Here are some basic tips on how to handle your arrival in Rio.
1. The flight is always overnight. There are only a few US cities that serve Rio: Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and New York.
The flight from Atlanta on Delta is probably the best because it is only eight or nine hours and arrives early in the morning. You sleep most of the flight then get there just as you are waking up. The flight from Houston on Continental arrives around noon, after a stop in Sao Paulo. I do not like the layover, nor do I like arriving in Rio at noon. In Sao Paulo, security and maintanence people come on the plane and distrupt your sleep. You have to show them your passpost and seat assignment. The cleaning people take and throw away anything not claimed. Once they threw away an expensive library book I had brought that had slid off my seat.
On departure, Delta leaves Rio at 10pm, giving you a whole a day at the beach before leaving. Continental leaves at 7, which is not bad, but not as good. And this is another reason why I rent an apartment; hotels will charge you for another day or half-day if you check out after noon. The apartment renters I mention here and most in Rio will not do so. You basically get a free day in Rio.
2. Your apartment renter should have a driver there to pick you up. There will be lots of taxi divers around offering rides. Once they hear you have an apartment many will leave you alone; an apartment is proof you are an informed traveler, rather than a green newbie. You can also take the Real Onibus to Copacabana or Ipanema Beach for around 5 Reais, or $2.5US. The bus ride takes around 1-2 hours depending on traffic. I like having a personal driver, though it costs more at R60-70, because it alleviates the need to wait for the bus to arrive and the long ride through downtown. Plus, the driver takes you directly to your apartment while the bus ride may require a walk of a few blocks.
3. Take dollars with you to change over. Most travelers to Rio have money in their carry on bag because that is the only way to get a decent rate of exchange. I have never had any problems doing so. You can also use an ATM once in Rio. Sometimes, depending on the rate, going to an ATM will be better, but then most US banks tack on fees that enerveate any advantages of using ATMs.
4. DO NOT CHANGE MONEY IN THE AIRPORT. Kindly say no to any offers to change over your dollars to Brazilan reais in the airport. The exchange rate they will give you will be awful.. Once in Copacabana or Ipanema any money exchange house (cambio) will give you decent rates. Yesterday, I got 1.75R for every US dollar. The official rate was 1.756 for every dollar. In the airport, the guys would have told me, “the official rate is 1.7 so I will give you the best deal in the city on the black market at 1.5.” Many tourist fall for this and lose money. And do not change over money in US airports either; the rate is even worse than the Brazilian black market rate.
5. If you do need money to get to your apartment or hotel, then you should withdraw a little from one of the airport ATM machines. Then go to an exchange house to change over your dollars.
6. Before the apartment renter leaves be sure of a few things: that the hot water works and is turned on (Brazilians like their water cold); the key (chaves) actually work and that YOU can use them (Brazilian locks at times require little tricky key insertion angles to deter thiefs); that you know how to turn on the internet and/or cable TV.