Driving in Brazil is ill advised for a number of reasons. First, the streets are a tangle of twists and turns that only local motorists, bikers, taxi and bus drivers can competently navigate. Second, while it might be possible to drive on the long boulevards, tourists, bicyclists and vendors make the proposition tricky. Pedestrians and tourists going to and from the beaches put themselves at risk as they cross the bike paths and the major boulevards particularly Avenue Atlantica from Copacabana, Avenue Vieira Souto from Ipanema or Avenue Delfim Moreira from Leblon. There are speed limits posted but they seem to be rather more like suggestions than law. From what I have seen, buses and taxis will not slow down if you are in their path, even if you are in a walkway, so it’s better to turn back than to try to assert your pedestrian rights. Drivers may view you as more of a nuisance like a pigeon than as a human being with inalienable rights. Third, if you are still not convinced that driving is a bad idea in Rio, consider this: gasoline costs 3.99 a liter. That to American ears may not sound so bad. 3.99 is just a little bit more expensive than in the States, right? Wrong. We are talking 3.99 Brazilian reals a liter, not dollars a gallon. Let’s do a little math here: 1 Brazilian real = .45 U.S. dollars, so that’s $1.80 U.S. a liter. The average size fuel tank for a small car, like the Volkswagen Gol in the picture above (Golf in the U.S.) is about 50 liters so 50 x 1.8 = $90 U.S. to fill up vs. about $50 to fill up in the States. Quite a difference.
If I’ve convinced you not to drive, what are the alternatives? Why not reduce your carbon footprint and walk or ride a bicycle? The amazingly beautiful beach areas including some of the hills and many parks are easily accessible by foot from where you would likely be staying. If you want to venture away from the beaches as we did when we went to Sao Cristovao, try a city bus. But fair warning: the buses are not like they are in the States and in other major Latin American cities I have visited. They look similar. The fares are reasonable – a buck or so a ride. But the ride is another thing. Hold on to something, because the bus drivers don’t mess around. They drive those Mercedes and Marcopolo buses like sport cars, taking turns at top speed and braking for nothing except to stop at the stop light or bus stop. Time is money apparently. The roads in Rio are rough in places and the suspension, at least on the bus we took, was not tuned for a smooth ride. I felt like I was on a roller coaster on a track full of speed bumps or humps as they are also sometimes called. I kept telling myself that the driver was a professional and knew what he was doing, but there were moments when I was not so sure.