa: Hotels are affordable, streets are busy, the beach gets crowded early. It can get a bit sketchy at night in some parts, so always walk with someone.
Ipanema: More upscale, better restaurants, better beach, less people.
Leblon: This side felt even more high end than Ipanema and it has a cleaner beach with a smaller crowd. Definitely my favorite out of the 3 so we took Ubers to this side anytime we wanted to check out the beach.
Would I stay in Copacabana next time I go to Rio? If I find a hotel that’s affordable and beautiful ABSO-freaking-LUTELY!
Copacabana is known for its New Year’s Eve beach fireworks, so if you’re interested in going make sure to book far in advance to secure a good price. We booked around September and had to book at 2 different hotels being that our first choice was sold out on some of the days through our stay.
Miramar Hotel by Windsor was our first hotel. We LOVED that it was directly across the street from the beach and close to restaurants, bakeries, pharmacies, etc. I will never forget the view from their rooftop pool, it was everything I'd hoped it would be. The staff was super welcoming, attentive and accommodating.
Ritz Copacabana Boutique Hotel: This hotel although smaller and 1 block away from the beach, did not disappoint. We absolutely loved the pool and service here. The staff was exceptionally friendly and the drinks were fantastic.
What to do
There’s so much to see and do in Rio. I wish we could have stayed a few extra days to keep exploring. Here’s what we were able to check out during our stay. Please note that the tourists attractions can get really crowded, so I suggest going early in the morning or close to sunset. We didn’t buy a tour or advance tickets to anything. You can always get them on site.
Christ The Redeemer
Santa Teresa Neighborhood
Pedra da Gavea
Tijuca National Park
Museum of Tomorrow
Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches
Hang Gliding – My boyfriend really wanted to do this in Rio, so I did my research and decided to go with Estilo Voo Livre, which had amazing reviews. We booked online and communicated with them via What’s App. Renato and his wife are absolutely lovely and made us feel super comfortable and SAFE. Well…my boyfriend felt safe LOL I’m not that brave. Click here to follow them on Instagram.
Food Food Food!
Brazilian food is incredible and most restaurants serve BIG portions. Make sure to ask how big the plate is before ordering because let me tell ya, we ended up with wayyyy too much food a few times. We did end up donating our leftovers to the homeless, however. One thing we found interesting was that some of the restaurants actually had security posted up outside. Here are a few of our favorites:
Azur – Located on Leblon beach, the food was fresh, the drinks were awesome and it’s a great spot to people watch. Highly recommend the shrimp Moqueca (stew shrimp). It’s so good!
Pato Com Laranja – We sat outside for dinner here and loved it. I still have have flashbacks about the octopus dish!
Malta Beef Club – If you want a good steak, this is the place! We hung out with some friends for dinner here and the portions were HUGE. I’m not eating red meat at the moment and there are non-meat options, but our table would have been fine with 1 order of the steak. Everyone ordered their own dish and we could have fed a family of 15 with all of the food. The side dishes were delicious as well.
Mamma Jamma – This one is Malta Beef Club's neighbor and they make the yummiest pizzas! Highly recommend grabbing a pie or 2, or 3 or 4 lol.
Massa Trattoria – Sooooooo gooooood! We had dinner here and loved everything. They have a spaghetti on the menu that’s made with a moqueca sauce and served with shrimp that literally left me speechless.
Gringo Café – If you’re a picky eater or simply craving an American breakfast, look no further. This cute little restaurant is located in Ipanema. We loved everything we ordered here.
Go to the Lapa area and take your pick! The streets are buzzing with people, bars, clubs, everything. We got out of the cab and I was amazed at the amount of people walking up and down the strip, dancing and drinking in the streets. You can hear different types of music coming out of the venues and I love that it wasn't necessarily touristy. More so a mix of locals and tourists.
Pro tip: Dress comfortable (flat sandals or sneakers are fine). Don’t wear anything expensive. Oh and ladies, never wander alone, always go everywhere with a friend.
New Year’s Eve
The whole reason for this trip was to experience NYE in Copacabana. We wore white and walked up and down Copacabana Beach all night while enjoying caipirinhas made by different street vendors. In hindsight, we should have purchased some cheap folding chairs or stools like everyone else (rookie mistake) and picked a spot to people watch at, but it was still an amazing time. Everyone on the beach counting down, the fireworks went off right at midnight and it was spectacular!
Before heading down, we thought it would be a good idea to go to a party outside of the Copacabana area after the fireworks, but what we didn't know was that the entire area is closed off to cars after 7PM until 5AM the next morning. We couldn’t find a single taxi and had to walk FAR to finally get one. We struggleddddd and by the time we got there, felt too tired to really enjoy it. We hung out for a bit, but cut the night short since we knew we'd have to walk again to get back to our hotel. We had a cab drop us off as close as possible and we trooped it from there. My feet were on FIRE! The best advice I can give you is to stay put in one area all night. If you can’t find a good party just drink and have fun on the street. Trust me!
It was very important to me that we explored different parts of the state of Rio De Janeiro so I chose the beach town of Buzios for the 2nd leg of our trip. We got the city experience and wanted to have some serious R&R before coming back to take on the year. We spent 5 days in Buzios and had the most magical time. I’m honestly already planning to go back.
Buzios is locacted 3 hours away from Copacabana by car. You can arrange a private transfer, take an Uber or a bus. The first 2 options will cost you almost $200 USD (one way) and as much as I like to travel in style I just couldn’t bring myself to pay anyone that much money for this so we decided to take the bus. It costs between $15 - $30 (depending on the time of day) on the 1001 bus line each way and the bus is clean, comfortable AND you get to pick your own seats if you book in advance. The terminal was even nicer than the one here in New York lol. Book here.
You can take this bus at the RODOVIÁRIA station or GIG airport and it will leave in you the Buzios downtown area. You can request an Uber from there or find a cab in the street. Buzios is really safe being that it’s considered a high-end vacation town. BUT use common sense; always watch your belongings and you should be fine.
Where to stay
There are plenty of AirBnB options and hotels in Buzios. We booked at Pousada Villa Raphael. I loved this hotel and its staff so much that I almost don’t want to share it with anyone so I can keep it as my own little secret getaway place. It’s located on Praia Da Ferradura which is an ideal location. You’ll still need to rent a scooter or take a taxi everywhere though. The hotel can call one for you or you can use Uber.
Where to eat
The food at this villa is so good that we ended up having most of our meals there by choice, but check out Rua Da Pedras if you want to try different restaurants. We loved walking around this area in the evenings to people watch and eat gelato.
What to do
Buzios is a beach town so if you’re going there, you must check out all of the beaches. We didn’t get to visit all of them, but from the ones we visited here are my favorites.
1. Praia Azeda (my absolute favorite)
2. Praia Brava
3. Praia Joao Fernandez
4. Pontal Do Atalia – This one is in Arraial Do Cabo which is a different town and it is absolutely beautiful. We went on our own, but there are lots of companies that offer tours. Take an Uber to Praia Dos Anjos, find the area with the water taxis and tell them where you want to go. It costs about $10 per person one way. Although this beach is gorgeous I highly recommend getting there as early as possible. It was PACKED by 11am.
All in all, I can't say enough about this trip. I love all of my experiences and try not compare them, everywhere is unique, but I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I really, really, really want to do it all over again :)