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The view from Pedra da Gavea |© Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr
The view from Pedra da Gavea |© Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr
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A Budget Traveler's Guide to Rio de Janeiro

Picture of Sarah Brown
Updated: 27 January 2017
Rio de Janeiro isn’t called Cidade Maravilhosa (Wonderful City) for nothing. There are few spots in the world that successfully blend outstanding natural wonders with a thriving multicultural metropolis to create such a seductive culture. Being tourist hotspot number one comes at a high price though, mostly for the tourists themselves. But by getting thrifty and knowing your stuff, Rio can be a cheap place to travel.

What To Do And See

Go to the markets

The markets and fairs in Rio provide a wonderful way to access Brazilian culture, try regional food and scout around for souvenirs or items that won’t break the bank. The most popular markets in Rio are the ones worth going to. The Ipanema hippie market takes place every Sunday with stalls selling clothes, leather items, furniture, jewellery, art and Bahian sweets. The Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão in the north zone is a huge space that opens a small window into life in the Northeast of Brazil through its Bahian food and products. For a vintage and antiques hit, head to the Feira Rio Antigo that takes place on the first Saturday of each month.

The Ipanema Hippie Fair |© Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr
The Ipanema Hippie Fair | © Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr

Volunteer

Get immersed in Brazilian culture through volunteering, you’ll be cutting down travelling costs and be giving something back to society at the same time. Casa do Caminho offers free accommodation, food and training in exchange for voluntary work with children and teenagers in areas such as education, web design, medicine, agriculture and supervision. They ask for a minimum of six months commitment and an intermediate understanding of Portuguese. Project Favela seeks out teachers for children in Rio’s largest favela (‘neighbourhood’), Rocinha, for a three-month commitment and a donation, in exchange for accommodation. There are many organizations looking for extra hands that advertize on social media and on Google.

Go Hiking

Rio de Janeiro’s dramatic landscape creates epic hiking opportunities that are suitable for all levels of fitness and are wonderful budget options as they are absolutely free. Some tour guides may charge but the majority of hikes (except perhaps Pedra da Gavea which has a tricky climbing part) can be done independently. The many hikes throughout Rio offer spellbinding aerial views that grant an instant appreciation of the enormity of the city and its remarkable blend with nature.

The view from Pedra da Gavea | © Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr
The view from Pedra da Gavea | © Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr

Go to a free event

There are lots of free events in Rio throughout the year. Check out food trucks and events such as Taste in Rio which are free to enter and gather together some of Rio’s best upcoming and quirky chefs. On Mondays, head to Pedra do Sal in the city center, Rio’s most beloved outdoor and free samba event, or head to the same spot on Tuesdays for Jazz at Pedra do Sal, a new event that is dedicated to the best jazz music in Rio. Keep an eye out for sporadic free yoga events that take place early morning on the weekends in beautiful areas such as Flamengo park, Lagoa or Ipanema beach. Head to Praça XV and Arco de Teles in the city center on the weekend for loud, outdoor parties of reggae, reggaeton, hip hop, samba and all sorts of other genres that continue until the early hours. Be sure to keep an eye out for blocos (carnival street parties) that have already started and will carry on until the middle of March.

Where To Eat And Drink

Curto Café

A simple counter pushed into the end of a corridor in a small, uninspiring shopping mall in Rio’s downtown is the understated location of perhaps Rio’s quirkiest coffee shops. The coffee is delicious (arguably one of the best in the city) and you pay however much you want.

Edifício Garagem Menezes Cortes – Av. Erasmo Braga, 278 – Quiosque 47 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro Tel: +55 (21) 98255-7424

Coffee | pixabay
Coffee | © pixabay
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Per-kilo restaurants

For those on a budget, the per-kilo restaurants are perfect places to eat, where you select your food from a buffet and pay for the weight of the food. Per-kilo restaurants in hotspots Copacabana and Ipanema tend to be expensive so hit the city center for cheaper options. Kilograma in Lapa has a wide choice of food from sushi and noodles to meat, fish, chicken, fries, beans and salads. Go before or after the peak period (noon until 2pm) when the kilogram is slightly cheaper.

R. Riachuelo, 315 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro Tel: +55 (21) 2146-2666

Have a picnic

Rio de Janeiro’s focus on outdoor lifestyle means picnic opportunities are bountiful, not only are they a lovely way to enjoy the gorgeous landscapes but they’re budget-friendly too. Head to a nearby supermarket and stock up on whatever takes your fancy before heading to one of these ideal picnic spots around the city.

Possible picnic spot |© Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr
Possible picnic spot | © Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr

Open-bar nightclubs

For the cheapest drinking options, go to the nightclubs that have a fixed entry-fee and open-bars of various drinks from beer to vodka combinations. New Mariuzinn in Copacabana attracts the young student crowd and often hosts open-bar nights and big promotions on entry for women. Palaphita Gavea is a trendy nightclub for all ages and sometimes has free entry or open-bar.

Where To Stay

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Green Culture Eco Hostel

It’s location in favela Chapéu Mangueira and Babilonia shouldn’t put off travelers, as this favela has been deemed safe since 2009. With hammocks rigged up across the balconies that overlook the sea views of Leme and Copacabana, the hostel provides 5-star views at hostel prices. It’s a good place to experience Brazilian local culture whilst remaining close to the beach in a safe environment.

Ladeira Ary Barroso, 6 A – Leme, Rio de Janeiro Tel: +55 (21) 2295-7676

View from the top of Babilonia © Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr

View from the top of Babilonia © Alexandre Macieira | Riotur/Flickr

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Che Lagarto

Che Lagarto is one of the best hostels in South America, having had extraordinary continental success. This is a fun place to stay and cheaper than the expensive hotels around the south zone of the city. The hostel provides single rooms or dormitory options and has get-together activities such as free caipirinhas in the – evening a great opportunity to meet fellow backpackers and travellers.

R. Barata Ribeiro, 111 – Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro Tel: +55 (21) 3209-4308

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Alma de Santa Guest House

This hostel is located in the charming hippie neighborhood, Santa Teresa, home to local artists, with a distinctly bohemian vibe in the air. The hostel has a mix of shared and private rooms, a fully-equipped kitchen plus a garden to chill outside. Party area Lapa is just 15 minutes away on foot.

Rua Andrés Belo, 15 – Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro Tel: +55 (21) 2135-3904