Initial Thoughts on Life in Rio de Janeiro
Leah Walker May 14, 2014

With my first week living in Brazil in the books, I’ve gotten somewhat settled into my new, albeit, temporary apartment in Rio. Acclimation to my Ipanema neighborhood has come a lot quicker than my Portuguese. Learning the language will be the most difficult part about this move, especially since I won’t consistently be in the country. My linguistic education must start somewhere, and in this case, that’s at the level of a toddler.

Lagoa at Sunset in Brazil

A week isn’t sufficient time to properly evaluate whether I’ll love or hate a place for the long{ish} haul, but I’m already dreading the thought of leaving. I must admit that beyond the airport, I’ve only spent time in Copacabana, Leblon, Lagoa, and Ipanema. These high-rent areas are void of much of the mischief that Rio is known for, so I might be viewing the city from rose-colored glasses. Only time will tell, I suppose.

Rio de Janeiro City View

Coming from Houston, where 2,000 square feet is considered a starter home and an Escalade is a normal-sized vehicle, I find myself swiftly adapting to life in Rio. I’d imagine this quick assimilation is directly related to my love affair with European cities. Believe it or not, Rio has some similar traits, minus the grand architecture and abundance of Starbucks.

Food Market in Rio de Janeiro

I’ve always longed to live in a place where walking is viable, but taxis are readily available. Everything I could possibly need is within a five-block radius, which then is hauled back to my gated, high-rise apartment in eco-friendly shopping bags. Groceries live in a small refrigerator and tiny cabinets rather than a walk in pantry and stand-alone freezer. There is no Target or Costco, but locally owned businesses have just what I need. A café is on every corner, and I discover my favorite. Eventually, the waitress knows my name and smiles as my pronunciation improves.

Yes, I’ve always wanted to experience this sort of life, I just always thought it would be in Europe rather than South America.

Rio Brazil7

Rio is vibrant and full of vigor, though not frenzied like Beijing, New York, or Tokyo. The city is, after all, Latin American, where life naturally moves a bit slower. Cariocas linger over lunches and wouldn’t dream of skipping the espresso. Conversely, it took five days to get my cable and Internet turned on. Just like with anything else, I must take the good with the bad.

Sunset at Ipanema with Beach Salesman

Rio is often depicted through the media as a never-ending party or non-stop crime spree. While I’m sure that exists, it’s not day-to-day life for most Cariocas. I see men in lightweight suits going to their office. I see kids in uniform walking to school. I see women buying groceries. I see dogs thrilled to be outside. It’s the same as Houston, just in Brazilian Technicolor.

Rio Brazil4

On the first night in my apartment, I wondered if the street traffic below my bedroom would annoy me, or if the sounds of sirens would eventually lull me to sleep. The whizzing cars, honking horns, and downshifting of truck gears have become ambient noise, an ongoing soundtrack to my time in Rio. And so far, I like the look of this movie.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Luxe Beat Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. Yippee! so far so good! I lived in Santiago briefly, so I know the type of experience you are having. Curious about the world around you, and yet you realize you are no longer in Texas!

  2. When I left Rio it took me years to come to the realization that I wasn’t going back anytime soon. It’s a chapter in my life I absolutely adore remembering. So vibrant and exotic. Long before tattoos were trendy I asked a woman in Rio, on the beach at Copacabana, what was the fascination with tattoos and why did so many Brazilian women have them. I did not like tattoos. Her response changed my mind. She said, “in Rio we don’t like wearing too many clothes; so we dress in other ways”…add the accent to that and it was enough to change my mind on many topics.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story. I’ve noticed all the tattoos on men and women. I’d like to do a photo series on the tattoos I see, but my Portuguese needs to get a bit better so I can communicate.

    1. I know! I want to get up into the rain forest for some hiking. I’ve got a friend with a car. I need to wrangle her into going with me for a day of sweating and exploring. 😉

  3. Visit a place called Blame it on Rio Travel- Xaviar da Silveira 15B- Copacabana,,,, will add to your experience in Rio…… & …. another place in the evening 9pm on called BIP BIP – also in Copa…. fabulous live music jam session old time samba players….

  4. Dang, Leah, that’s your view? Pretty sweet, huh?

    I liked the paragraph about living this sort of life in Europe, not South America. Being a Euro myself, I feel super comfortable in South America and it’s precisely because of the many similarities… I’ll never forget how much Montevideo reminded me of Krakow.

    Good luck with Portuguese. I’ve picked up a few phrases from a friend, but it still sounds to me like someone took my beloved Spanish and messed with it…

    1. I keep trying to speak Spanish! Though, I’m starting to make the adjustment. When I’m told a certain vocabulary word, I can usually connect it either to English, Spanish, or French. Retaining the information is the difficult part. Practice…practice…practice…

  5. Wow, what a change of pace. I would love to live in another country for a short time frame and just trade my home to soak in a new place. I’ve never been to South America so I’m sure to follow your adventures.

  6. Glad to hear you like it so far! Brazil can take some adjusting, especially with the relaxed, slow pace everyone has. Although I’ll never be as relaxed as a brazilian, it’s helped me chill out in other aspects of life! I’ve been living in Rio Grande do Sul for the past 10 months!

    1. I have to say that time in Europe has helped me adjust to the slower aspect. What isn’t slow are the taxi drivers. They’re not afraid to hit someone crossing the street.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this and am glad you are liking it so far. Beautiful photo of the market! Living in that part of Rio is pretty special!

    You mentioned the cafes–I’m assuming you like Brazilian coffee. Have you made the mistake of ordering a cappuccino? Their version of that is more like a mocha, and I hate it! :) The Carioca accent is a strong one, and although you’ll get used to it since that’s what you’re exposed to, I think you’ll have an easier time understanding people in the south where the pronunciation is a little more straight forward. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures.

    1. I’ve not ordered the cappuccino, normally sticking to espresso. I’ve had a cafe con leche, and some have come with the milk separate and others are with the milk mixed in. I still haven’t figured that out yet. I understand that the Carioca accent is much different from outside of Rio with the all the “shhh”ing. I just want to get some basic vocabulary and figure out the accent later.

  8. So far, I like how your movie is turning out as well! Thanks for bringing me back to Rio just, even just for a brief moment. I remember the beaches, the walking distance to everything, the fruit stands and language barriers too. Brazilian Portuguese is a tough one, but I bet you’ll pick it up in no time. :) If you get a chance, get your hands on some black bean pastels at Bar do Miniero in Santa Teresa — to die for!

  9. I imagine it will be a lot like my move to Europe, which is coming up on its 5 year anniversary. There is the good and the bad. There is a language barrier. Life moves slower. It can be maddening but idyllic at the same time. Glad to hear you are already adjusting and first impressions seem to be that you love it!

    1. I can relate to what you’re saying Leah about the distinct differences between Europe and Latin America. I had a Brazilian friend describe the difference as Europe having history and [arts] culture and South America has nature. I feel he was talking through the prism of Tourism but it applies. Latin culture has a vibrancy and joie de vivre all its own that travelers often miss the most.
      Though there are similar differences like language barrier I feel its not as comparable. Europe is connected to its neighbours with the bridge language of English whereas its Spanish in South America. Also despite living in ritzier quarters the existential reality of crime and poverty is still part of the experience.
      I’ve always enjoyed your straight talk and passion so i’m looking forward to seeing your future perspectives. With your usual good humour of course.

    1. I really enjoy Latin America, possibly because I can communicate better than anywhere else I go where English isn’t the official language. Let me know what you think once you visit. Just pack your patience.

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