As the world's top summer destination, visitors should expect Rio de Janeiro to be very expensive, especially during Carnival. However, that doesn't mean Rio is without its cheap activities, restaurants or accommodations. By taking on Rio from a frugal approach, the penny pincher will learn that there are a great number of cheap and fun things to do in this famous and expensive Brazilian destination.
Por Kilo and Street Food for Cheap Eats
Rio de Janeiro, like many countries, has an exciting street food culture that allows visitors to not only eat well, but eat cheaply. The only rule for street food is to ignore the ample stands around the beach, that is where every visitors flocks to during the day and they will be just as expensive as most restaurants. Instead, visitors should head inland and search for vendors serving up great treats like tapioca cooked on a hot griddle and stuffed with chocolate and banana, grilled kebabs (which visitors can literally follow their nose to), or savoury coxinhas. For those on the search for street food, they can be found throughout the city but the highest concentration is around metro stations.
For those with a more substantial hunger, look for restaurants that advertise as "por kilo," like the label suggests, they charge for food by the kilogram. So diners can pile their plates high with whatever goodies they host and eat until well after they feel like dying for about $7.
Cinelandia for Affordable Drinks
Cinelandia is a beautiful central square located near the heart of Rio de Janeiro. It is a wonderful visit in and of itself for the architecture and the monuments located there, but soon visitors will notice that the streets are just packed with outdoor bars and the air is filled with music. While most people pack the outdoor bars down by the beaches, that has caused an exuberant prices for drinks.
The drinks and atmosphere in Cinelandia are both much more affordable and just as fun. Visitors can grab a cheap drink during the day and listen to the music or join the drunken frugal massed dancing around the bar areas at night when the square comes alive with live music. Regardless of how visitors enjoy it, Cinelandia is still the cheapest place to party in town.
The Lapa neighbourhood in Rio is where visitors go to take in some free art and get a pretty good workout. The Lapa Steps connect Lapa with the Santa Teresa neighbourhood on the hill above it. These massive steps are a fun and free walk, but also excellent to look at. They are decorated in beautiful designs with a number of different tile artwork that makes the walk as pleasing as passing through a museum.
This neighbourhood happens to also be legendary for its street parties. If visitors are finding the bars and clubs too expensive, even on Cinelandia, the street parties in Lapa are the cheapest way to have a good time. On most Fridays and Saturdays, the neighbourhood by the Lapa Aqueduct sprouts smart-looking kiosks offering super-strong fruit cocktails as well as street food, pizza and burgers to sop up all the alcohol.
Hit Up the World Famous Beaches
While all the shops, bars and restaurants surrounding the beaches are all super expensive, what of the sand and surf? Well, that's still free, for now anyway. While most of Rio's beaches are world famous, the reputation of Copacabana and Ipanema tower above the rest, making them definitely worth a visit. The sand is crowded usually not with families, but hot, hard bodies showing off most of what they've got in notoriously skimpy beachwear. Needless to say, they are great people-watching beaches although too crowded for much else.
For those looking for a little less crowded spit of sand, Barra da Tijuca is significantly less developed beach outside of the city, but easily accessible by walking from Ipanema. There are a few small cafes and shops, but significantly less crowds. This beach is a favourite hangout from for surfers and the water is the cleanest in all of Rio.
Ride Santa Teresa by Tram
The Santa Teresa Tram has been in operation since 1859 and remains the last running tram in South America as well as the oldest. The banana yellow car is easy to spot and the open sides present a unique and scenic ride. The tram rises from downtown Rio and follows a circuit around all of Santa Teresa hill, offering a high-level view of the city. Trams like this used to service all of Rio de Janeiro, but no more, the Santa Teresa Tram remains the lonely remnant of a forgotten age. Regardless, Santa Teresa is one of Rio's most beautiful neighbourhoods and there is no better place for a tram to stay running.