Rio de Janeiro on a budget

There are ways to enjoy the Cidade Maravilhosa on a budget
Image courtesy: ©Michael Heffernan/Lonely Planet

Brazil is one of South America’s most expensive countries. The strong real (Brazil’s currency) means you’ll get less for your dollar, pound or Euro than elsewhere. But fear not: there are ways to enjoy the Cidade Maravilhosa on a budget.


Visit in the off-season. Accommodation prices rise by 30% in summer (December-February) and can triple for Carnaval and New Year’s Eve. The good news is that Rio’s tropical location means there’s no bad time to visit. Other tips:

  • Dozens of hostels have opened recently, many with doubles in addition to dorms. Ipanema Beach House is one of the best.
  • If you’d prefer a hotel, skip the pricey beachfront areas and try a working-class neighbourhood such as Catete or Glória instead. Hotel Turísticois basic but close to the Metro.
  • The bohemian Santa Teresa neighbourhood has some lovely guesthouses. Rio Hostelhas doubles and dorms, plus a pool. On a quiet street, Casa Áurea offers singles, doubles and triples.
  • Travelling with a group or staying a while? Consider renting an apartment. Rio Apartments has a wide selection.


Fill up at lunch at one of the many local joints that cater to office workers.

  • Per-kilo buffet restaurants are healthy and reasonably priced.
  • Most juice stands also serve sandwiches; try Polis Sucos.
  • For heartier fare, some bars offer inexpensive set meals at lunch.


  • Rio’s best attractions – gorgeous beaches packed with gorgeous people – are totally free!
  • It’s worth springing for the views from Pão de Açúcar and Cristo Redentor.
  • Many museums have a free admission day, and the excellent Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil is always free.
  • A trip on the clattering Bonde (tram) to Santa Teresa is a cheap thrill.


  • Lapa’s red-hot samba clubs are well worth the price of admission for live music all night long; try Democráticus.
  • Bring a flyer (check Ipanema boutiques) for half-price admission to nightclubs.
  • Visit a boteco (small neighbourhood bar) for cheap ice-cold beer and tasty appetizers. Bip Bip has free live music.
  • Friday nights, the best party in town is under the Arcos de Lapa, where locals gather to drink, dance and flirt in the streets. The area can be dodgy, so go with friends, stay on well-lit, busy streets and watch out for pickpockets.

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