Rolling Around Rio de Janeiro: A Wheelchair User’s Travel Guide


Often times when traveling outside your home country, it can be somewhat of a mixed experience if you are a wheelchair user. Some countries are really good at making places accessible and user-friendly, while others are not quite up to speed. Brazil can be one of those places that tends to be caught in between. There is a recognition of the fact that not everybody walks around to get to their destinations, but sometimes they need to be reminded that in this case it is not the thought that counts. To that end, here is a guide to rolling around Rio de Janeiro. Hopefully it can come in handy during your stay.

wheelchair accessible rio de janeiro


Metro vs. Farmland

For starters, on the plus side the city is quite large. This always translates into more accessible options when you are traveling. The more rural you get into the hill country of Brazil, the more likely you are to find yourself doing one of two things; either turning around from heat and exhaustion, or coming back with the world’s biggest forearms from all of that uphill rolling if you are in a manual wheelchair.

When it comes to Rio de Janeiro though, you have some options when navigating the city. First, at the major shopping malls there are handicap spaces and accessible ramps. However, there can be a lack of disregard at times when it comes to these spaces. Just keep that in mind when you are traveling. Most major shopping destinations also have elevators as well. This is always useful.

Other Forms of Transportation

If you are traveling on a budget you might be surprised to learn that taxis are not as expensive as they are in other places throughout the world. More good news is that there are wheelchair accessible taxis in Rio. They come equipped with a rear lift and tie-downs inside to secure your wheelchair. For more information and to book these accessible taxis, visit Furthermore, tipping cab drivers is not customary in Rio de Janeiro. Yet that is not to say if the driver has gone above and beyond what is expected, a little extra cash in his hand would certainly not ruin his day. One or two cash tips and you might find that you have a faithful guide who is willing to take you all over the city.


wheelchair accessible rio de janeiro



Another option to consider is hiring a public driver. If the thought of riding the bus all over town makes you cringe, then this might be the perfect option for you. Keep in mind, the bus is handicap accessible, so the reliability there is not an issue. However, any time that buses are involved there’s always the matter of waiting at the stops and planning your day around those main bus lines. Also, I’ve had a couple interesting bus experiences in the past. One time I was riding the bus in Los Angeles and a fight broke out, and another time I was riding a bus in Washington, DC and the bus caught on fire. Yes, it literally caught on fire and the firemen had to carry me off the bus. It was crazy, and scary!

Hiring a private driver does a few things for you. First, it takes the bus schedule out of the picture. This means you have more time for exploring the sites that you would like to see. Second, it is not as expensive as you might think. Typically, a four day stay in the city will run about $300 or so if you hire a private driver to be your guide. If you have time to save up that little bit of extra money, it would be well worth it. Remember that vehicles in Brazil tend to be smaller than others so fitting a wheelchair inside will be difficult if not impossible. However, when booking the driver make sure to mention that you need a vehicle that is accessible and this should not be a problem.




Plan Your Day Well

The thing to keep in mind about Rio de Janeiro is that it is full of hills. In order for both you and your wheelchair battery to keep from being absolutely exhausted at the end of the day it is essential that you find a way for something else to get you up, over and around these hills. You will be fine on flat areas, however, Brazilian sidewalks are not kept up as well as they would be in many other larger and more developed countries. Expect to dodge cracks and potholes regularly. This is all just part of rolling around in a developing country.


wheelchair accessible rio de janeiro



Between the cab drivers, private drivers, and bus lines, you will be able to navigate the city and see all of the favorite tourist spots like Cristo Redentor, the tall statue of Christ that towers over Rio. This famous statue does have an elevator part of the way up, but if you want to go to the very top there is a flight of stairs unfortunately. If you’re in a manual chair then the kind people of Brazil will probably help carry you up the stairs if you ask. However, it would be quite impossible for a power chair. Just make sure to plan your day wisely and factor in the weather. If it is an overcast day, you will be able to go to more places outside since the heat will not be as overwhelming. Sunny days are great for shopping malls, museums, and other indoor activities. Carry plenty of water to keep yourself well hydrated, as well as some spare change in case you need to snag an emergency bus pass or need to purchase a cold drink.


Rio de Janeiro may not be completely accessible, but putting the above information to use will make the city easier to navigate. Like I always say, as a wheelchair user you have to be willing to get a bit creative when traveling. If you can do that then the world truly is your oyster.



*I have not visited Rio de Janeiro. All information was found online from various sources. 




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