There’s no getting away from the fact that Rio de Janeiro is an expensive city, but there’s no need for cash conscious travelers to veto the city completely. Last week’s blog outlined how travelers can survive on US$50 a day in Rio, and now I’m going one better and letting you know about fun things to do in the city that are totally free of charge.
Armed with this insider info, you can enjoy yourself – rain or shine – without spending a single centavo. Happily for budget travelers, the high prices of many hotels and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro are to some extent balanced out by the sheer abundance of ways to spend your time without spending any cash.
For many visitors to Rio, the city’s principle attractions are its beaches, and it costs absolutely nothing to enjoy the sea and the sands. Whether you choose to lay your sarong at Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon or farther west at Barra da Tijuca or Recreio, you can soak up the sun, take in the views and admire the beach bodies without dipping into your travel budget. Bear in mind that beach vendors bump up prices for essentials such as water, so buy before you arrive or fill up a bottle with chilled or frozen filtered water at your hotel or hostel. If you’re really short on cash, don’t feel bad about taking a few pieces of fruit from breakfast at your hostel or hotel and taking them to the beach with you – nobody will object.
After a day at the beach, head to one of the best free viewpoints in Rio – Arpoador. Here, a giant rock jutting out to see takes in views over the sand, sea and mountains, and is a wonderfully romantic spot to watch the sun go down over Rio. It’s perfectly located between the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, so it’s within strolling distance of both beaches.
Another famous Rio de Janeiro beauty spot is Lagoa, the vast city lake. Once again, you’ll pay nothing to soak up the scenery here, and a walk (or run, if you’re the energetic sort) around its 7km perimeter is a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. During December, the enormous Christmas tree at the center of the lake is lit up with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights, making it a wonderfully festive sight after dark.
Nearby, Rio de Janeiro’s famous Botanical Gardens (R$7) are high on the agenda of many visitors to Rio, but few people know that it sits right next door to another attractive park that is free to enter. Parque Lage offers leafy shelter from the shade and some diverting caves and trails, but the main reason to visit is the building that now houses an art school. A stunning belle epoque building with a dramatic mountain backdrop, it makes a wonderful photo opportunity.
While these are all fine activities for sunny days, it’s worth remembering that the sun doesn’t always shine on Rio de Janeiro. However, with a wealth of interesting cultural centers, museums and churches, you won’t be short of free things to do, even on the rainiest of days.
Should the heavens open, forget the beach zones and head for Centro, where the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil is the most impressive of the attractions in what has become known as the city’s Cultural Quarter. It’s free to attend the diverse visiting exhibitions, which in recent years have included everything from graffiti and pop art, to fashion and football. Nearby, the Caixa Cultural regularly offers free film screenings, often foreign art house films dubbed into English. Recently, the center screened the entire works of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, all entirely free.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that while many museums and cultural centers in Rio are free to enter, those that do charge are often free on Wednesdays and/or Sundays, with the interesting Museu da Republica
in Catete being a good case in point.
Photo: Lucy Bryson