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To be honest, most people don’t think of scuba diving when they think of Rio de Janeiro. But this South American city is actually an awesome place for an underwater adventure!
Yep, that’s right: there’s more to this coastal metropolis than the Carnival celebration and Christ the Redeemer (as great as both of those are). Its seaside location also means that there’s lots of natural beauty to explore, and it’s an awesome and affordable place to go scuba diving.
In fact, as experienced divers ourselves, we think Rio de Janeiro is actually one of the best places to dive in the whole of Brazil. That’s really saying something, given what a huge country Brazil is! That’s why we’ve compiled this guide containing everything you need to know before going scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro. So let’s dive in (pun fully intended!).
1. About scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro has a tropical climate, and its waters are calm and warm, with an average temperature of 21-26°C (70-79°F). Meanwhile, visibility ranges from 5-20 meters (16-65 feet). This isn’t quite as amazing as you might find scuba diving in Mexico, but it’s still pretty good overall.
To be honest, a lot of the dive sites closest to Rio de Janeiro have been damaged by over-tourism. As such, the best thing to do is book a tour like this one that will take you out a little further. These more remote sites still retain their natural beauty and rich sea life.
And speaking of sea life, you can see lots of wonderful creatures around Rio, including squid, turtles, seahorses, and dolphins!
The Brazilian government is now also taking steps to protect marine life around its capital city. For example, the Cagarras Islands are now a protected marine area, and fishing, mining, and drilling have been banned here.
2. Why do I love scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro?
One of the main reasons I love scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro is that it boasts some amazing dive sites. It’s also pretty cheap to go diving here compared to lots of other countries I’ve been to! Plus, you don’t need to be a certified diver to enjoy diving here because you can do discovery dives (shallow, chaperoned dives for beginners).
Plus, I feel really comfortable diving in Rio de Janeiro because there are dive schools here with Western certifications and divemasters with thousands of hours under their belts. PADI is pretty much the gold standard of diving certifications. So, it’s always reassuring to find dive schools and instructors with this certification!
Eco-tourism is also on the up in Brazil, which is excellent news. It means that the more popular diving becomes here, the bigger incentive the local authorities have to preserve and protect marine ecosystems around the city.
Related Read: If you’re looking for other beautiful cities, this country is full of them! You can check out my favorite places in northeast Brazil here.
3. When is the best time to go scuba diving in Rio De Janeiro?
Rio has warm waters and good visibility all year round, so I wouldn’t say that there’s a bad time to go. However, the optimum time is between April and June. This is when you’ll get the best visibility since these months receive very little rain and few storms.
And in terms of the time of day, it’s usually best to go diving in the morning. Since it often takes a few hours to get to the best dive sites around Rio, this means that the best tours will leave very early. I will admit that it can be a very long day sometimes. However, it’s worth it for all of the sea life that you get to witness up close.
4. What can you see when scuba diving in Rio De Janeiro?
The dive sites around Rio de Janeiro are home to a plethora of amazing marine creatures, including groupers, angelfish, squid, seahorses, jellyfish, octopus, moray eels, and turtles. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be luckier!
When diving, remember to look for sealife under rocky areas. They are often hiding!
5. What are the best dive spots in Rio de Janeiro?
In 2010, the waters around the islands were designated the city’s first no-take marine zone, which means that fishing and other extractive activities are no longer allowed here. These measures have helped maintain the islands’ biodiversity, making them a great place to see marine life close to Rio de Janeiro.
I loved the rugged beauty of these islands, and the boat ride over is beautiful. You’re likely to spot barracuda, triggerfish, octopus, turtles, and rays around here, so it’s definitely worth donning your mask!
Arraial do Cabo
I think Arraial do Cabo is even better for scuba diving than the Cagarras Islands, but it is significantly further from Rio de Janeiro. It’s a gorgeous coastal town about 165 km (102 mi) from the capital, so it takes about 2.5 hours to drive there. This means a pretty long day if you want to dive here, but I think it’s worth it!
The bright blue waters of Arraial do Cabo provide excellent visibility for scuba divers, and its calm waters make it a great place for beginners to do discovery dives. You can see a huge variety of marine creatures here, including whales and dolphins!
6. Is scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro safe?
Yes! It’s just as safe to dive here as it is anywhere else in the world. When you take a diving tour here, you’ll be accompanied by PADI-certified divemasters who have a ton of experience. Plus, there aren’t any predators you need to worry about in these waters!
Related Read: If you’re concerned about safety on land, read our guide to staying safe in South America.
7. What are the best scuba diving tours in Rio de Janeiro?
There are many amazing tours in Rio de Janeiro, and of course, that includes scuba diving ones as well! But if you’re looking for the best of the best, keep reading. I’ve highlighted my top choices below with all the important details for each.
Private Diving Experience in Cagarra Island
On this private diving tour, you’ll sail from Rio to Cagarra Island, where you’ll explore the seabed and glimpse a fascinating array of marine life. During the return, you’ll be treated to an onboard barbecue. Overall, it’s the perfect day on (and in!) the water.
It’s suitable for certified and non-certified divers alike. Beginners get a theory lesson before they go and then do a shallow baptism/discovery dive with the help of a patient instructor. Meanwhile, certified divers can add a second tank dive for $20 USD. And for an extra $10 USD, you can get a video and photos of the whole experience – which we always opt for because underwater photos are so cool!
As well as diving, you get to enjoy a barbecue on the boat as you head back to Rio de Janeiro. I think is a really nice experience and a great way to reward yourself after your diving adventure! Plus, diving builds up quite the appetite!
The entire tour lasts 5 hours, starting around 8 am. You’ll need to make your own way to and from the meeting point in Urca. For $167 USD, you’ll get a boat ride, lunch, soda and water, scuba equipment, and experienced guides.
However, this tour only runs from Thursday to Sunday. So to enjoy the underwater beauty of Cagarra Island, secure this private diving experience online here!
All-Inclusive Scuba Diving Package
Again, this all-inclusive scuba diving tour is suitable for both first-time and certified divers. It’s a full-day tour with all transportation covered, making it very convenient. So slap on that sunscreen and swimsuit, and get ready for a day of fun in the sun!
If you’re staying in the South Zone, City Center, or Barra, you’ll be picked up bright and early at around 5:30 am. Then, you’ll drive 2 hours to Arraial do Cabo (my fave spot for snorkeling near Rio!).
Once you arrive, you’ll get a 30-minute instruction and safety briefing session. Then, you’ll head out on the boat for a 30-minute dive. While that sounds short – it actually felt like the perfect amount, particularly for newbies. Sailing between places was also half the fun, and you’ll want to have your camera ready to capture all the moments.
For the full-day experience, it’s pretty good value for money. Prices range from $125-$335 USD depending on your party size (max 15). For example, if you have a group of 4, it’s $157 USD per person, including transportation, your guides, and the scuba gear.
The word all-inclusive can be a bit misleading, though, since they don’t include food and drinks. So make sure to bring enough for the day, as you’ll get quite hungry after diving! It’s a pretty long day at around 10 hours – but I think it’s a great way to experience the beauty of marine life in Arraial do Cabo.
If you’ve been dreaming about diving at this location, here’s your chance. Check availability and book your tour here!
Day Trip to Arraial do Cabo from Rio
This day tour to Arraial do Cabo is very similar to the one above. However, you have the option to include underwater photos – the perfect memento to remember your trip! And while beginners get a 30-minute dive, certified divers get two 30-minute dives.
You’ll get roundtrip transportation from most Rio locations in an air-conditioned vehicle. Once you arrive, you’ll board the boat and head out to sea! The tour is suitable for certified and beginner divers, and you’ll get a 30-minute instruction session before diving in. It’s a full-day experience, but lunch is on your own account (although there will be snacks on the boat).
Pickup starts around 6 am, and the whole thing lasts about 10 hours – making it one of our favorite day trips from Rio! The transportation, your guides, and gear are all included. But you’ll need to pay the pier fee in local cash, which comes to about 10 BRL ($2 USD).
If you opt for the tour with underwater photos, it’ll cost $220-$345 per person (12 people max). Without the photos, it’s $178-$293 USD. I think the photos are a nice extra if you’re going alone or don’t have a GoPro with you. Because trust me, there are a lot of amazing creatures to capture in Arraial do Cabo!
To create (and capture) some new memories, pick a date to enjoy this awesome tour!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
8. Is scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro suitable for children?
Yes! Kids as young as 10 years old can join baptism dives and learn to scuba dive in Brazil. There’s even a PADI juniors course that allows kids to dive up to 18 meters (60 feet), depending on their age (when accompanied by an adult). However, the minimum age for receiving full certification is 15.
I really think that scuba diving in Rio de Janeiro is a fantastic family activity because it’s very suitable for beginners, as evidenced by the number of baptism/discovery dives available. Plus, what kid wouldn’t love swimming alongside turtles, dolphins, and seahorses?
9. Scuba diving vs snorkeling in Rio de Janeiro
All in all, I would much rather go scuba diving than snorkeling in Rio De Janeiro! You get to see so much more, and it feels like a much more adventurous experience. Staying underwater for so long really is an amazing feeling, and it’s hands down the best way to see marine life, wherever you are in the world.
Of course, I absolutely love diving and can’t get enough of it. So naturally, this would be my go-to if I had to choose between the two. However, there are some advantages to going snorkeling instead, mainly because it’s just more accessible overall.
For one thing, snorkeling tends to be cheaper than scuba diving. For another, it’s more accessible for people with health conditions or who aren’t in great physical shape, whereas you need to be pretty fit and healthy in order to scuba dive.
You also don’t need to do a course in order to go snorkeling, although that’s not such an issue in Rio de Janeiro. You can still do baptism dives even if you’re not PADI certified.
And snorkeling is still great fun! You can see lots of fish and cool creatures, but I do think scuba diving does give you a better experience overall.
If you’d prefer to go snorkeling over scuba diving, you can always book this 3-hour snorkeling tour. You’ll sail to the beautiful Tijuca Islands. You’re very likely to see turtles around here, as well as tons of fish.
When the water is calm, you can go for a walk on the islands to spot the colorful birds that live there. If the sea is strong, you’ll go back along the channels instead to look for alligators and capybaras – yes, those animals that everyone on the internet has recently become obsessed with!
The tour includes the boat trip, guides, and snorkeling equipment. Prices vary depending on your group size, and the experience is limited to 8 people. Couples will pay $100 USD per person, and groups of 3 or more pay $83 USD per person.
So if you’re not a diver – no worries! You can still see incredible marine life by booking this snorkeling tour here.
Related Read: Both snorkelers and scuba divers will enjoy my favorite beaches in Salvador! These are some of the best beaches in all of Brazil, with crystal-clear waters and even opportunities for wreck diving.
10. Is scuba diving in Rio worth it?
Yes, absolutely! I love Rio, and diving here is always a fantastic experience. Namely because of all of the amazing sea life and weather. I would definitely count it as a must-do activity while in Rio de Janeiro. Honestly, I’m so impressed every single time I go.
Other Activities to do While in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
There’s so much to do in Rio, it’s impossible to get bored here! The city is full of exciting experiences you won’t want to miss while you’re exploring Brazil. If you’re looking for activities to fill up your Rio itinerary, we’ve got you covered.
- See Christ de Redeemer – Of course, it’s one of the most iconic sights in the entire world, so every trip to Rio should include a visit to Christ de Redeemer Statue. Because of its popularity, we recommend this skip-the-line ticket so you’ll board the next available train up Corcovado Mountain whenever you arrive and beat the crowds!
- Take in the views – Rio from above is a must-see! Make sure to visit Sugarloaf Mountain with a cable car ride to the top. It’s popular though, so we recommend buying this fast pass ticket! If you’re up for a hike, head to the Two Brothers Lookout – an iconic viewpoint in Rio. You can even book a hiking tour to catch the sunrise from the top and have the convenience of a local guide.
- Celebrate Carnival – If you schedule your trip to Rio around the end of February/early March, you’ll catch one of the biggest parties in all of South America: Carnival! There are festivities during the day and “blocos parties” during the night. There are so many things to do during Carnival and great ways to experience Carnival on a budget, so you better be prepared for a week you won’t forget! For tickets to the main show, grandstand seats start at $30 USD.
- Enjoy Samba at Pedra do Sal – For a more authentic side of Rio, Pedra do Sal at night is the place to go. Known as the birthplace of Samba, this neighborhood knows how to party! You can experience this lively scene by yourself or book this Samba tour that includes a bit of the history and culture and a Samba party!
- Relax on Copacabana Beach – A trip to Rio is not complete without spending some time on Copacabana Beach. After all of your days of adventuring and touring, a fun beach day will be needed! This is a lively beach with vendors selling beers, cocktails, and food, so you can really hang out all day. You can’t miss out on this classic Rio beach!
Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio is a HUGE city, so there are tons of places to stay. The three most popular areas to stay in Rio are Copacabana, Ipanema, and Lapa/Santa Teresa. Most tours that include transportation will pick up from these areas, so no need to worry about that!
Each location is unique, with Copacabana and Ipanema being close to the beach and Lapa and Santa Teresa more in the historical part of the city. We have recommendations for each area so you can figure out the best option for you.
Budget travelers will love Pura Vida Hostel. It’s clean and social, with lots of space to party just like a local. It’s only 2 blocks from Copacabana Beach and a 15 min walk to Arpoador, which has plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies. The staff is warm and welcoming and makes your stay even more fun with their social personalities! Dorm beds start at $24 USD a night, and you can book a room on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
If you can spend a little more, Nacional Inn Rio Copacabana is a popular choice. It’s a few blocks from the beach and has a pool with an excellent view. Although the rooms are on the small side, that shouldn’t matter too much if you plan to spend most of your time outside of the hotel. They offer a fresh breakfast with bread, meats, cheeses, and fruits. There’s also an on-site bar and a sauna. Rooms are around $100 USD, and the best deals I’ve found are on Booking.com.
Luxury travelers should stay at PortoBay Rio de Janeiro. It’s a 4-star beachfront hotel with a rooftop pool, gym, spa, and sauna. The on-site La Finestra restaurant serves really delicious Brazilian dishes as well as other international cuisine. The complementary breakfast buffet has fresh fruits, juices, and hot and cold choices. It’s also within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and popular bars. You can book a room with a sea view for around $200 USD.
Ipanema Beach House is the best budget option, with dorm beds starting at $17 USD. This historic house is in a very safe neighborhood of Rio – just one block from the metro station! It’s super close to the chill Ipanema Beach, and there’s a pool near the main building! Other more popular beaches are only 2 km (1.2 mi) away. It’s also easy to book on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
For medium-budget travelers, Arena Ipanema Hotel is a beachfront property with stunning views, a restaurant and bar, and a rooftop pool with lots of lounge chairs to work on your tan. There is a fitness center and sauna and a 24-hour help desk if you need anything. For the price of $143 USD a night, booking a room here is great value!
Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro is another fantastic option for luxury travelers – and you can’t get any closer to the water! It has a rooftop pool and all the facilities you’d expect, like a wellness center offering massages, a gym and sauna, a fine-dining Italian restaurant, a sunroom, and a nightclub – it’s perfect! A bed here will set you back $491 USD, but your room will have modern furnishings, a minibar, robes, and a TV. Some even have a seating area and a bathtub. So book your luxury stay in Ipanema here!
Lapa and Santa Teresa
I love the Selina Lapa Rio de Janeiro for budget travelers. This chain hostel is trusted all around the world for being clean and modern with excellent facilities. Rooms are air-conditioned, and dorms start at $14 USD, while a standard private room is $50 USD. The property is close to happening bars and restaurants, but Selina’s restaurant is loved for its breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or for coffee from the coffee house! You can reserve a room on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
The Mansion Aline is located in Santa Teresa and would suit a medium to high-end budget. The hotel has a rooftop jacuzzi as well as breathtaking views over the city. The deluxe suites have their own spa baths, a patio, and a private kitchen with a minibar and coffee maker. All rooms have a view of the city and river/garden views. One night here will average $169 USD and can be reserved on Booking.com.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
If you’re heading to Rio de Janeiro, consider scuba diving! The weather is usually idyllic, and there’s a shocking amount of marine life to explore. We always have an amazing time on scuba diving tours here. And whether you’re a newbie or an experienced diver, you have options!
If you’ve found this guide helpful, check out our other blogs about Brazil or the rest of South America. This incredible country has so much to offer. To give you an idea, we’ve linked to some articles below.