By Kristen Nozell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Despite its place as one of the most expensive cities in Latin America, Rio can still be an enjoyable destination for budget-conscious travelers. With a few money-saving tips in hand, US$2,500 is enough to cover flights, accommodation, food and activities for ten days in the Cidade Maravilhosa without roughing it or passing over unmissable experiences.
Based on low-season prices, the US$1,000 round-trip flight from the U.S. or Europe will always be the largest single expense of such a budget. The second-biggest is, of course, accommodation, the price of which can spiral out of control if not carefully monitored (and rises rapidly during Carnival). With a little searching, US$65 a night will provide enough creature comforts and the best of the Zona Sul (Zona Sul) action.
Apartment rental service AirBnB is one route through which entire studios and one-bedroom apartments can be found for US$65, for example. Staying in an apartment also means the money-saving meals at ‘home’ will keep costs down when necessary.
Hostels are an increasingly popular mid-priced alternative, too. Top-tier offerings, often pitched as ‘designer’ or ’boutique’, can be every bit as comfortable as two or three-star hotels but often with more style and a better opportunity to meet fellow travelers. The best picks include Botafogo’s Oztel and Z.Bra in Leblon, both of which offer trendy rooms starting around US$20 for a bed in a shared room, or around $65 for a private suite.
The city’s hundreds of pousadas (guesthouses) also provide a wealth of options for the budget-conscious traveler. For a break from the beach, the cobbled, bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa is filled with such eclectic, boutique residences, one of the most well known of which is Casalegre Art Vila. Visitors can stay in one of the eight uniquely designed rooms, their décor inspired by Brazilian artists, from US$65 a night.
A food budget of US$50 per day is enough to eat well in the city, even though eating out in RIo is widely considered to be expensive. If visiting a museum or gallery in Centro, look for a stop in one of the region’s hundreds of por kilo buffet restaurants, where a large plateful won’t cost more than US$8. As Dennis Reus, a Dutch student who has just spent ten days in Rio told The Rio Times “in the whole city you can eat very well and cheaply, you just have to search.”
For a splurge that will fill you for the day, try a meal at a typical churrascaria, where a set price grants access to limitless rounds of Brazilian barbecue, cut from huge skewers at your table.
Copacabana’s Churrascaria Palace is one of the more reasonably priced options, where the unlimited meat and buffet will cost around US$35 with a promotional card, but avoid the more exclusive Porcão, where prices have gone up dramatically in recent years.
All of which should leave an ample US$350 in the budget for activities and entertainment. A day at the beach is an inexpensive way to soak up the Carioca culture, snacking on the various treats always sold on the sands.
According to Chicago native De’Eric Robert Fisher, “When in doubt, go to the beaches! The beaches are always free and always full of beautiful ladies and gents.” Even with chair rental and a few caipirinhas and salgados (snacks) from the myriad vendors hawking their goods, a full day at the beach can easily be kept under US$20.
For less sandy but equally inexpensive activities, head downtown to the museums on the Metrô (US$7). Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) and Museu do Arte Moderno (MAM) have an ever-changing selection of world-class exhibits cost US$3.50 and US$5.50 respectively. Alternatively, the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) in Cinelândia is free.
Corcovado and Pão de Açúcar are two not-to-be-missed attractions, despite the relatively high cost, at around US$25 each. For a less expensive, albeit more laborious, view, try the hike up to the iconic Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) mountain. The start of the trail is accessed via mototaxi at the top of Vidigal (which can be reached by bus or taxi), and hikers of the intermediate-level trail are rewarded with a stunning view of the city.
Finally, when the sun goes down, samba and cachaça mecca Lapa is just a bus or taxi ride away. Fisher recommends the party district whole-heartedly, confiding, “No need to buy drinks in the bars. In Lapa, the street venders make the best, strongest and cheapest drinks. Expect to see much flamboyant individuality on the streets because after all, it’s Rio de Janeiro!” For specific parties, shows and happy hour deals, be sure to check out the Nightlife Guide while in town.