How to use the Rio Metro (Beginners Guide)

A few weeks ago my wife and I were accosted as we entered our local metro station in Glória. But before you start thinking this is going to be another tale of Rio’s notorious violence, I should make it clear that the only law enforcement team we needed were the Manners Police

A middle aged South African guy came up to us and frantically shouted “Finally! Someone who speaks English”. He went on to demand that we tell him how to get to Ipanema, going on to mention that he and his wife (who had wordlessly appeared at his side) were completely lost and no one could explain anything to him. We were happy to help, but were both quite taken aback by his slightly rude, aggressive stance through all this. Like what had taken us so long to get there to help him?

Metro Rio – nothing here to be scared of (but don’t expect the staff to speak English).

Not that I particularly want to help him again, but I thought it might be nice to put together some simple guidelines for someone coming to Rio who wanted to save some cash on taxis. 


1. Get yourself a ticket
Once you’ve got into the metro station you should see a fairly obvious set of ticket booths. 

Tickets please!

If you can’t see the ticket booths, just look for the sign which says Bilheteria. Queue up here and when you get to a booth you can just hold up the number of fingers that you want tickets. For one, say “Oom”; for two, say “Doysh” – and remember to tag on a “por favor” and a smile at the end. Try not to pay with massive bills. It doesn’t matter where you’re going – one journey currently costs R$3.20. You will be handed a credit card-like ticket. 

2. Get through the turnstiles
Now look for the turnstiles. You will probably see people going through them and swiping their cards. BUT, don’t try swiping your card. There are a bunch of different card readers with various different scanning mechanisms but you won’t swipe your card – you will post yours. Look for this:

You need to post your card into the slot at the front of this turnstile. 

The card will sit half way down in the slot while the machine reads it. Then the machine will suck the rest of the card in, a green light will show and you can now walk through the turnstile. Don’t worry about the ticket, it doesn’t come back to you and you don’t need it again.

3. Which direction are you headed?
Find your current and destination stations on the map, then find the name of the station that is at the end of the line. This end station will be mentioned on the signs at the top of the stairs that lead down to the different platforms. Find the platform you need and wait for a train. TIP: look at the other people around you waiting for a train. Are they all women? If they are (and you aren’t) then walk down the platform until you find some guys – that was a women’s only area. 

Waiting for the train. Guys and girls means this carriage is for everyone.

4. Get on, get off
If you are travelling during peak times you may find there is a bit of jostling to get a seat. I have a video of this which I will show you sometime as it’s pretty funny. Anyway, assuming you’re not going too far then I wouldn’t worry too much – it’s a nice system: good air conditioning, modern trains and you don’t get overcrowding London/Tokyo style. Keep an eye out for your stop and be ready to get out quickly when the doors open.

This was at around 7.15pm on Friday. I didn’t get a seat, but you can see there is plenty of room.

5. Surface to air
Having left the train, follow the exit signs (Saída) until you see the exit turnstiles. No need for any tickets or swiping, just push your way through and look for the way out of the station.

This way out.

So that is my Rio Metro Guide for complete beginners. Not necessarily the cleverest way to use the system, but way cheaper than taking taxis everywhere and hopefully this is fairly foolproof. 

Personally I think the Rio Metro system is great, I just wish there was more of it. There are big expansion plans linked to the 2016 Olympics which I am waiting for impatiently. 

One final thing, if you find yourself in the neighbourhoods of Leblon, Gávea, Jardim Botanico, Humaitá or Botafogo, you may see references to Metrô na Superfície – don’t be fooled by this. These are buses. I’m sorry, but no matter how you try to dress it up, a metro system which uses buses on roads to take you between stations is not a metro system, that is a bus system. 

A bus. Not a Metro. You’re fooling no one.
6 replies
  1. Ray and Gil
    Ray and Gil says:

    Hey Tom, that looks like a heck of a nice bus!
    Quite an improvement from the last time I took a bus in Rio 😉

    Great post!


  2. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    I think a better suited name for those buses which reference subway stations as the beginning and end of their routes would be Entre Estações. They should display a Metrô logo though for the sake of clarity.
    The Blue Peacock has been on my mind lately by the way. Now if I hit Rio I'll know how to use the subway system to get there. Thank you.
    Oh, I dated a South African once and she was a sweetie, a very polite girl. What a shame that the ones you met were not like this. I actually remember her mentioning that SA hosts a sizeable Portuguese community so I am thinking they probably have their own Bac Ball establishments. Never been though, I hear Cape Town is nice.

  3. Tom Le Mesurier
    Tom Le Mesurier says:

    Hi Ray, they are quite nice aren't they? But if you like that one then I have got a treat for you! During my time in Rio it seems I have become a bit of a bus nerd and recently there has been something new (and very cool!) rolling around Rio! I'll show you next post!

    @Gritty Yeah, maybe a bit unfair to mention that the guy was South African – he was just lost and confused. I spent a while in RSA though never made it to Capetown – also heard very good things. And yep, there's no escaping them there cows right now!

  4. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    At Carnival in 2012, I got left behind by my friends in Centro and after waiting several hours to sober up and figuring out my friends weren’t looking for me I had to find my way back. Luckily we took the Metro. Unfortunately I got turned around and couldn’t figure out where the Metro station was.

    After 2-3 hours of wandering around, I finally asked someone at the bus station, who pointed me to someone else who could help. I asked her and she told me to walk back to the street to my right and it was on the left. The street was Carioca, and I got to the intersection, I still couldn’t find the station. I asked a guard and he told me the answer, but I didn’t quite understand, and then he held his arms up in an X and when I looked I saw the X on a wall. I thanked him and walked to the X. I was able to buy my ticket, found the right carriage, and kept track of every stop and referencing the map to make sure I got off at Botafoga.

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Ha ha ha! Carnival adventures eh? I reckon it was a good thing you were using the Metro and not the buses. They can be way more confusing! 😉

      Glad you made it back in one piece.


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