By Vânia Maciel, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As summer approaches, accommodation in the city becomes scarce and expensive, leaving the traveler to ponder if it is worth venturing to less obvious locations in search of a place to stay. With the Brazilian Real getting stronger, downtown, or Centro, with its lower prices and better availability, is becoming an increasingly viable alternative.
Centro is the traditional heart of the city. Dotted with elegant and eclectic art-deco buildings that have stood the test of time, it is home to hot nightlife hot-spot Lapa and neighbors charming Santa Teresa. By day, Centro is the hustle and bustle of the working masses, by night (after happy hour) parts become deserted, or become a window onto Rio’s housing problems and homeless population.
Although it is advisable not to wander around late at night or during the weekend if you do not know the area, Centro is large and there are suitable places to stay if you plan ahead. The location, however, will need to be easily accessible by taxis and well served by public transport by day, leaving only a handful of options.
Bohemian Lapa is definitely neither for the faint-of-heart nor anyone looking for peace and quiet, but it is a great neighborhood with a buzzing, typically Carioca night life, several good restaurants, bars, live music and dance spots, mostly housed in beautiful buildings within a short distance from each other. During the day, the nearest subway station is a good twenty minute walk, but plenty of buses go back and forth to Zona Sul and the beaches.
The Arcos Rio Palace Hotel, has air-conditioned rooms, a roof terrace and swimming pool, gym, 24-hour bar, and continental breakfast included in the US$90 price. Situated on busy Avenida Mem de Sá, a room facing the street can be rather noisy but if you are not staying too long and nightlife is your thing, it is a great option.
Nearby on Rua do Riachuelo, also a bustling road, sits the Hotel Monte Alegre. Recently refurbished and with good reviews, rates start at just over US$100 per night for two with breakfast. It also offers a terrace swimming pool, air-conditioned rooms with Wi-Fi and slightly more peace and quiet.
Towards Praça Tiradentes is the Ibis Rio de Janeiro Centro, with prices from around US$98 per night and all the modern touches you would expect, it is affordable and near the Metro station offering easy access to any part of town.
Cinelândia is the traditional cultural center of Rio de Janeiro where you will find the sumptuous Municipal Theater, Brazil’s National Library, the Fine Arts Museum and many other beautiful buildings facing the Aterro Gardens with Sugar Loaf beyond. Well served by buses, there is no shortage of bars and restaurants and it is still close enough to Lapa.
As well as having the convenience of a metro station right in its middle, it preserves the charm of years gone by, reflected in some elegant hotels still more reasonably priced than their counterparts in Zona Sul.
The OK Hotel in Rua Senador Dantas has a luxurious antique foyer lined with Carrara marble, adorned with Belgian crystal chandeliers. From US$129 per night for two it offers a small swimming pool on the roof terrace and general good, if old-fashioned, standards. Located at the end of Rua Senador Dantas, it is very near the Metro and Passeio Público Park, busy by day and fairly quiet by night.
Finally, the Windsor Asturias on the corner of Rua Senador Dantas is one of Centro’s better options, with 166 air conditioned apartments from US$132 for a double per night. Recently refurbished, reviews have been good, and postcard-perfect views from the roof terrace to Corcovado, the parks, Guanabara Bay and Sugar Loaf are coupled with a central location and reasonable prices even in high season.
Rates for New Years start at US$810 for three nights and Carnival at US$1,265 for four nights, and at the time of writing they still had rooms available, a rarity by now in most of the city’s hotels.
Although five star treatment is not to be expected and safeguards should not be forgotten, Centro has some very decent places with good value for money, making it worth looking beyond the tourist traps.