Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024


Praia da Joatinga, one of many beaches on the Rio de Janeiro coastline.

This spring break, the two of us (along with our roommate, Liz) went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! This trip had been a while in the making, and we were really looking forward to it. Rio is Julia’s hometown — she was born there and only moved to the U.S. for college, so it’s where she’s spent most of her life. Yana had never been there before but was really excited to see the place where Julia grew up! 

We had such an amazing time in Rio that we wanted to share some of what we got up to. At this point in our friendship, we’ve traveled together enough that we feel well-equipped to share some advice on what to do and what not to do!

1. You don’t need to learn the language, but you should learn some things.

Julia: It was super cool to see Yana get more comfortable interacting with people while out in the city. Making conversation is a big part of life in Rio, so I thought it was amazing to see my friends really try to learn as much as they could in such a short time.

Yana: While I don’t pick up languages as easily as Liz, I was determined to take advantage of the city to learn some Portuguese. On our first day there, I asked Julia to teach me some basics, a few examples of which include bom dia, obrigada and vão bora. I even learned how to say “I only speak a little Portuguese!” When you’re a tourist in someone else’s city, it’s a great opportunity to start to learn a new language and be able to converse with the residents — and from my experience, they love to talk with you too!

2. Try new foods!

J: Yana and Liz had already tried some Brazilian staples, but I was looking forward to introducing them to some of the foods that were part of my childhood. I think Yana and Liz were most obsessed with the acai and the coconut water, both of which you can buy in the U.S. but are so much fresher at home. Especially for a tropical destination like Rio, I definitely recommend eating as much local fruit as you can!

Y: Since living with Julia, Liz and I have become obsessed with Brazilian food, and I was super excited to spend a whole week eating just that. I was determined to take advantage of Rio and eat mangos, pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and pão de queijo (cheese breads) every day. Take advantage of visiting a new destination to try the foods that you wouldn’t have a chance to eat in your home city — in my opinion, it’s one of the best parts of being on holiday. 

3. Keep in mind the most touristy places are not always the best.

J: The girls obviously wanted to see all the famous landmarks — the Christ, Ipanema and the Sugarloaf — but at the same time, I thought they needed to see some of the lesser known spots, because it’s where you can get the truest glimpse into life in a city. One of the “off-the-beaten-path" destinations I was excited to bring them to was Praia da Joatinga; it’s a small beach hidden in between São Conrado and Barra that is only accessible through a short hike down some rocks. Showing my friends these hidden gems that are such a landmark of my life back home was an incredible experience!

Y: I’ve been really fortunate to be able to visit some amazing places around the world, but Rio stands out as a favorite due to my lovely tour guide! Not only did Julia take us to some incredible hidden gems that a Google search never could have produced, but she was also able to steer me away from tourist traps and point me to the best places to pick up some presents for my family. If you don’t know anyone in the city that you’re visiting, it’s a great idea to turn to Reddit or an Instagram hashtag to find some of these local hangouts.

4. Research the culture!

J: If you’re visiting a friend or know someone who lives in your destination, it’s good to ask them for some pointers prior to your trip. I recall talking incessantly about clothing, as we arrived during a heatwave, and I probably drove the girls mad telling them to bring “anything cotton.” Additionally, I also wanted the girls to embrace the more laid-back culture of Rio — Hopkins is not the most conducive to relaxation, but I wanted them to be cariocas for the week.  

Y: Like Julia mentioned, being respectful of the local culture is super important. You’re the stranger in this new place, so you’re the one who needs to put in the effort to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. We visited Museu de Arte do Rio — the Museum of Art — which had multiple exhibitions on Carnival and Samba schools, the history of slavery in Brazil, the music culture of Brazilian Funk and more. Liz and I agreed that this museum was one of our favorite parts of the trip, as we got to discover the values, heart and habits of Rio. 

5. Take pictures, but don’t get too caught up in it. Remember to live in the moment!

J: I’m honestly quite glad that we seem to have a similar consensus on this. We got a lot of memories through photos, which I find crucial — you want to be able to share those moments with others at a later date. But at the same time, the memories I’m the fondest of are ones that are tricky to capture, like us all getting wiped out by the massive waves at Joatinga or sharing pastéis de nata after a long day of sightseeing.

Y: While I wish I was someone who took more pictures, I know that staying in the moment is equally, if not more, important. You don’t want all the memories of your trip to be of you taking pictures — views are always much prettier through your own eyes than through a phone screen. This trip to Rio has been a long time in the making, and as I look back on it, I’m so happy that I remember the moments when we laughed in acai shops with Julia’s mum, when I was convinced that I’d almost drowned in Joatinga and when I felt a heightened sense of wonder at the views from the top of Corcovado.

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