If you’re looking for a cheap holiday in Rio, it pays to be flexible in terms of when you want to visit. While Rio carnival and New Year in Rio are undeniably exciting, they’re also the most expensive times of year to visit – many hotels and hostels raise their prices by up to four times. These mega-parties aside, the priciest times to visit the city are during the Brazilian summer (December to February), and the North American/European peak summer holiday season (July-August).
Luckily for budget travelers, autumn and spring in the city often see some of the year’s best weather – with lots of clear days and without the muggy heat and tropical downpours of high summer – so heading here ‘off season’ needn’t mean sacrificing your beach time.
Likewise, a beachfront hotel in Ipanema or Leblon might be top of your wishlist, but with prices hovering around US$400 a night for many less-than-luxurious hotels, you’ll need deep pockets to foot the bill. As hostels in Ipanema and Leblon are also slightly more expensive than in other parts of Rio – around R$40 for a dorm bed – backpackers may find it pays to look to less obvious destinations. Copacabana is a little cheaper, but still expensive along the beachfront, and traffic and pollution along the streets back from the beach are stifling.
Generally speaking, hotels and hostels are cheaper the farther they are away from the beaches. Botafogo in particular has a lively hostel scene and good nightlife, while Flamengo, Gloria and Catete all offer decent accommodation options. All are within a few minutes’ reach of the beaches and downtown thanks to the Metro.
Another cost-friendly option is to rent an apartment, with companies in the city offering everything from luxury Leblon penthouses to basic Copacabana bedsits, for less than the cost of a hotel.
For good cheap eats, look for places that offer çomida a kilo’, where you pay for your food by weight. Often lunch-only places, even the most basic will offer good salads and veggie side dishes as well as a range of hot foods. Prices vary dramatically – while the average in Ipanema is around R$3 per 100 grams, in Centro you can wolf down sushi, olives, and palm hearts for as little as R$1.50/100 grams. Prices are often cheaper before 12pm and after 2pm.
The cost of a night out in Rio can be staggeringly expensive if you visit exclusive bars and nightclubs, or very cheap if you don’t mind compromising on luxury. Bottled beer costs less than draught beer, so look for places that sell large bottles for sharing (‘long necks’ are small bottles and generally poor value for money). Simple places with plastic tables and chairs on the pavement are generally good options for cheap drinks and bar snacks, and are often lively places with a mix of students, local workers and backpackers.
The Lapa street party, held on Friday and Saturday nights, is a good place for partiers on a budget. Countless stalls sell cheap cocktails and cans of beer, making it possible to stay out until dawn without paying bar prices. Up the hill in Santa Teresa, meanwhile, there’s a street party atmosphere on Sunday nights, when samba can be heard across the neighborhood and cans of beer can be picked up for R$2 from street sellers.
Happily for budget travelers, the city’s most famous attractions – the beaches – are free, as are many of the excellent museums and cultural centers. Whatever your budget, you’ll be sure to have a blast!
Rio feature photo courtesy of parramitta/Creative Commons
Street party photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson