Why we didn’t like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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I expected Brazilians to be like those friendly, beautiful people you see in the travel ads.

My first upfront experience with a Brazilian was at the airport when I was taking my backpack off the luggage carrousel. I suddenly felt a whack on the back of my heel. Too pre-occupied to turn around, I felt a second, harder whack. I turn around to see this Brazilian woman – she had hit me in the heel with her luggage cart. By the look on her face she was going to hit me again. There was a little girl on the cart, sitting on a pile of suitcases looking at me. The woman was glaring at me and I felt my blood starting to boil. It was only because of the kid, and the fact that Lissette kind of stepped in and helped me with our bags that I didn’t say anything. Oh, and the woman wasn’t hot and didn’t have a thong riding up over tight jeans. She just had that miserable mean look that reminds me of my ex-wife.

We took the taxi into the city, the taxi driver the silent type. Checked into the Sol Ipanema, one of Rio’s most expensive hotels (Lissette was worried about safety so I had decided to splurge while in Rio). Service at front desk was cold and distant and I wondered if they were judging us because of the backpacks.

We got in our swimsuits and went up to the rooftop swimming pool. Just a gorgeous view of Rio. They had a bartender up there who came up to us. Within 5 seconds he had given me a dismissive glance while at the same time fixating his eyes on Lissette’s cleavage. My blood started to boil again. This was a clear violation of the guy code. You don’t blatently stare at a girlfriend’s/wife’s boobs right in front of a guy, that’s disrespect of the highest order. Especially when you’re paying $260/night to stay in their hotel. I got my revenge back when he delivered the drinks, smiling up at him while giving him the smallest tip in history. Motherfucker.

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views of Rio de Janeiro

Above left: Ipanema beach                             Above center and right: views from Sugar Loaf

 

Views of Copacabana beach, Rio, Brazil

Above: Copacabana beach                                         Below: Ipanema beach

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.The next couple of days seemed to be a repetition of a similar pattern. Anywhere we went people wouldn’t return my smile and would direct conversation at Lissette. I would be like “Hi” and they would respond with “hello” while looking right at Lissette. It was as if I was the guy who had just walked into the room and farted up the joint. What the hell? Even Lissette would laugh about it.

Rio is a visually stunning city with its hills, beach and ocean. The views from Sugar Loaf and Corcovado are amazing. We never however got to “like” the city. We didn’t find the people warm and there was always a tension in the air. A week before our trip there had been a gun battle a few blocks from our hotel and the city was going through a sudden spike in violence. It just didn’t feel safe and we were always very much on our guard. Some people may think that sounds strange considering that we had travelled through Colombia the preceeding year. I can’t explain it, it was just a feeling in the air. We were always looking over our shoulder in Rio.

amazing views over rio de janeiro, brazil

 

Rio is one of a handful of cities that make it on most traveller’s “must see” list. As I said – it IS visually stunning and I’m glad to have seen it with my own eyes. I wasn’t crazy about the place though. We were quite happy to move on after 3 days.

Related: Why I won’t be Going back to Brazil

Have you been to Rio? What was your experience?

 

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Comments

  1. How I understand you!
    Being from Portugal, I too had the “cheerful, happy” stereotype of Brazilian people in my mind.. but that was before traveling to Brazil itself. I was a bit disappointed with people’s attitude: being Portuguese I felt like they were still pissed off at me because centuries ago my country men decided to colonize them or something. Not proud of that myself.. but I can’t carry the burden of my country’s history on my 2 shoulders.
    Anyway… not everyone is friendly and definitely not hot either in Brazil. And I guess in places like Rio, being over popular and always full of tourists no matter what, people would care even less. I guess the feeling that the city isn’t safe either doesn’t help, doesn’t help at all!.. Stunning landscapes though. Specially from Corcovado and Sugar Loaf, as you mention.
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…My ParisMy Profile

    • Thank you Zara. I’m sorry that you had a similar experience but it’s good to know that we weren’t the only ones to feel that way. You’re right about the stunning landscapes!

  2. What a shame :( but this is all very good for us to know! We are heading to Brazil next year so thanks for the heads up!
    2wisemonkeys recently posted…our top 10 for turkey captured in photosMy Profile

    • Hope you guys have a great time! Like I’ve said before, maybe we were just unlucky with the circumstances. It is a beautiful spot though.

  3. I am sorry for your bad experience in Brazil. But, as a brazilian, I must say I am not rude, I am not miseducated, I do not atack people no the street.

    I have visit so many countries around the world and I can say that there are good and bad in everywhere corner of this planet. I met smiling people in USA, but even in Hawaii, where I expect to see shining faces no the beach, I had the experience with rude ones.

    Russia, Montenegro, Poland, Sweden, Portugal, Australia… all those places can proporcionate different kind of experiences, depending on who you meet on the right places, on the right time.

    Sorry for my bad English.
    carlosromero recently posted…Deixe a Música Clássica invadir a sua vidaMy Profile

    • Thank you for your comment Carlos, you are the first Brazilian to respond to this. I agree with everything you say, there are good and bad people everywhere. And even us Canadians, who are known to be nice and friendly, can be a cold and uninterested bunch at times. Nobody is perfect. But our trip to Brazil was different because the unfriendliness (towards me) was so obvious. I wrote more about it on the summary of our trip. I spent a lot of time wondering why the people were so unfriendly and I still don’t have a definite conclusion why. If you have any insights it would be helpful.

      As I’ve previously said though; maybe the stars just didn’t align for us in Brazil. I don’t want to be negative towards Brazilians, but at the same time it was the reality of that trip.

      Your English is fine Carlos, but if you feel more comfortable in Spanish (or French) feel free to comment.

      • Hi!
        Sorry to hear you had a bad experience in Rio. It is a stunning city as u said and maybe, while tripping to Rio, we gotta remember what our eyes see is what will remain in our memory. Regardin the people, as a Carioca I may say that Yes, people in Rio do take people at face value.. It seems like after all this economy booming people in Rio (natives and travellers) do feel like they’re travelling to Miami in South America with a Mix of Saint Tropez and Monaco. You stayed at the neighbourhood of rich and famous. Im sorry to say and experience that on my own that people are stuck up nose, fancy, trendy and show off. Maybe if you stayed at low profile places like Flamengo or Botafogo you wouldn’t have experienced that feeling. Hope you come to to Rio and have greater times!

    • frankly most of brazilian guys are bad educated as well. I can count about 90% of south american is.

      • What you are talking about? I have been in USA for 1 year and a half studying and something that i noticed it was the totally disrespectful people who I ever met. In the one year and a helf I made no friends and I tried hard. I was living with a roommate who doesnt even says Good Morning or even Hello. I wish that I never have go back to USA again.

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          Hi Lucas. I’m not from the USA so I can’t really comment. They definitely have their own race problems there, coupled with, in some places, complete ignorance of other countries. I can promise you people in Canada are friendly :) .
          But this post was about Brazil. We’ve been to many countries, including a few in the Caribbean and South America, and never felt the people as unfriendly towards us as in Brazil. Why? I often felt that Brazilians, like you, have negative feelings about Americans but don’t differentiate between all white races. You can’t paint everyone with the same brush…

  4. I love your writing style Frank – literally makes me LOL!
    Chelsea recently posted…How to Afford Traveling AbroadMy Profile

  5. I had such a completely different experience in Rio. I loved every moment and my week there didn’t seem long enough! Sorry that it wasn’t so fun for you.
    Cheryl Howard recently posted…Instagramming … Toronto Street Art.My Profile

    • Experiences seem to be all over the place in Rio. I just read another blogger’s story of getting robbed on Copacabana beach by a guy who threatened her with a machete. I guess it can happen anywhere…but I’ve heard enough stories to know that we weren’t the only ones who didn’t feel comfortable with the security issue.

  6. Oh, I so hate it when the reception staff is judgmental. Most of them wouldn’t even afford to stay one night at the hotel they are working at (I don’t intend to be rude here), and yet, instead of making pleasant and friendly hosts, they have this attitude of superiority. I wonder why? It’s even worse when you get the feeling this judgemental attitude came with the job description and everybody has it.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted…In the Footsteps of the Surrealists: Drinks with Magritte at Fleur en Papier DoréMy Profile

  7. Sorry for the bad experience, but your writing made the post enjoyable and somehow funny and like Chelsea says, literally want to LOL :)

  8. This is quite an eye opener – definitely not what I imagined Brazil would feel like. Did the atmosphere change after getting out of the big cities or did it feel like this everywhere you went?

  9. Funny how experiences can vary because Rio specifically and Brazil in general were my top destinations in an around the world jaunt. Loved the people, their attitude towards life, the food, the music the nightlife, the fun in general to be had by all, rich and poor.My biggest disappointment was Australia. Could not wait to leave. Maybe it is a reflection of the attitude or body language that we project?

    • I don’t really know, interesting theory though! Australia huh? My ex-boss had the same feeling when he came back from there 5 years ago; found them a bit rough around the edges. I think he called them hicks – didn’t think much of the Aussies. But he recently told me he’s thinking of going back! Maybe we have to give places a 2nd chance? Be interested in your ideas on Australia. Thanks for taking the time to comment Sylvia!

  10. Welcome to Latin America! I am currently living in Colombia and I have guys yell out stuff to my girlfriend all the time as we are walking down the street holding hands.
    Luke recently posted…Candidasa, Indonesia – Travel GuideMy Profile

  11. I reckon the problem wasn’t the Brazilians but your expectation :)
    I’ve been to Brasil, and I have to confessed that I didn’t like people’s attitude neither, however, I met so many friendly folks through out my stay…
    Next time, avoid the hotels, try couchsurfing – U will manage to meet genuine friendly Brazilians.

    • Thanks for the comment Nelvino. At the time we were working full time and had 3 weeks vacation, we were there to relax and couchsurfing not what we wanted to do. We’re also in our 40′s so our old bones looking for a bit more comfort – when I was young I had no problems sleeping anywhere.
      I understand what your saying and there are some nice, welcoming people everywhere. Anyone opening their doors to strangers would I’m sure be very friendly and there’s nothing like being taken around by a local to appreciate a place. Still, that wasn’t our experience and, having travelled many places, we were a bit shocked by the generally unfriendly attitudes. As I had mentioned somewhere else, we had travelled through Colombia the previous year and it couldn’t have been more different.

  12. After three weeks in Rio I can only agree with you. Having lived in Vienna and traveled through Eastern Europe I feel Cariocas are even more unfriendly and rude. I also didn’t feel safe here. The city itself is beautiful but it’s a shame how dirty it is. The smell of urine is also not very inviting…

    • Thank you for the comment Ines! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Rio but it’s also a relief to know that we are not the only ones that didn’t enjoy the city. Hope your future travels are more pleasant :)

  13. I am Brazilian and I don’t feel safe when I visit Rio. However, I don’t feel safe in parts of New York and Miami either. New Yorkers are not known for their friendliness but people still visit the city. In Europe, I was robed in Lisbon, Portugal, and find the Portuguese very unfriendly. I don’t think Lisbon is safe, even though everyone says it is. In Brazil, “the gringos” are perceived as cold, arrogant, and unfriendly, especially Americans. Perhaps you have suffered the side effects of how your fellow countrymen have behaved in the past.

    • Actually I’m Canadian, the only thing we do to piss people off is say ‘eh?’ all the time. And you’re basically saying what I said in this post about using “anti-Americanism” as a broader brush against any white traveler.
      But I appreciate your comment, you are right that Brazil is not the only place where people can be unfriendly.

  14. I really appreciate when people are honest about the places they visit and don’t just go on and on about how wonderful everything is. I like to have a heads up about what I could possibly encounter when I visit somewhere. That’s really too bad about the rude people. I’ve been a few places where the people weren’t friendly either and it can put a black cloud over your vacation. Rio looks so beautiful though from your pictures!
    Rhonda Krause recently posted…Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens- History, Photos and Tips for VisitingMy Profile

    • Really appreciate Rhonda! I get flak when I’m negative, but can anyone love everything? They’ll always be places, things or restaurants that appeal to most but which might not appeal to you personally. I think it’s important to be honest about it – it’s not meant to stop anyone from going, but maybe they’ll be more prepared for what they might encounter. I wish I had read something slightly negative about Rio and Brazil in general, I’ve always loved Latin cultures and I think I went there with rose-colored glasses and wasn’t prepared for the negative attitudes I experienced. Anyway, thank you for the comment.

  15. Wow! This is surprising. I’ve always had Rio on my bucket list, but now, not so much. Thanks for your honest review.
    Valen-This Way Paradise recently posted…Two Sacred Sites In Chiang Mai: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Huay Kaew WaterfallMy Profile

  16. Oh interesting to hear this as it’s very high on my list and was looking to go soon. I’ve heard a couple of negative things though but will still go with an open mind :-)

  17. Brazil in fact is a very problematic country for tourists, violence, bad manners, bad transportation, poluted water etc. So if you want make a trip try another country more developed. The real dream of most brazilians is emigrating, most of them can’t because they dont have enough funds for it.

    • Thanks for your input Jonas. Bad education pretty much a constant in much of the developing world, I don’t think it necessarily explains the culture of violence though most of Central/South America though.
      SE Asia for example is comparatively incredibly safe despite poverty and poor education.
      But you’re right that Brazil and most of South America is dangerous, the infrastructure poor, the environment neglected. Too much government corruption? The huge gap between rich and poor? Lack of a social safety net? Drugs? I’d be interested in understanding why South American culture so much more violent than SE Asia when so many issues similar.

  18. I was in Rio recently and even if my experience wasn’t as bad as yours I didn’t really like the city. It was beautiful, true, but to be honest I don’t really know why half of the world is so crazy about it. It lacked some kind of soul and seemed very unfriendly to me!
    kami recently posted…Subotica – the art nouveau pearl of EuropeMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Kami! I kind of took it personal but nice to know it’s not just me. No problems with Lissette though, they seemed to like her just fine. Funny how that happens different places in the world – in some I get the star treatment as the white man, in others she’s the only one they want to talk to…

  19. Greetings!

    I have to say that my experience in Rio de Janeiro and in Brazil was totally opposite of yours.

    As Portuguese I was soooo very welcomed, and people always happy to receive me, telling me stories of their Portuguese ancestors, or how we have the same language, food or music similarities, or football, etc.

    I have never had any issues with anyone from any type of background being Indians, afro-Brazilians, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Polish descendants.

    People in general were always very nice to me and my Polish girlfriend. I spend 4 months in Brazil, backpacking.

    I have to disagree with my fellow Portuguese travelers Zara, from the previous comment. Most Brazilians are Europeans or mix-European, so they can’t be angry of anything.

    If someone could be angry would be either the Indians or Afro descendants. I was very well received during my 2 months stay along the Amazon regions – people loved the fact I was from Portugal and always came very curious, sympathetic and generously offering me their… Brazilian famous SMILE.

    Interestingly, the words I heard the most being Portuguese was the fact that the Portuguese prince Dom Pedro the First created modern independent Brazil and how we protected the region against the Spanish and French.

    As I entered Oiapoque in the north bordering French Guiana, I heard the phrase: Good to the Portuguese, we would speak French now if not for you. Plus, always someone has an uncle, grand-mother or grand-father Portuguese as half of the Brazilian population are in fact Portuguese descendants.

    I traveled in the following states of Brazil: Amapá, Pará, Roraima, Amazonas, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

    I rented a house in Rio for 45 days and just loved the experience. From the neighbors to the people in the local supermarket, all always very kind, positive and great attitude.

    Rio de Janeiro for me is not the urban city itself, but the breathtaking location (the rocky mountains together with the coast) – I have to say it did impressed me by it looks.

    I had a normal impression of Brazil and Brazilians, but after my trip, my respect just got higher and I want to go back again.

    My opinion regarding Brazilian people is that they are sweet, smiling and generous.

    Obrigado Brasil até à próxima! // Thank you Brazil see you next time!
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  20. Paolla Najla says:

    I really feel sorry for the bad part of your experience in Rio de Janeiro, but I’m sure it can not be generalized, the Brazilian people are very receptive and happy people, anywhere in the world will be the exceptions, here would be no different and I’m sorry you have just found this minority in its passage through here. But I feel it my duty to say that Brazil is not just Rio de Janeiro, there are many other incredibly beautiful states, and kind people. So I invite you next come to Brazil to meet a different perspective, check out to Bahia, and havens that exist in northeast Brazil . I invite you to a second coming to my country, and I promise you will leave here with another thought.

    Sorry errors, do not speak english very well.

    A big hug from Brazil <3

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you Paolla for your nice comment. I can only speak from our experience and maybe we were unlucky. And as you say, it is such a large country and I’ve heard better things from travellers heading a bit further north.
      Thank you for commenting and for your invitation, it is very nice of you.

  21. Never been to Brazil – but there are countries we like less than others. Djibouti is so far at the bottom of the list, and we can only speculate why: http://www.westwards.de/westwards/2015/03/djibouti.html
    And it’s true, they are not always the obvious places that everybody warns you about. On the contrary, we also enjoyed Colombia tremendously and felt very safe there. The same goes for Syria and Libya (both before the war), while we rather disliked oh so popular Vietnam. Perhaps it has to do with prior expectations, too…
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    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Colombia is one of our favorites as well and we also felt very safe. I’ve heard a few people say exactly the same as you about Vietnam.
      Enjoyed your post on Djibouti :) I think we’ll give it a pass…

  22. Hi Guys! I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy Rio! The first time we went, other than the amazing sites I wasn’t super thrilled about Rio either. Afterwards we discussed how happy we were that we waited a while to go to Rio after moving here, because we had a better grasp of Portuguese by then. I think Rio would be intimidating and difficult to navigate on your own if you do not speak Portuguese fairly well. Then we went again for Carnival and explored even more of Rio. I have to say the big city has grown on me, and now I can’t wait to go back. As for the luggage carousel, your article had me laughing so hard! Yes, getting your baggage from the carousel is a nightmare in any city in Brazil! I don’t know why but all of the Brazilians must rush up with giant baggage carts and park direclty in front of the carousel, and won’t let anyone else pass to grab their luggage. They also get pushy. It is a bizarre phenomenon to me, but I’m so used to it now I just go with it and rush up front too. Ha ha! I am worried what any of our friends and family will think when they come to visit us and see the every man and woman for himself mentatilty in the airport. That aside, I still love Brazil.
    Currently we live in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil and we’ve been to several different states. I would challenge you to return to Brazil and come to the South, Santa Catarina or Rio Grande do Sul. Our experience has been that most Brazilians here love foreigners–and yes, even Americans like us! It helps that we also speak passable Portuguese. Brazil is one of the few countries I’ve been to in which very few people speak English. They are used to Brazilian and Argentinian tourists but not the North Americans and Europeans. The tourism industry here is very underdeveloped in regard to outside tourism. -But if you do decide to try again and are in the south of Brazil, let us know! We would be happy to show you why we love living here so much!

    Cheers!
    Elizabeth
    Elizabeth Hampton recently posted…The Adventure is in Getting ThereMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for the great comment. So I was crashing some kind of Brazilian custom was I? Good to know :) I’m surprised people don’t come to blows because if it had been a guy I would have gotten into my first fight since high school.
      Interesting everything you say, I’ll come and check out your site. Challenge us to return to Brazil huh? Hmmm, I’ve got this pretty bad taste in my mouth that I can’t seem to overcome. Maybe one day if I get amnesia.
      Good for you for having learned Portuguese which doesn’t seem an easy language. We both speak Spanish and it was passable getting around. They always say that Portuguese-speakers can understand Spanish but that Spanish-speakers can’t understand Portuguese. Is that true or just BS? Anyway, like I said, I think they understood me just fine but just preferred responding to Lissette like I wasn’t there. I don’t get that. She always thought it was pretty frigin funny but I just started to get pissed off after a while…
      Thanks for the comment, helps me understand a few things :)

  23. Sounds like it’s really changed a lot over the decades. I spent considerable time there in the 70s as a young man – found the people friendly, and ended up marrying one of them. Our marriage ended in the 80s, but I’ve kept in contact with my ex. She returned permanently to Canada a few years after we separated – I think she would share your observation about violence and tension, although she still loves the country. Even when I was there, there was plenty of violence, and I was warned about it often. However, I had learned pretty decent Portuguese, bought clothes in the local style, traveled solo, got a good tan, and managed to blend in at first glance. So maybe that helped. Or maybe things have just gotten worse. I hope to get back in the next few years, but might focus on smaller cities.
    Paul recently posted…Travel at the Speed of ThoughtMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for your story Paul. I can see how blending in would overcome a lot of the feelings of sticking out that I felt. The way you describe it sounds pretty good :) The previous commenter had also mentioned that they enjoyed Brazil much more the 2nd time around after having learned a bit of Portuguese. I’ve always felt at home in the Spanish-speaking world so I understand how knowing the language helps…but the reason I first got motivated to learn Spanish was because of all the nice people I met on those first trips to Latin America. I wanted to be able to converse in Spanish. In Brazil I didn’t get that.
      Good to hear your story. I know a few people who went in the 70s and loved it. I wonder what they would feel now? And I’m curious to why your ex would chose Canada over Brazil..I guess the violence was the deciding factor?
      Thanks Paul for your insights.

  24. I’m so sorry you had this experience! I am an expat living in Rio for the past 7 months, and I’ve come across the KINDEST people I’ve ever experienced in my life.
    I would say though that service overall is pretty bad (hotel and restaurants included)… too laidback and quite unfriendly. Cariocas though, if you meet them on the street and have a chance to have a conversation, are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever come across. Politically aware, interested in other cultures, and never-endingly helpful. Unfortunately, Copacabana and Ipanema are major tourist hotspots, and likely many of the Brazilians you encountered (especially at attractions) may be tourists as well and not local.
    One other thing – I would say “guy code” doesn’t exist here. The macho culture, in my opinion, is the worst part of Rio. I’ve been called “tasty” more times than my own name, and grabbed in public. Yikes.
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    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Steph for your account. Hey, I’ve noticed the ladies like Brazil much more than the guys. Maybe they just turn on the charm with the women? Spanky liked them much more than I did.
      I’ve been grabbed in public in the Dominican Republic and offered ‘sucky sucky’ and ‘fucky fucky’. I guess it’s not as much fun when it happens to you as a woman.
      But I’m happy to hear you enjoy Rio. Thanks for taking time to comment :)

  25. Mary Sthela says:

    I’ve read your post and couldn’t be quiet. I’m brazilian, use to travel around as much as possible and unfortunately have to agree with you. Rio has one of the most beautiful views In the world but their people has no preparation to receive foreigners and tourists. What a shame! The other side, as a brazilian again, I know the idea of happy and smiling brazilians are not real, specially in Rio. It’s a cultural thing, they’re kind of bad humored, and you just can know the kindness after a while or more.

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!

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