Rio de Janeiro is an expensive city, particularly during Carnival and New Years, at which time you’ll need to book months, preferably even a year, in advance. It’s always difficult to know where to stay in a big city like Rio. Attempting to anticipate a variety of traveling inclinations, however, we’ve come up with the following suggestions…

For beach life with a price tag… Ipanema

With great bars, cafes and restaurants and easy access to the Ipanema beach, staying in Ipanema is an attractive option for travelers in search of the ultimate Rio beach life fantasy. Unfortunately, with high demand and limited accommodation supplied, staying in this area comes with a price tag – usually 20% to 30% more than neighbouring Copacabana. There are some great bars and restaurants in Ipanema, but for the best of them all, head to Azul Marinho bar-restaurant on the Arpoador beach strip and combine a refreshing cold beer with an equally refreshing seafood treat from the restaurant. Transport isn’t great, as there is only one subway (Metro) station at the eastern end of Ipanema (General Osório station), but subway buses take passengers further west to Leblon, Gavea and Barra da Tijuca.

Our picks: If your cashed up for the best experience of Rio’s beach culture, Praia Ipanema Hotel (luxury) is for you. Grab one of the light-filled balcony rooms overlooking the gorgeous expanse of Ipanema beach, put down your bags and breath… it doesn’t get much better. Take a splash in the rooftop pool while admiring the vista, or order a caiparinha, on the terrace of the stylish Bossa Nova bar and relax as the sun goes down. Be warned though, everything, that’s right, everything is expensive. Hotel Vermont (mid-range) may not win many style awards, but it is definitely one of the cheaper, value-for-money hotels available in area. The English-speaking staff are friendly and helpful and the hotel is situated only two blocks from the beach, amongst great bars and restaurants.

You might like… Praia Ipanema Hotel (luxury) or Hotel Vermont (mid-range)

For affordable sand and surf with consequences… Copacabana

Copacabana, a longer beach with a greater geographical expanse that Ipanema, is the next best option for Rio beach living. There are more hotels and apartments for rent and the prices are consequently lower (although rooms facing the beach cost the average mans weekly wages). The cheaper accommodation costs don’t necessarily translate into cheaper eats, however, and many of the restaurants are exorbitant. Bars here too, are not as classy as Ipanema. In fact, many are a bit on the seedy side. The Northern end of Copacabana, Leme is a popular alternative for locals and travelers with families, its child-friendly waters and tendency to be less crowded facilitating parental caretaking responsibilities.

Our picks: Perfect for frugal traveler Che Lagarto Suites Copacabana Anita (Budget) is cool, clean and friendly. It has simple, but tastefully furnished rooms, a 24-hour front desk, gregarious staff that will help you with adventures in Rio and beyond and a cool bar with pool table to meet like-minded travelers. At the other extreme Copacabana Palace Hotel (Luxury), the white giant facing the beach, leaves little to chance in style, service and gastronomy. Rooms are decorated with antique English furniture, many sporting balconies overlooking the city or beach and its Cipriani restaurant is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.

You might like… Che Lagarto Suites Copacabana Anita (Budget) or Copacabana Palace Hotel (Luxury).

For boutique digs and bohemia… Santa Teresa

One of Rio’s oldest districts, with crumbling 19th Century mansions smothered in a rich history-evoking patina, Santa Teresa has a long history of bohemian vitality and culture. Originally the home of a convent (1750), when the cholera epidemics hit Rio in the late nineteenth century, Santa Teresa’s high altitude location became a life-sustaining oasis of the city and was consequently in high demand. Luxury homes and Chácara (wealthy farm-style properties) proliferated as 200,000 died in the streets below. Later, in the 20th century, intellectuals, artists and poets of note, no doubt drawn by its aesthetic appeal, soon called Santa Teresa home.  Then, in the 60s and 70s, when an exodus of the wealthy caused prices to fall, frayed artists took up roost, creating a vibrant bohemian culture from which many golden eggs were formed. While the intensity of its hey-day has passed, Santa Teresa retains its bohemian appeal, with wonderful galleries to explore, cobbled streets, cool bars, arty cafes and boutique hotels for the design conscious traveler.

Our picks: Connaisseurs of boutique travel will love Relais & Chateaux Santa Teresa (luxury). It’s hard to fault the tropical design of this boutique beauty. Reminiscent of colonial Africa, rooms filled with creams, dark and light timbers and slate warm the depths of the soul, while abundant plant life in the hotel and surrounding gardens bring joy to every moment. A delightfully appointed pool, numerous hallelujah-vistas (from rooms and common areas) and a spa with body treatments, massages and more, Relais & Chateaux Santa Teresa will make your stay in Rio de Janeiro unforgettable. What’s more, it’s in the heart of Santa Teresa. A fabulous budget option, Casa MangoMango (budget) with its timber floors and tasteful furniture is value for money in a city renowned for its expensive accommodation. Lush gardens add to the appeal, while the pool and massage treatments will facilitate your Rio relaxation.

You might like… Relais & Chateaux Santa Teresa (luxury), or Casa MangoMango (budget).

For nightlife, culture and affordability… Centro & Lapa

A decidedly cheaper option for the budget conscious traveler is the city’s central business district, Centro. Conveniently close to the city’s most impressive churches and museums, like the grandiose neo-Classical Cadelária Church on Praça Pio X, with its piety-inducing, stratospheric vault, it’s a good option for the cultured, inquisitive traveler. Don’t expect much in the way of nightlife though. When the sun goes down, the population thins, shops and restaurants close and there is little left to entertain you. Nearby Lapa makes up for this, however, with packed bars and streets at night and a number of historic monuments, including the impressive 18th century aqueduct, Acros da Lapa, and pretty Passeio Público, Brazil’s oldest public park. Nearby Flamengo, a quaint middleclass area with a beautiful stretch of beach on Guanabara Bay also has some bang-for -uck accommodation.

Our picks: Winning the white-world-of-wonder award Fênix Motel (mid-range) is an adult-only motel with air-conditioned suites (in which the colour white well and truly predominates – admittedly, some of them are a dark azure blue… but with brilliant white cornices) and 24-hour room service. And some suites come with a hot tub and sauna! But cheap, cheap, cheap dormitory accommodation is provided at Rio Aplauso Hostel (budget) in Lapa. An old mansion with nothing-to-fancy beds and furnishings, uber-friendly, helpful staff and tasty breakfast, it has a barbeque facility and a communal space with cable TV and free Wi-Fi. And it’s clean. It’s also quite, despite being only a few blocks from bustling Rua Riachuelo, with its saucy samba bars and delicious restaurants.

You might like… Fênix Motel (mid-range) or Rio Aplauso Hostel (budget)

For convenient family holidays, at a price…  Barra da Tijuca

One of the richest barrio’s in the country, Barra da Tijuca, west of Ipanema, offers a laid-back, though slightly Americana experience, with a beautiful un-crowded Atlantic beach, great shopping and fun activities for the kids. That said, its flashy nightclubs, filled with wealthy attractive youth have an altogether different appeal. This is the home of Brazil’s celebrities and financial elite. Luxury homes and condominiums are the norm – many with sports courts, pools, spas and gyms that are set among the districts expanse of winding rivers and pretty lakes. Shopaholics will delight at its twenty or so shopping malls with everything a modern consumer could desire, and entertainment to keep any demanding child satisfied: from cinemas to go-karting, ten-pin bowling and more. Kitsch replicas of famous buildings and monuments proliferate (like the statue of liberty, leaning tower of Pisa and the Eiffel tower), giving the place a decidedly Las Vegas flavour, while expensive restaurant will take your taste-buds happily to almost any place in the world.

Our picks: Relax in a Jacuzzi tub in a room at Windsor Barra Hotel (Luxury). This 5-star hotel overlooking Tijuca Beach may have slightly sterile common areas, but its rooms have a certain class and the ocean views definitely improve things. The rooftop features a pool, cocktail bar, gym, hot tub, gourmet restaurant and delirium inducing views when the sun goes down, while service is, with the odd exception, top-notch. Sheraton Barra Hotel & Suites (Luxury) might be more to your liking however. Rooms are spacious with stylish and comfortable modern décor, and offer great views of the beach and ocean. Squash courts, swimming pools and a fitness centre will help to get you pumped for days of Rio de Janeiro adventures and children under 12 stay free of charge when using existing beds – should this suite you.

You might like… Windsor Barra Hotel (Luxury) or Sheraton Barra Hotel & Suites (Luxury)

Getting Around

Rio de Janeiro has a cheap and efficient transport system with city buses and a subway system (Metro) running on time and one or the other taking you to most locations. City buses (usually R$2.75 – R$350) have been a little dangerous in the past. While safer now, it is not advisable to take them at night. The subway is safer, but limited in reach, so seek out accommodation in proximity to a station. Upscale comfortable and air-conditioned buses, known as Frescao, run from Centro through Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema and to Leblon and back on weekdays. A ferry to Niteroi will set you back R$5.

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