Buses are still the cheapest and most convenient way to get around the South Zone (Zona Sul) of the city due to the high number and frequency of lines running through the area, and from there reach all the main tourist and nightlife spots as well. For the adventurous or budget traveler, it is worth asking your hotel or hostel employees how to navigate the system or which routes to take to arrive at specific locations.
Buses are a cheap and nice way to get around by day, while still being mindful of questionable characters and one's belongings. By night they are more scarce, and most lines will usually not be running by the time the bars and clubs are full. Buses start at R$ 2.20 (as of March 2009), but some buses with air conditioning charge higher fares. The fare is paid in cash to a controller or the driver inside the bus, by passing through a roulette. There are no tickets. Some residents and students have a digital card for free pass. Keep an eye out for pickpockets when the bus is crowded, and don't be surprised if your driver goes a little faster than you'd like. Except for minibuses, all buses have two doors: passengers get in through the front door and get off through the back (it was otherwise until 2001-2002).
Bus stops in the South Zone are often equipped with a shelter and a bench, but sometimes, far from tourist areas, they are less obvious and have no signs at all - you might have to ask. As a general rule in most parts of Brazil, buses stop only when you hail them, by extending the arm. If you don't hail and there are no passengers waiting to get off, the bus simply won't stop. The same can be said if you are on the bus wanting to get off at a particular stop. You should know the surroundings or the name of the intersection of the area you are going, or inquire to the employee operating the roulette, so you can signal to the driver that you want to get off, or he may not stop! There are no schedules nor timetables. Usually buses run no longer than every 15 minutes. However, they can run an hour or longer late at night or in further off areas of town.
There are 831 bus lines in Rio, but while they cover nearly all of the city, they might seem confusing to visitors, especially foreigners. Many lines differ only a few streets from each other in their itineraries, and some even have variants within the same line. Bus lines with a * or a letter means that this bus has a variant. It means that there may be a bus with the same name, same number, same origin, even same destination but with a complete different tour. Lines are numbered accordingly to the general route they serve:
- beginning with 1 - South Zone/Downtown
- beginning with 2 - North Zone/Downtown
- beginning with 3 - West Zone/Downtown
- beginning with 5 - within South Zone
- beginning with 6 - North Zone/West Zone
- beginning with 7 and 9 - from Rio to neighboring cities (Niterói, Duque de Caxias, Nova Iguaçu etc.)
- beginning with 8 - within West Zone
Most popular lines for tourists are 583 and 584 (from Copacabana and Ipanema to Corcovado railway station), as well as 464 and 435 (from Copacabana to Maracanã). Buses 511 (Ataulfo de Paiva) and 512 (Bartholomeu Mitre) are also popular as they take you to Urca for the station to take the cable car up the Sugar Loaf mountain. Typically bus drivers and controllers won't understand any foreign language. If you can't speak Portuguese at all, use a map. Trying to speak Spanish is usually not as fruitful as one might expect.
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Based on a work at Wikitravel.org & Traveldudes.org.