Nothing is guaranteed to ruin your holiday in Rio faster than a dose of food poisoning, so it pays to keep an eye on what you’re eating and drinking in the city.
Unfamiliar foods, all manner of tropical creepy crawlies and some less than pristine public toilets can all have unpleasant effects on our systems, especially when we’re jet-lagged or at a low ebb the day after one too many of those oh-so-potent caipirinhas.
But there’s no need to worry unduly about health and hygiene in Rio de Janeiro, just take a few simple precautions and you should be fine.
Firstly, remember that delicate foreign tummies, unaccustomed to the bacteria that thrives in Rio de Janeiro’s tropical climate, do not have the relative immunity of the locals. Just because the locals seem to have no ill-effects from nibbling away at grilled shrimp brought from beach vendors, for example, doesn’t mean that you can expect to the same without nasty consequences.
Seafood is one of the major causes of serious stomach upsets for foreigners, so play it safe and avoid fish and seafood away from the cleanest of restaurants. Eggs are another cause for many a stomach complaint – avoid mayonnaise that may have been sitting out a while, and don’t go for anything egg-based bathing in the warmth of a heat lamp.
While most carnivores manage to chow down street vendors’ grilled meat, burgers, hot dogs and the like, if you do have a delicate constitution it is best to give these a body swerve too.
And vegetarians should exercise caution too – salads, especially in the cheaper pay by weight restaurants, can be a major source of nasty bugs, as they may be either insufficiently washed or washed in dirty water.
Speaking of which, it is best to stick to bottled water in Rio de Janeiro, as the tap water may carry any manner of nasties. Filtered water is, generally speaking, ok, but as filters lose their efficiency with age, may not always be entirely safe to drink.
There’s no need to go overboard – tap water is fine for brushing your teeth or boiling pasta – but bottled is best for drinking.
And on the subject of drinking, keep an eye on the type of ice that is being added to your cocktail (or even fruit juice). Most reputable bars will use filtered ice, which comes in even cubes or hollow cylinder-type shapes. Unfiltered ice, which should only be used for cool boxes and the like, is rough and uneven, and probably not fit to drink. Be wary when ordering very cheap cocktails in Lapa and at big events such as Rio Carnival and New Year’s in Rio – if the ice looks a bit suspect, the drinks are best avoided. After all, your morning after head is likely to be painful enough without throwing a stomach upset into the mix.
Visitors to Rio would be wise to keep a little bottle of hand sanitiser on them througout their stay – you never know when nature may call, and many toilets in the city are far from clean. Hand sanitiser comes in particularly a the Lapa street party, where the recently-introduced portable toilets are a blessing for partiers, but do get a bit icky as the night progresses. Ditto Carnival and New Year, when you’ll be grateful for any portable toilet you manage to track down.
Lastly, just to err on the side of caution, pack a few anti-diarrhea tablets just in case you do get a mild dose of the Brazil bug. Anything more serious, and it goes without saying that you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.