You are in Leme, Rio de Janeiro. You want to go to Leblon. What do you do?
If you said, “don't go outside” because you are afraid of being robbed, then you are likely one of the dozens of people I spoke to regarding safety prior to coming to Brazil (and you would also be wrong).
The correct answer lies on a graph consisting of our X-axis, cost, and our Y-axis, sweatiness; it is essentially a matter of how (un)comfortable you would like to be.
A comprehensive explanation of your options follows.
SUMMARY | By and large the simplest way to get around. Most of the streets run N-S/E-W so orientating yourself and navigating from A to B is not too difficult (and the ocean is always there if you need a reference point – or a place to drown).
PROS | Zero cost, possibility of meeting friends, easy access to food and drink, learn the city.
CONS | Could be robbed (conflicts with the zero cost factor), quite slow, will most definitely become sweaty.
SUMMARY | Riding a bicycle is not the most terrifying of things as there is a dedicated bike lane along the entirety of the coast and through many other regions. However, navigating streets without bike lanes is quite terrifying and death by automobile should be accepted as an option.
PROS | Zero cost post bike purchase, faster than walking, transportation for two or more.
CONS | You have a bike to look after, have to avoid roller bladers (it's still cool here) and pedestrians, possibility of death.
SUMMARY | Buses are a useful way of getting around Rio, but I can honestly say that I don't know if I will fully understand the bus system. There appear to be at least a dozen different bus companies, all with their own lines, their own prices and their own ways of doing business. Also, you pay extra for air conditioning; and don't think of paying with large bills.
PROS | Faster than walking/biking, chance of air conditioning, you get to sit down (in a sticky leather seat), you can sleep and travel.
CONS | Costs at least R$2.40 (for no AC), possibility of sitting next to someone, requires human interaction.
NOTE | If you opt for a bus, someone will likely sit down next to you even if every other seat on the bus is empty. I still do not understand, nor am I okay with this occurrence. I have even had people get up in the middle of a relatively empty bus ride and come sit next to me; why people? Why?
SUMMARY | The vans that roam the streets looking for passengers at a fare of R$0.10 lower than the buses are operated out of the favelas and can be very interesting to say the least. Your driver will be a true maniac of the road (also maybe drunk), your crew will have little or no regard for your well-being and you will often times find yourself wondering why you didn't just take a bus. The vans consist of two people driving around in a rapist-like van whilst one of them hangs out the window and yells at people on the street in an attempt to solicit business. Quite thrilling.
PROS | Faster than walking/biking (and sometimes the bus, fuck you bus), cheapest mode of transport, you get to practice vulgar slang as spoken by the operators.
CONS | More expensive than walking, possibility of sitting next to an undesirable person (very likely), possibility of being stuck in a small room with a dozen other people and no AC (very likely), requires human interaction.
SUMMARY | The streets of Rio de Janeiro are flooded with a disgusting number of taxis. You can get lucky or unlucky with your driver as in any city, and hopefully you avoid being stuck in one without AC. Some taxis have televisions, in-dash LCD screens, incredible sound systems, play music, and are basically the cash cab without an obnoxious host barking questions at you (though these cabs are rare). However, I have also known taxi drivers to be touchy with female passengers (do not sit in the front ladies), rip off their passengers or to just smell horribly (get out! GET OUT!).
PROS | The fastest, 80% chance of AC, you get to sit down, readily available.
CONS | Most expensive, chance of ripoff, requires human interaction, risk of being molested (what, no dinner?).
SUMMARY | Driving (and drivers) in Rio de Janeiro has to be one of the most absurd things about this place. There are no traffic police, traffic lights are optional after 22:00, buses are constantly attempting to destroy everything in sight, some streets go one direction some times and the other direction other times, horns are in constant symphony, everyone jaywalks (despite no pedestrian right-of-way) – shit's crazy. It is supposedly very illegal to drive a car with more people than the car is intended for, but most of the time there are far more people than seats. I am almost certain that the lines painted on the road are not to be paid attention to, not even as suggestions, they are simply decorations.
PROS | Fast and free (granted access to a car), AC on full blast, can transport as many people as you can fit.
CONS | Parking, 0.00% BAC