Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Belo Horizonte vs. Rio de Janeiro

Belo Horizonte
Rio de Janeiro

We had the privilege of visiting Rio de Janeiro for 6 days in January.  My dear hubby has been there a few time for work, but it was the first time for the rest us, and for my parents.  It was amazing.  I can totally understand why people want to live there, and I have to admit I was quite taken by it all. Granted, I was also on vacation, so I had very few responsibilities, no laundry, no driving.  We flew there and took taxis to get around because 1) my hubby found tickets for less than R$200 round trip and 2) the penthouse we stayed in had no parking spot and 3) the mere thought of driving in an unfamiliar city known for its crazy traffic gave me the heebie jeebies.  We also ate out a lot.  So, I realize that my experience in Rio was made even more amazing because I was just there to relax and have fun.  Plus we were mainly in Copacabana, so please take all this with a grain of salt. 

But all that said, I have some comparisons to make between Rio and Belo Horizonte.

1.  Beauty.  Rio de Janeiro is beautiful:  there is the beach, the ocean, the mountains, sunset, Cristo Redentor, Pão de Açucar.  There are certainly parts that are not so beautiful.  We went to Centro to go to Confeitaria Colombo and then we walked to the Theatro Municipal, and it was certainly dirty and not such a great neighborhood (at least from appearances).  But I would have to say that the ugly views are well balanced by the very, very beautiful parts.  Although Belo Horizonte might mean "beautiful horizon" it is not by any means a beautiful city.  Sure the view from Mangabeiras Park is nice, and the Serra do Curral (the mountains "behind" Mangabeiras Park) are beautiful, but it is not very easy to see this part of Belo Horizonte.  And miles and miles and miles of high rise apartments are not my idea of beauty.  And even though Belo is called "the garden city," and there are some streets that still have nice trees, over all it is just not very visually attractive. 

2.  Tourism.  Rio de Janeiro hosts lots of lots of tourists from Brazil and the world.  Belo Horizonte is NOT a tourist destination.  Rio de Janeiro has resources to cater to tourists, and Cariocas (people who live in Rio) for the most part know how to welcome tourists and help out.  Belo Horizonte just doesn't have many great tourist attractions.  There's the Mercado Central, some parks, some museums, but honestly, it's not worth adding an extra day to your tour of Brazil to come visit Belo Horionte.  Just saying. 

3.  Accessibility.  We found Rio de Janeiro to be walkable.  This means that there were places that were flat, that had good sidewalks, and that we didn't feel like we were risking our lives when we crossed the streets.  In Belo Horizonte, the sidewalks are HORRIBLE, it is terribly hilly (if you aren't walking uphill or going downhill it means that you are standing still), and drivers here have no tolerance for pedestrians.  This was the thing that surprised me the most.  I think that Mineiros (people from Minas Gerais), or perhaps specifically just people from Belo Horizonte get really mean when they get behind the wheel.  They don't take traffic sign and signals seriously, they drive crazy fast, and they don't like stopping for pedestrians.  Unfortunately pedestrians here compensate by being stupid and running in front of cars.  But overall, drivers were MUCH nicer in Rio.

4.  How things work.  In Rio, the taxi drivers refused to stop at the side of the road to let us out because it was against the law and they could get fined.  Maybe I'm reading way too much into this, but I was very impressed by this.  There is a street in our neighborhood that has several NO PARKING signs, and any time a car parks in front of the NO PARKING signs, they block traffic and it causes cars to back up and it just makes a mess.  But no one cars, and people are always parking there.  In fact, in Belo, people stop their cars wherever they want to, whenever they want to.  I would like to say that I have never participated in this kind of behavior, but when in Rome...

5.  Cleanliness.  I found Rio to be overall a much cleaner city than Belo Horizonte.  Maybe it's because we were in Copacabana, but it was nice.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that Rio is a clean city, but compared to Belo Horizonte, it was cleaner.  I didn't see any dog poop on the side walk the whole time I was there!  Unfortunately, there is a lot of trash and dog poop in the street and on the sidewalk here.

6.  Expense.  I didn't find the prices to be all that much difference in Rio as compared to Belo Horizonte.  There were some things that were much cheaper (groceries! clothing!), and other things that were more expensive (eating out).  I assumed that Rio would be more expensive.  But then again, I didn't look into renting any apartments....

I think that I was expecting Rio to feel more dangerous, a little darker and meaner than Belo Horizonte.  But I was surprised.  My son said that when he grows up and has his own family, he's going to live in Rio de Janeiro.  I'd move there with him!


  1. Always like to read your observations. I have never been to Rio except at the airport so I cannot compare the two cities. I will say however that I frequently tell people I always feel safe walking in BH because although the drivers can be crazy aggressive, they obey the traffic lights for pedestrians. I always look of course when I leave the curb but the cars are behind the lights. Ha yes the hills! Great for me though as I lost 10 lbs with all that walking, up hill both ways, carrying groceries on my back. As for BH being not a tourist town...I loved that. I always say because of that, other tourists have not spoiled it for me. Every store worker took me for a local at first ( even though I have brown hair and light skin) and because I spoke English I was a novelty. I was always fussed over and given special treatment. Maybe they are like that with everyone? But, like you on holiday in a city, I loved every day I was in BH.

    1. Hi Susan! I wish I could say that people obey the traffic lights (stop signs) for pedestrians in our neighborhood. Even walking with 2 children, people do NOT stop. My husband has taken to waving at people, and he gets a lot of waves back, but sometimes he has to actually step in front of the cars to get them to stop so we can cross the street! There was a campaign in our neighborhood at Christmas, and the city put up a sign that read "For Christmas, obey the traffic signals!" I thought that was sadly funny.

  2. Rio and SP are for sure much more welcoming for foreigners, They are international cities!
    The beauty of Rio is mesmerizing and enchanting! but many of your observations were due to the fact that you where on holiday in a great neighborhood.
    Living there is another story, and trust me Rio is very expensive, meaning rent, schooling, home helper and etc...
    As Susan said in Bh foreigns always stand out, at first it might be nice but after a while it might be good to blend in a litle more! Great post!

    1. And I had it both ways. Incognito when I wanted and a tourist another day.

    2. Thanks Fernando--I would agree that it would be nice to blend in a bit. But it's hard with 3 kids (including a red head) that insist on only speaking English with each other. We are like a circus show as we walk around town, and there are so many people I've met for the first time who "know" us because so many people are talking about us in the neighborhood!

    3. Susan and Shelley, appearance wise I believe you can always blend in Brazil, in fact gingers are not common in here, but they exist if not in BH in other parts of Brazil.
      But if you speak in other language, everybody will stare at you! Not so long ago it was really uncommon to see foreigners in BH, 10 years ago we did not have a single international flight to this city, not even people from other regions of Brazil were coming as they are now.

  3. There is a marked difference between the Zona Sul and Zona Norte in Rio. If you had spent time in the Zona Norte, it structurally would have seemed a lot more like Belo. I dislike what I always perceived as the "gringo rate" in Rio, where there was different pricing for tourists and locals. Rio is truly the cidade maravilhosa if you can live in the Zona Sul. One of the things I like about Belo is that you don't have to live in only one part of town to live well. That said when I go to Rio I indulge in Zona Sul living as much as my pocketbook will allow.

  4. I can't really talk 'cause I have a soft spot for BH. I lived there for 6+ years after all. I do think it's a nice looking city, maybe because it's on the smaller side, the centro is still dirty, but it used to be much much much worse, when I first moved there in 2002, centro was the scariest place ever, so dirty, and stinky, and full of bums, drug users, and camelôs... it's gotten so much better.

    "Obras na Cristiano Machado" aside, and I really like the way the city's organized. I lived in Sao Paulo for about two years and, while I like SP too, a lot, SP is all over the place, everything is so far away. In BH you have an area for hospitals, another for shopping, you have Savassi for "butecos," and clubs, and the centro/Santa Teresa/Floresta/Lourdes which is where most of the cultural stuff is... it may be easier for me 'cause I definitely have a "mental map" of BH in my head.

    Now, I do have to agree with you that traffic in BH is the worst thing ever. I haaaaate it so much! I've crossed a few crosswalks while drivers were completely ignoring them, and screamed at them for not stopping while pointing the the crosswalk I was walking on. I've also punched quite a few hoods on cars that stop on said crosswalks when the red lights are on obstructing the way. I gave my poor grandma lots of mini heart attacks for doing it. Drivers got sooo angry, she thought I'd get killed many times. haha

    But yeah, nothing beats Rio in terms of beauty. I'm the same, if I could choose a place to live, I'd choose Rio. Although, it would have to be in Zona Sul, and by the beach, otherwise I'd never survive the heat. I liked public transport in Rio a lot too, it's fast, clean, and there are tons of options for buses, at least in Zona Sul, and cabs seemed less expensive than in BH, but I can't say for sure because like you, I was in Rio only on vacation, and it could be the the beautiful views cluttered my judgement. Glad it was a fun vacation for you!

  5. I concur... I like Rio better than BH, overall.

  6. I would like to say that this blog really convinced me, you give me best information! Thanks, very good post.

    Rio de janeiro apartment