By Mary Bolling Blackiston, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – At almost any travel destination in the world, locals are given preference when it comes to certain services, and Rio is no different. Here, foreigners – referred to as ‘gringos‘ – are almost certain to be charged a higher price, especially on the beach.
Often refereed to (by gringos) as the ‘gringo tax’, these inflated prices can be found both at the barracas (translates to tents or huts) and even more so with the ambulantes (the many salespeople that troll the beach with various wares).
Martin Verbeek, a Dutchman who has been in Rio for five years, finds that people “will try to [charge more] whenever possible. You drink four beers and they’ll charge you six.” While not everyone is like this, as Verbeek says, it is best to “never lose attention and always stay sharp.”
While there is a law obliging barracas to have a price list, some post this and make the prices clear, but most do not. Yet even when the prices are posted, they are always subject to change. Generally, chairs and umbrellas should cost around R$4 each, while an agua de coco (coconut water) goes for R$4 to R$5. During peak times (New Year’s Eve and Carnival) expect prices to increase substantially.
Whether one is renting a chair and umbrella from one of the many barracas, or buying an açaí from one of the ambulantes, there are a few rules of thumb that every traveler should follow on the beach in order to get the best price possible.
The first is to always ask for the price of something before ordering; typically, the first price given can be bargained down. This is especially the case with the ambulantes. Another common approach is for larger groups to insist on volume discounts.
If the price seems unreasonable, bargain away – especially if there is no price posted. If that doesn’t work, walk away or feign sudden disinterest. Many salespeople will then quickly change the price.
Verbeek finds that “if you don’t ask or negotiate, there is [oftentimes a gringo tax].” Not all barracas or ambulantes up the prices for foreigners, of course, “but way too many do – unfortunately,” according to Verbeek.
As Stephanie Marie, a New Yorker who has been in Rio for three years, recommends, it is also a good idea to “watch someone go in front of you and see how much they pay.” Make sure that ‘someone’ is Carioca (local). Marie also recommends to never have money out to pay, because “if they see you with a R$10 bill, guess how much that chair or umbrella is going to cost you?”
It is also helpful to know a bit of Portuguese – if nothing else then to be able to negotiate. Knowing a bit of slang is a major plus and will help to further one’s case even more. Likewise, be sure to dress the part – the more one looks like a tourist or foreigner, the greater one’s likelihood is of being charged extra.
Women should opt for the Brazilian bikini and men should go for the sunga or, at minimum, surfing ‘board shorts’. For obvious reasons, it’s also a good bet to go to the beach with a Carioca.
Finally, loyalty is key. Becoming a regular at the barracas will ensure a better (or at least a normal) price, as one will be seen as more of a friend and less as a tourist. As Verbeek says, “become part of a barraca family – try some and stick with one that feels good.”