Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

Founded: Spanish navigator Vicente Yáñez Pinzón is credited with being the first known European to sight Brazil when he landed near present-day Recife on January 26, 1500. The Portuguese Estácio de Sá founded the city in 1565 after expelling the French.
Location: On a flat and narrow coastal plain, between the foothills of the Brazilian Highlands and the Atlantic Ocean, on the shore of Guanabara Bay, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the tropical zone in South America.
Time Zone: 3 PM = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Ethnic Composition: African, White, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian
Latitude and Longitude: 22°54'S, 43°10'W
Coastline: 78 km (50 mi)
Climate : Rio is in a tropical zone, and the weather is typically hot and humid. Cool ocean breezes temper the temperatures in the area.
Temperature: Summer months of December to March are very hot, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 35 to 39°C (95 to 100°F). During the rest of the year, temperatures range between 20 to 30°C (68 and 86°F). The annual average temperature is 23°C (73°F).
Average Annual Precipitation: 1,080 mm (43 in), but some of the higher elevations get more than 60 inches.
Government: Mayor and municipal council
Weights and Measures: Standard metric
Monetary Units: the Real (about 1.78 per one US dollar)
Telephone Area Codes: Country code: 55; city code: 21

2. Getting There

Between the mountains and the sea, Rio is located on the western shore of Guanabara Bay. On a flat and narrow coastal plain adjacent to the foothills of the Brazilian Highlands, Rio is one of the most important transportation hubs in the country. Most international visitors arrive in Rio, one of the best-known international cities in the world.


Rio's imposing natural setting has its drawbacks. The city snakes along the coast and the mountains, and so do its streets. Cariocas are well known for aggressive driving, and navigating the city's roads is difficult for drivers unfamiliar with the terrain. Rio is connected by highway to major Brazilian cities.

Bus and Railroad Service

There is rail service to São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Many bus companies offer international travel to the neighboring countries of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Rio de Janeiro Population Profile

City Proper

Population: 5,600,000
Area: 1,255 sq km (485 sq mi)
Ethnic composition: African, White, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian
Nicknames: Rio de Janeiro is Portuguese for "river of January." They thought the large entrance of what is now known as Guanabara Bay was the mouth of a river. In Brazil, Rio is known as the Cidade Maravilhosa, the Marvelous City. Its residents are called cariocas. The word is of Tupi Indian origin (kari'oka, white house or house of white man).

Metropolitan Area

Population: 10,556,000
Description: City of Rio and 16 other municipalities
Area: Over 5,384 sq km (over 2,079 sq mi)
World population rank1: 19
Percentage of national population2: 6.2%
Average yearly growth rate: 0.7%
Ethnic composition: African, White, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian


  1. The Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Brazil's total population living in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area.


Two airports serve the city: Galeão for domestic and international services and Santos Dumont for domestic airlines.

3. Getting Around

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Rio opened the first of two underground metro lines in 1979 and plans to continue expanding the system to alleviate traffic congestion. Two lines connect some parts of the city. An extensive bus system accounts for about 70 percent of all passenger trips. There are many taxis and thousands of private automobiles. Rail connects Rio to its suburbs and satellite cities. Motorboats, ferries, and hydrofoils serve communities across Guanabara Bay.


Many visitors go to Rio strictly to enjoy the world-renowned beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Others go to take part in the internationally famous Carnival and Carnival parade, celebrated for five days preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), attracting thousands of visitors. However, there are many other sights to see in the Marvelous City.

One of the most visited sites in Rio is Mount Corcovado, with its Christ the Redeemer statue. Another is Sugar Loaf, offering an impressive view of the city below. Many people go to the Quinta da Boa Vista, the park that is home to the National Museum, and the Zoological Garden. Also popular are the Botanical Gardens and Tijuca National Park, located in the Forest of Tijuca; the National Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum of Modern Art; and the Indian Museum.

7. Government

The city is governed by a prefeito (mayor). The government is divided into several departments, each administered by a secretary who answers to the mayor, who is elected to a four-year term. The Municipal Chamber, whose members are elected proportionally from Rio's 24 administrative regions, dictates legislation. The city is divided into five planning areas and 158 neighborhoods.

10. Environment

Guanabara Bay is highly polluted. Throughout the year, many of Rio's beaches, including the internationally known beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, are off limits to swimmers because of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Poor sanitation in the favelas lead to the proliferation of many diseases.

11. Shopping

Rio is an important retail center. It has major shopping centers and countless small shops that specialize in different products. There are many street vendors. In Copacabana and Ipanema, street vendors sell men's and women's swim suits, towels, sunglasses, and just about anything needed on the beach. Some small boutiques specialize in native art from throughout Brazil.

22. For Further Study


Visit the following High School Directory for a Directory and Collection of Secondary Schools in Various States in the U.S. Offers a Public School Search and Top Elementary Schools in the United States.

Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Rio de Janeiro Modern Museum of Art. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

University of Texas Latin American Network Information Center. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Government Offices

Embassy of Brazil
3006 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Government of Rio de Janeiro. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Ministry of Sport and Tourism. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).


O Globo. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Jornal do Brazil. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).

Jornal do Commercio. [Online] Available (accessed February 5, 2000).


Burns, E. Bradford. A History of Brazil. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Fausto, Boris. A Concise History of Brazil. London: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Gay, Robert . Popular Organization and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro: A Tale of Two Favelas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

Levine, Robert M., and John C. Crocitti. The Brazil Reader. Raleigh: Duke University Press, 1999.

McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha . The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

Rojas-Lombardi, Felipe. The Traveler's Guide to Latin American Customs and Manners. New York: St. Martins Press, 1991.

Skidmore, Thomas E. Brazil: Five Centuries of Change. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.