If you are visiting the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil there are several spots that have to be part of your tour. Question then is whether you should go on your own, use private tour guide with car or minivan, or take a bus tour.
I am here talking about tours within the city of Rio de Janeiro. If you are going on tour to other cities within the State, the main time is spent on the road so taking a bus is usually the best option.
For any tours within the city of Rio de Janeiro you should try to avoid taking bus tour. You will not save much and the disadvantages are numerous. Main disadvantage is time related. It will often take ages to pick up the other passengers. Copacabana and Ipanema are very busy neighbourhoods and it will be a shame spending a large portion of your morning stuck in traffic. Same applies when visiting tour spots. In large groups the tour doesn´t move quicker than the slowest person.
Question then becomes: Where to visit on your own and where to utilize car or a mini-van tour service?
Sugarloaf is the famous mountain structure just in the entrance of Guanabara Bay which leads to city center. The birthplace of Rio de Janeiro lies by its feet. Sugarloaf is close to the roadway heading to Christ the Redeemer and to city center. Still, it is one place you can visit without tour guide or being in a tour. Advantage with guide is that you will get added information about the area and you do not have to think twice about how to get there. Problem is that the tour generally have time constraints and Sugarloaf is a nice place to sit down and relax if you feel like it.
As with most cities you will not need a guide for a city tour. However, not using a tour guide will demand more research on your part before the visit and it will naturally be slower. However, traveling to and from the city center from south zone is easy via the metro system, with bus and taxi being other options.
The neighborhood of Santa Teresa, together with city center, is an optional visit. A visit to Santa Teresa can be done by foot for someone who do not mind walking 30 minutes up hill.
The visit one seriously should consider using private tour guide is to the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue. Getting there seem easily enough. You take the metro to Largo do Machado and walk or take a bus up to the train station. There are however significant drawbacks with this approach. One of them is the train station itself. If you are visiting in high season it often have huge lines and delays. It also costs around $10 more per person compared to Paineiras station.
If you take tour with mini-van or private tour guide you will arrive at Paineiras station. This station is much quicker both to get up and down. With private tour guide there usually is time to stop in a second spot close by the statue – Dona Marta. Unfortunately, from my experience with group tours there is often some issue that makes it necessary to drop this stop. It can be awful traffic or someone in the group that moves very slowly. With private tour it is much easier to make a stop hyper quick or you yourself get to choose how time should be managed.
Beyond the advantages already mentioned one huge advantage with guide is that you can combine a tour to Christ the Redeemer with other tour spots. From the statue there is easy access to Santa Teresa where you from the top also has a great view of downtown. As mentioned you can visit this spot on your own using public transport, however this will in itself take more than half a day. Same with downtown which you can visit on your own, but using car service will make it much easier and more places will become accessible.
Of the less common spots one need car or jeep to visit Tijuca Forest. The forest is worth a visit if you go by “The Chinese View” which gives a great view of the Lagoon from almost the opposite end of Christ the Redeemer.
Lastly, it goes without saying that if you intend to visit a Favela you have to do this with a tour guide.