As you approach Rio de Janeiro Airport, you are greeted with majestic, sweeping views of the magnificent city, including Corcodova, Sugarloaf Mountain, and all the islands in the bay.  The Airport itself is set on Ilha ?, encompassing pretty much the entire island.  The runways span from waters edge to waters edge as you swoop down from the sky.


The airport is much like any airport in modernized Latin America - it is a large airport and you'll depart the plane through gates as in Metropolitan airports in the United States or Europe, not on the tarmac like in many of the touristed Latin America airports.  As you depart the plane, you will immediately find yourself in line for customs, where you'll present the tourist card you filled out on the plane, as well as your passport and your Brazil Visa that you got through a passport service or the consulate itself.

Customs is a painless process, unless you're stopped, but we didn't see anyone get pulled aside at all.  Once passing through, you'll go around the booths to the right and on to the baggage claim, where you'll have to claim your baggage, even if you are on a connecting flight, since it's your first entry into Brazil.  The baggage carts are free, a nice change from the U.S., where they seem to get more expensive every trip.  We were thankful to find that all the signs were in English as well as Portuguese, so we had no trouble, except that everyone thought Sandra was Brazilian so they all spoke Portuguese to her.  A blank look or a look of panic and confusion communicates your language preference pretty well, though - they were pretty perceptive.


Once you've got your luggage, you'll be greeted by shouting throngs of taxi drivers, timeshare hawks, and others all trying to get you to exchange money, rent cars, or take their taxi.  If you've ever flown into Mexico, you know what we're talking about. If you're like us, you've already pre-arranged a Rio de Janeiro Airport Transfer so all you have to do is find a sign with your name on it.  Check out Airport Transportation Rates Here. Otherwise, you can rent a car at any of the booths just beyond the masses, or take a taxi. A taxi into Copacabana will cost you about $ and into Ipanema $.  You'll find booths for Avis, Hertz, etc.  An average car rental will set you back about $, plus the insurance.  Your U.S. auto insurance is useless in Rio - you'll need to purchase their Liability Insurance.  Many credit cards will cover you for theft and collision, so you may not need this from the rental agency, but make sure you check first.


If, like us, laying over on a connecting flight, or if you're waiting to fly back home, then head upstairs to level 2 where the duty free shops, bars, and cafes are.  There are usually English menus, so if you're presented with one in Portuguese, don't be afraid to ask.  You do have to pay for wireless internet access at the Rio de Janeiro Airport, and the internet kiosk is pretty slow and cumbersome.

If you are taking a connecting flight here to another city in Brazil, you'll likely be flying on Varig, who is about a 10 minute walk from the international arrivals hall, on floor 2, terminal 2, where most of the domestic flights are. There are cafes, shops, internet kiosks, and bars on level 2 just below the Varig checkin counter.


Also on level 2, at the very end of the hall past the shops, are several bank machines.  We recommend not to bring cash with you, just take it out of the ATM at the airport - no exchange necessary, and better exchange rates.  If you've brought cash, we found that the hawks that pulled us aside actually did have slightly better rates ($2.20 per dollar) than the American Express exchange booth nearby ($2.15 per dollar), but make sure.  See the current exchange rates here.  Remember, it's a good idea to only take as much cash as you'll need that day or the next couple of days - pay with the Credit Card whenever possible - in a big city, you always have the chance of being pickpocketed or mugged, so you don't want to lose all your cash if this happens to you.


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