Since the samba is samba, Rio de Janeiro is "Cidade Maravilhosa" (The Wonderful City), and this euphoric hymn of the city has become almost a brand image.
But no, it's not just the city, it's the geographic enclave itself that is wonderful. The Carioca skyline is made, more than buildings, mountains, hills, and peaks that rise over the spectacular Guanabara Bay, a prodigy of nature that remains unchanged. And then there are the Cariocas (a name given to its residents), of course. The simple reason Rio appears year after year leads the top ten of the world's happiest cities, yes! For its majestic Rio Carnival!
But wait, what about Sao Paulo? Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the two main cities in Brazil, but what a difference! Both cities are divided by more than 400 kilometers on the highway, a journey that would take about five and a half hours by car and less than an hour by plane. Considering the large size of a country like Brazil, they are quite close to each other. But the two cities are two completely different faces of Brazil. Why? Find it out right here!
Which is better Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo?
Comparing Sao Paulo with Rio de Janeiro may not be an easy task. On the one hand, Sao Paulo is considered the center of business, and on the other, Rio has the label of being a quieter place.
If you like the life of megacities and the chaos that includes, then Sao Paolo is your place. This city, the most populated in Latin America, is what one would call a jungle of buildings. But, in the same way, it has its great points in its favor as the great cultural variety that it has, especially in gastronomy.
On the other hand, Rio has a different vibe. The city is located on the Atlantic's shores, and life in the city revolves around its beaches, especially Copacabana and Ipanema. The climate is one of the hottest, while Sao Paulo, is a colder city. The pace is less busy than in Sao Paulo, and the distances between places are much shorter.
So, as a lover of this beautiful country, I will delve into these two cities' hearts in an attempt to provide a side-by-side comparison of these Brazilian giants.
What to do in Rio de Janeiro?
To know why you should travel to Rio de Janeiro instead of Sao Paulo, we must analyze what activities we can do in the city. Therefore, you need to know what to do in Rio de Janeiro to have it as a favorite city in Brazil.
1. Try Rio’s Luxury Food
Rio takes advantage of the immigrant's influences. So you will be able to find first-class sushi restaurants to family pizza shops. Rio de Janeiro is much more relaxed than in Sao Paulo, and it is based more on an outdoor lifestyle with healthy options such as tropical fruits and fruit salads as snacks.
Also, Rio has been influenced by African cuisine, giving birth to unique dishes turning to Rio an excellent gastronomic quality. One of the best dishes is the ‘acaraje,' a dish made with shrimp, or the delicious ‘feijoada’, the national dish which is prepared with meat, rice, and black beans.
In Rio, the restaurants are open regularly from approximately 10 in the morning until late at night. You will find restaurants on the other side of the Rio beaches; this means that you just need to cross the street to sit down, eat something and then continue enjoying the sea, something that you can’t do in Sao Paulo.
If you do not want to eat at the restaurant, you will find some fast-food stands on the beach itself. Do not worry, Rio's government enables all those stands, and whatever you want to eat, they prepare it in front of you.
Talking about food, in Brazil, people eat a lot of beef and pork so that you will find roast smell everywhere. You will see places where it says, "Churrascaria." A Churrascaria is a restaurant specializing in meat food where you can choose from more than 100 different dishes, hot or cold.
As for drinks, it does not go unnoticed, because Rio de Janeiro is the perfect place to order caipirinhas, the national drink. It consists of cachaca (a type of rum), lime, sugar, and ice, but as it spread throughout the world, the original recipe has been changed with the addition of new ingredients that vary its flavor. If you want to try the best and original caipirinha, just travel to Rio de Janeiro!
2. Rio’s Super Landscapes
Due to the landscapes that Rio offers, it is part of a list as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and that has no discussion. The city is perfectly positioned between the sea and the mountains, with a unique combination of the city and one of the world's largest urban forests.
However, Sao Paulo is considered a kind of gray forest due to the number of buildings. Its streets and skyscrapers can be intimidating, its streets may not be as clean, and its shopping malls are always full. This city is a sea but with an endless horizon of buildings. So, which is better Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo? Rio is cleaner, greener, and more natural where you can breathe and feel more peace.
3. Places of Interest
Rio is known for its joy, its nature, and outdoor life. Its trademark is perhaps the Crist the Redeemer, located on Corcovado Hill, where you can enjoy a great city view. The Tijuca forest is another well-known place since it is the largest urban forest in the world. Don't forget about Sugarloaf Hill (Pan de Azucar), a perfect place for hiking, and then stop by Copacabana beach to cool off.
Sao Paulo has lesser-known landmarks, and that perhaps does not offer much interaction outdoors since you can only take a walk along its avenues to visit its shops, churches, and restaurants. However, to find open and green spaces, you must go a long way.
4. In Rio, The Life is More Relaxed
Now, let's put things in their place. Unless you are not traveling for business, you travel to Brazil to rest and enjoy a nice holiday. This means that the tie and heels are not invited. That is why in Rio, you will not see formally dressed people, and especially in summer.
Here, the best fashion accessory that a local can use is swimwear, since being a beach city, both men and women prefer to have colorful swimwear pieces. Fashion is kept simple and relaxed with flip-flops like the principal shoe, even for going out at night, and clothing tends to be light.
On the other hand, Sao Paulo is considered nationally the fashion capital of the country. The cosmopolitan lifestyle influences the need to dress to impress in everyday life.
5. Rio de Janeiro, World's Carnival Queen
If what you are looking for is to experience the street carnival atmosphere, Sao Paulo does not compare to the Rio Carnival.
This festival, one of the most colorful, spectacular, and biggest in the world, is celebrated 40 days before Easter and turns Rio into a source of color, music, lights, dancing, laughter, and good humor. During the carnival, the city's samba schools are exhibited in an event that attracts millions of tourists annually, filling the hotels of the place up to 95% of its population capacity during February, every year.
One of the strongest “dishes” is the competition between Rio’s Samba Schools, a parade that takes place at the Sambadrome and is one of the most eagerly awaited events of the year. Attending the carnival in Rio de Janeiro is synonymous with witnessing delirious creativity, the explosion of rhythm, and an experience you will never forget.
6. Rio’s Paradisiacal Beaches
The magnificent extensive beaches, with crystal clear waters, white sand, and protected by bays, are also an incredible tourist attraction and a great reason why go to Rio de Janeiro since their beauty and cleanliness make them full of people throughout the year. You will find Leblon, Copacabana, and Ipanema some popular and wonderful beaches that the city has. The best time to travel to Rio de Janeiro is between December and March when the Rio de Janeiro weather is warm and sunny enough to hit the beaches.
Also, Leme beach is very popular, and it is the first beach in the southern area of Rio de Janeiro. It extends from the intersection of Atlantica Avenue with Princesa Isabel Avenue to Plaza Almirante Julio de Noronha, at the foot of Morro de Leme, just at the northeast end of Copacabana Beach.
The Barra de Tijuca area is the one that has developed the most in recent times, standing out Praia do Pepe (Pepe beach), one of the top beaches in Rio for water sports. Surf lovers usually meet on Prainha Beach. The distance between Copacabana and Prainha is 34 km. The distance by road is 40 km, while Grumari - surrounded by an ecological reserve - is the meeting point for those who want more peace.
7. Trekking in Rio
If you wonder what to do in Rio de Janeiro, then the trekking excursions through the Atlantic forest that surrounds it, as well as providing direct contact with nature, is one of the best ways to see the beautiful landscapes offered by the city. If it is your first time in these lands, you have professional's guides, but if your budget is low, then recharge your phone; Google will be there for you.
The main trekking routes in Rio are the Ascension to the Corcovado, and it is the mountain where the Christ the Redeemer is. Then, you have the ascent to the Sugar Bread route. Also, the Morro de Urca. It is the lower of the two hills that, together with the Pan de Azuca, form the great rock-solid symbol of Rio de Janeiro.
Another route is the Dois Irmaos. It is a path of 1.6 kilometers of difficulty between easy and moderate, so almost anyone can do it. The end of the trek to Dois Irmaos offers as a reward several of the best views you can have of Rio de Janeiro.
8. Rio Has a Warmer Weather
Usually, I leave my country to travel to Brazil in the summer months, more precisely between January or February with temperatures ranging from 23 to 30 degrees C. If you want to travel to Rio de Janeiro, winter days are not convenient since you will not be able to enjoy the beach. But, I understand, not everyone has holidays in January. The months of September, October, November, and December are also very good and usually, without rain. The city will welcome you with good temperatures ranging from 25 to 28 degrees C.
However, although Brazil is a tropical country, Sao Paulo is a slightly colder city, but even so, temperatures in winter (June and July) do not usually drop below 10 degrees C. It is a dry city compared to Rio.
9. Rio’s Prices
Although Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the most expensive cities in the region, Sao Paulo prices are 7% higher than in Rio de Janeiro. For example, you will notice price differences in food, clothing, and public transportation.
If we talk about the exchange of the Real (Brazilian currency) with the American Dollar, we can say that eating in Sao Paulo in an expensive area of the city and ordering the menu of the day, will cost you around $7 and eat the same but in Rio de Janeiro, it will cost you $5 (with a drink included). If you want to rent an apartment with furniture in the expensive area of Rio de Janeiro, it will cost you around $600, and in Sao Paulo around $800. These prices may vary depending on the owner.
10. Rio de Janeiro’s Security
Many foreigners do not dare to travel to Brazil alone. Is that, South America perhaps, does not enjoy a good reputation. But to be honest, is there a place in the world that is 100% safe? Maybe yes, but we should not stop enjoying what each place has to offer, we should only go carefully but without paranoia.
Tourists who visit Rio de Janeiro for the first time will have to focus on using common sense so that everything goes well. Most tourists' worst memory does not go beyond a hangover after being entrusted with a couple of caipirinhas.
Now being serious. Let me tell you that the “scenes of war” that are lived in many favelas (villages) and that you can see on TV happen in the suburbs very remote of the tourist zones. The neighborhoods of the south zone (that goes from the center to Leblon) are a bubble of security compared to what happens in the periphery. So, as long as you do not leave your route, everything will be fine. Anyways, in tourist areas like the beach, you will see many police officers.
On the other hand, Sao Paulo may cause an insecurity feeling perhaps because of the number of people around you and because it is a huge city and like any huge city, it can generate different sensations. However, the trick that continues without fail and that you must apply is common sense.
The million-dollar question is, which is better Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo? Both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo offer very different things. Rio is warm and happy but also deep and magical. Its streets, fairs, and bars, always full of music and flavor, permeate each traveler's senses who visit it. Looking for reasons to visit Rio instead of Sao Paulo? Well, if Rio de Janeiro is called Cidade, Maravilhosa must be for a reason.