Cynthia Jacques and family in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
If you’ve followed Survivor Tocantins this past season as I have, you’ve no doubt marveled at the breathtaking terrain, waterfalls, and wildlife that can be found in Brazil. While the remote Tocantins highlands may be only a distant relative of populous Rio de Janeiro, the third largest city in South America (after Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo), you’ll still find intriguing terrain surrounding the city and an amazing amount of green space right within Rio’s boundaries. In fact, both the largest and second largest urban forests in the world are located in Rio itself.
Rio is also home to one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the 120-foot tall statue “Christ the Redeemer” (Cristo Retendor in Portuguese) which overlooks the city from atop Corcovado Mountain. Add to that world-famous beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana, sizzling sambas, and a crazy Canival celebration, and it’s no wonder the city is nicknamed “Cidade Maravilhosa," the marvelous city.
Cynthia Jacques, a speech and language therapist and mother of three who lives in Rio de Janeiro, was kind enough to answer my questions about life as a mother in Rio. As the bilingual blogger behind Kids in Rio (which she publishes in both English and Portuguese) and founder of the new Kids in Rio website (www.kidsinrio.com.br), I knew she’d have terrific answers and plenty of tips for those of you who might be planning a visit to Rio with children.
Q: Cynthia, how many “kids in Rio” are you chasing these days? And what are some of your favorite activities to do together?
Cynthia: I have a 13-year-old daughter and two step sons from my second marriage, ages 8 and 4 years old. As anyone can imagine, it’s not easy finding activities for everyone to enjoy together.
My husband and I love to travel (they just got back from Orlando, FL), though most of my travel experiences with kids are nearby and by car. For car trips, we go to Buzios to enjoy beautiful beaches; to Sao Paulo for nice meals, great museums and parks; to Campinas and Campos do Jordao for a country side trip; and to Curitiba for a little bit of cold and great views.
Because of time and money, it isn’t easy to travel around. Thankfully, there is much to enjoy right in Rio de Janeiro, with its beaches, waterfalls, mountains, great museums, and cultural centers — and most of the places are very friendly to kids.
Q: Any favorite spots in the city you’d recommend to visitors with kids?
Cynthia: I recommend Parque Lage, a public park full of green where you can take long walks while the kids enjoy picnics, getting into caves, watching the fish. Entry is free.
Also, Jardim Botânico, placed by our emperor Dom João VI. It has many different trees and flowers species. Kids can also run wild. It has a small park with picnic tables. There is an entrance and parking fee.
Q: Which are the best beaches in Rio to visit with children?
Cynthia: There are lots of them. Some places are better to go with kids, like Baixo Bebê at Leblon beach, in front of Gal. Venâncio Flores St., where they have reserved space for the kids with lots of toys. Prainha, is a bit far, but very clean and beautiful. Any place at Ipanema and Barra is good, but when it`s sunny and specially on weekends, the beaches get crowded, so you must take good care and keep close eyes on kids to avoid that they get lost. At Arpoador Beach you can see one of the most beautiful sunsets ever!
You can’t get in the water — or shouldn’t — at Lagoa because it is dirty, but, there are lots of kids playgrounds around its shore. The 2 best choices are Parque dos Patins where you can rent bikes or battery-powered cars. There is a roller skating rink and plenty of nice places to eat. At Cantagalo Park you can ride “swans” around Lagoa — without getting wet.
Q: Where can we take the kids to experience some Brazillian culture?
Cynthia: At Museu da Marinha you can visit battle ship and a submarine for free. They also have a guided visit to an island where the Portuguese colony used to have beautiful parties. And Pedra Bonita is where people go tandem flying (paragliding). Kids love to see people taking off and the view is incomparable.
Q: Is it common to see children in the restaurants in Rio, and are there any particularly kid-friendly places to eat?
Cynthia: Most of the restaurants in Rio don’t have restrictions about kids. Lots of places have special plates or playground area for the kids. There is no different or special etiquette for kids in restaurants. As you may find, not even for adults – Rio likes to be a relaxed place, where you can go to most of the restaurants with your beach T-shirt and havaianas sandals.
Two restaurants I recommend for kids are: Porcao – this is a “churrascaria” (typical Brazilian barbecue), with delicious meat, a great variety of food, for any taste. It’s also great because there is a park inside it for the kids to play, so you can take as long as you want eating while your kids have fun after having a great meal. Also, Loft – this is actually a food complex, with pizza, juices and sandwiches bar, deli, self service buffet restaurant and an Italian restaurant. If you don’t mind that your kids have snacks instead of real food for one day, you can leave them on the park where they have bread, hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream and sweets, while you can have a nice quiet lunch.
Q: How is the public transportation in Rio? Is it possible for tourists with small children to get around taking buses and subways?
Cynthia: The public transportation in Brazil is not that good. We have an intense traffic in Rio, yet the subway doesn’t go to many places in Zona Sul, where the best things in Rio are. There are a few buses with air conditioning, which you will find important especially during the summer. But there are lots of them at Zona Sul, to most everyplace you need to go. This is certainly not the best choice if you have many bags or packs, or a stroller. The subway is comfortable and fast, with air conditioning, but it’s a short network of trains especially in the Zona Sul area. They have extended the network using complementary buses, that way, you can buy a specific ticket to get the subway and go further by bus. It’s also cheap.
Q: Are taxis a good way to get around Rio?
Cynthia: Although we have intense traffic, it can be a very comfortable way to go around. In Rio, taxis are not very expensive, and most have air conditioning. You can also choose a larger car since they have a big variety and take all the bags and strollers you need. There are plenty of taxis most of the places and you can also ask for one by phone.
Q: Before I go, what would you say it’s like to be a mom in Brazil today? Has it changed very much since you were growing up?
Cynthia: It is different nowadays because when I was young it was still usual that moms didn’t work, meaning that they would work at home, taking care of the house and kids and dads would work to guarantee money support. It has changed a lot! Most of the moms work outside the house now, and the dads are very helpful with kids.
Another big change is the number of divorces and single moms, but an important change is that in divorces you now see parents sharing all responsibilities of the children – money, transportation, education and, most of all, spending time with them.
Either together or separated, parents are dedicating what free time they have to their children’s fun and entertainment to compensate for all the time away from kids because of working hours. Still, it’s not the same as having a 24-hour mom watching over you like it used to be!
Q: I’ve heard that breastfeeding didn’t used to be so popular in Brazil, and was kind of a “class status” issue. Do you think that’s true? And has it changed it all?
Cynthia: When I was a baby it was very common to use formulas for feeding babies. Pediatricians would indicate formulas to substitute for or supplement breastfeeding in many cases, like if the baby woke too many times at night, even when there was no problem at all. Today, Brazil has a great campaign on breastfeeding and it’s popular in any social class and doesn’t mean upper or lower status. There are some hospitals called “Amigo da Criança” (Children’s Friend Hospital) that doesn’t accept bottles or pacifiers to help stimulate the breastfeeding first.
Q: So are most moms pretty comfortable breastfeeding in public in Rio?
Cynthia: Yes, now moms can be comfortable breastfeeding their babies anywhere because nobody minds it. It’s common to see breastfeeding moms in restaurants, the subway and malls.
So, breastfeeding here won’t be a problem for traveling moms!
Q: What should visiting parents know about car seat laws in Rio?
Cynthia: Children should always be in the back seat. Until 4 years old, they must be in car seats, and between 4 and 7½ years in booster seats. From 7½ years old and up, they should use seat belts. However, even though the law already exists, surveillance will only start on 2010.
Q: Where can parents find baby supplies like diapers, baby food, and other things they might need?
Cynthia: Baby food and diapers are also easy to find in pharmacies and drugstores, and also in supermarkets and convenience stores like Lojas Americanas and even at the gas station stores. Medications, such as antipyretic, pain reliever, stomach ache reliever and carminative can be easily found and bought in pharmacies and drugstores. And those stores are easy to find in Rio — sometimes more than 2 of them at the same block.
Q: Good tips. Do you have any other advice for parents visiting Rio with small children?
Cynthia: Rio still has plenty of nature inside the city, which means we also have bugs, especially mosquitoes. So you should always have repellent in your bag. You can buy it in pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores.
Thank you so much for sharing your tips and insights, Cynthia. It’s been a real pleasure learning more about Rio. For any of you planning travel to Rio with kids, be sure to check out her new website www.kidsinrio.com.br.Thanks also to the contributing photographers for this article and the Rio slideshow below (don't miss it).
Can you guess where we're headed next? We'll meet a mom living in a wine capitol that's a 30-hour journey by airplane from Rio, by way of Atlanta. Hint: She's not in Italy. Click here to find out.
Shelly Rivoli is the author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children.
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