Riding the Bus in Rio: What You Need to Know

In Rio, the bus is the way that everyone gets around.  There is a metro system but there are few lines and it is not very extensive.  Each time I have traveled somewhere,  I have relied on the bus to get me there.

While there are many bus lines in Rio, the busses often get extremely crowded.  And taking the bus can be pretty confusing…

I have to admit that I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by the transportation in Western Europe, where all of the bus stops are equipped with timetables for when the busses will arrive (and they are usually very accurate), the bus stations are all marked (so you know that you are getting on and off at the right stop!) and the busses themselves display all of the stops taken and what the next stop will be.

But in Brazil, things are a little different…

No timetable? No problem 

The bus stops in Rio have no timetables, so you have no idea when the bus will be arriving. Sometimes they can be quite frequent and other times, I have heard of people waiting for an hour and a half for the bus to arrive (reminder: we are on carioca/Rio time here!).

Fortunately, there are a lot of busses running and there are often several busses that you can take to get somewhere. But it’s a bit of a gamble, especially if your options are more limited.

Where in the world am I? 

None of the bus stations in Rio are marked with the street name or whatever the stop may be called, so unless you know the route, you have no idea if you are getting off at the correct stop (or if you are getting on at the right place).

The only real solution to this is asking the bus driver what the stop is or using Google Maps on your phone.

And where am I going?

Likewise, none of the bus stops or busses themselves display the stops that the bus will take. The bus stations often have boards that display the numbers of the bus lines that stop at the bus stop and the main stops they make–but not all of the stops are shown and it does not say what the exact routes are.

Ticket people 

When you get on the bus, there is a ticket person who you have to pay before you can sit down or ride the bus. In Europe and the U.S., you just pay the bus driver directly. Similarly, in elevators, there are people whose sole job is to sit there and press the buttons.

Is it dangerous to ride the bus?  

Many people have warned me not to take the bus at night (after say 9:30pm) because theft and other crime is more rampant.

I have heard that armed robberies are not that unusual on the busses…that sometimes, someone will slide next to a passenger and hold a gun to their side, demanding them to hand over their belongings. While there is no way to completely avoid being a victim to this type of thing, you can minimize your risk by:

  • Limiting the valuables that you bring out
  • Holding on tightly to your belongings and always keeping your bag closed
  • Not sitting in a place on the bus that is too isolated
  • Sitting in front of the bus

Also, try to make sure that the bus you are taking doesn’t ride through the favelas. Because while some favelas (like in the Zona Sul) are relatively safe, others are extremely dangerous and the busses that ride through them can subject its passengers to random gunshots (rare, but it happens).

Bus or rollercoaster? 

You know that stereotype about crazy Latino drivers? Well, let’s just say that the bus drivers in Rio definitely live up to that stereotype.

There have been times that I have legitimately feared for my life (no joke). It actually feels like you are riding a rollercoaster sometimes. So prepare yourself!

Bottom line? Riding on the bus in Rio is always an adventure!

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