Rio de Janeiro on a Budget: The Ultimate Guide

Rio de Janeiro on a budget

Nestled on the far western strip of Brazil’s Atlantic Coast, Rio de Janeiro is a sprawling seaside city with urban beaches, towering peaks, overflowing favelas, and raucous festivals. All of the action takes place under the watchful eye of Christ the Redeemer, the 38m statue that stands atop Mount Corcovado as Rio’s most recognizable emblem. 

A city of Samba, bossa nova, and incredible football culture, there’s no doubt that Rio deserves a place on everyone’s travel bucket list. You’ll also find fantastic nightlife, diverse cuisine, and great weather, but as one of the most iconic destinations in the world, can you visit Rio de Janeiro on a budget?

If you’re headed to the city and you’re worried about your spending, our guide has you covered. Rio isn’t a shoestring destination by any stretch, at least not compared to other Latin American backpacking havens, but it doesn’t have to break the bank and we’re here to show you how. Let’s get into it. 

Is Rio expensive?

Selaron stairs
Photo by Envato Elements

Brazil is one of South America’s most expensive countries, and with it, Rio is up there as one of its pricier destinations. Hotels and attractions aimed at foreign tourists come with a markup and you can spend a pretty penny getting around all the highlights, especially since the city is so spread out and taxis are your best bet for getting around safely. 

The average traveler spends between $1,000 and $1,800 on a seven-day trip to Rio, with couples averaging $3,000 and a family of four spending in the region of $6,000. Still, it’s more than possible for a trip to the bustling metropolis to cost you far less, if you’re savvy with your spending that is. 

The average hotel costs between $13 and $250 a night in Rio, quite the range, while vacation rentals go for between $130 and $530. You can get an inexpensive meal for around $6, while a dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant could cost as little as $30. 

You’ll pay extra for some grocery products due to high import fees, but you can still get a bottle of wine in a supermarket for around $8 and a bottle of domestic beer for $1-2, at the store and in a bar. 

Rio can feel expensive for backpackers, especially those better adjusted to the shoestring cities of Colombia and Bolivia, but by western standards, Rio de Janeiro won’t break the bank and there are plenty of ways to visit the city on a budget. 

Travel in Rio on a Budget

Rio de Janeiro at night
Photo by ADDICTIVE_STOCK/Envato Elements

The first thing to consider before you visit any foreign land is how you’ll get there, and long-haul flights are always going to take a big chunk out of your budget—sometimes costing even more than the vacation spending itself. There are ways to save when picking flights, like selecting options with multiple layovers (we’re talking 24 hours in Bogota Airport) or flying in the low season. 

The rainy season in Rio, which runs from December to March, is the cheapest time to visit. Rio doesn’t see nearly as much rain as Brazil’s other coastal cities so it’s still a good time to make the trip, but prices can really drop as the humidity rises. The average return from London costs around $867 year-round, but you could find a good deal for less than $700 if you fly in January. 

From New York, you could find flights for as low as $620 return in the low season, while they can exceed $1,000 if you’re visiting in July or August when the weather is at its best. From Bogota, return flights start at around $400 and $229 for a one-way in the low season, while you can expect to pay $600 for a return from Cancun.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is also a popular entry point into the country. You can get a good deal on a round-trip for around $60 in January, which would usually cost you upwards of $150 in the high season. 

Once you’ve arrived in Rio, getting to the city shouldn’t be too much of a hassle but there are some things to be aware of. Most major airlines fly into Galeão Airport, also known as Antônio Carlos Jobim Airport. If you hear both these names, know that they are the same place. 

The cheapest way to get from Rio airport to the city is by bus. Several Frescão bus lines, operated by Expresso Recreio, ferry passengers from Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport to various central spots. You can hop on the 2145 bus or the 2016 bus to the center for just R$18.85 ($3.50), but we only recommend this budget option if you’ve been to Rio before or you’re a very seasoned backpacker.

Petty theft and even assault can happen on the bus, especially late at night. As you’ve just arrived and are unfamiliar with the city, we recommend cashing out and taking a taxi for peace of mind. Taxi drivers will hassle you the moment you exit the sliding doors in the airport. This can be overwhelming and scary, especially in a city like Rio which has a reputation for taxi scams and crimes against tourists

To avoid this, you can pay a prepaid rate at the TransCoopass desk in the arrivals hall. The price ranges from around R$60 ($12) to Flamengo, and R$80 ($15) to the beach hotels and Copacabana, which is around 40 percent more than the regular taxis in front of the terminal but still a good deal compared to usual airport taxi prices in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Driving to Copacabana in a hailed taxi from outside the airport in average conditions can cost just R$45 ($8) on average, but taxi drivers in Rio have been known to take unknowing visitors on long detours to bump up the fare. 

When you’re in Rio, if you want to budget, the metro is the cheapest way to get around without compromising your safety, although we recommend avoiding it at night. It’s only around 80 cents for one trip and the metro covers a good portion of the city. Although much of the leafy suburbs, especially around Ipanema and Copacabana are best explored on foot. 

We recommend taking taxis whenever you’re moving around at night. It will cost you a  little more but they’re still more economical than in Europe and the US. The flat rate is around R$50 ($10) and you’ll pay between R$2.50-3 ($0.50-60) per kilometer. 

Things to do in Rio on a Budget

Arcos de Lapa
Photo by diegograndi/Envato Elements

Rio is a city full of bucket-list attractions but visiting the most famous ones can be expensive compared to daily life in the city. Still, there are a lot of budget-friendly sites as well as completely free things to do that shouldn’t shy you away from exploring. 

The Santa Teresa neighborhood is one of Rio’s trendiest districts with a bohemian vibe and incredible views. It’s located atop a mountain and its old tram, colonial buildings, and local culture recall the charm of Rio from the past. Wander through the leafy streets, dip in and out of the traditional workshops, and ride the scenic tram for just R$20 ($3.80). 

A true emblem of the city, the Escadaria Selarón, or the ‘Selaron Steps’ as they’re known by tourists, have featured in countless music videos and on magazine covers. Tiled in the colors of the Brazilian flag, they straddle Lapa and Santa Teresa and were built by Chilean-born Jorge Selarón as a tribute to the Brazilian people. They’re one of Rio’s most famous attractions but they’re completely free to visit and have become a lively meeting point for tourists and locals alike. 

Nearby, in the bohemian downtown, the Arcos da Lapa, or Lapa Arches, are another symbol of the city that is completely free to see. Built in the mid-18th century, they were actually designed as a Romanesque aqueduct to bring fresh water from the river to the city. Since the end of the 19th century, they’ve served as a bridge for the Santa Teresa tram and they connect the center to the hilltop neighborhood. Find them on the edge of all the action of Lapa. 

Tijuca National Park is an underrated gem in Rio. Also known as Tijuca Forest, its one of the largest urban forests in the world and an excellent escape for those who love the great outdoors from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also free to enter the park, but you’ll pat extra to visit Christ the Redeemer at the top of Mount Corcovado. Nevertheless, there are tons of hiking trails and even waterfalls to discover. You’ll need to get a taxi some of the way as the metro will only take you to Largo do Machado at the base of the park. A cab from here should only cost around R$50 ($10). 

Although they’ve been criticized for being rough around the edges, the botanical gardens or Jardim Botanico are magical in their own right. They’ve been around since the beginning of the 1800s and house more than 40,000 plants of 6,500 species. The rose garden, giant lilies, and cactus garden are among the highlights. The gardens are also set to the backdrop of Mount Corcovado, with some of Rio’s best ground-level views through California Palms of Christ the Redeemer. Foreign visitors pay R$45 ($9 USD) to enter but there’s a reduced price for students and children.

No trip to Rio is complete without a visit to Copacabana. The infamous urban beach is undeniably beautiful with its own raucous energy and something for every crowd. From the street food vendors and caipirinha mixers that line the boulevard to the Samba bands and volleyball players, Copacabana is the beating heart of Rio and a day on its sands shouldn’t go amiss. You can rent a sun chair and umbrella for as little as R$50 ($10), or simply stroll along its shores and soak up the ambiance. 

Ipanema is just around the bay, and the quieter sister beach is equally iconic and even more scenic. The leafy Ipanema neighborhood is also dotted with cozy cafes, boutique stores, and buzzing jazz bars. Catch the sunset disappear behind the Atlantic with a cocktail in hand. Copacabana and Ipanema are public beaches and you’ll pay no fee to enter them.   

Even on a budget, we’re sure you’ll have Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain at the top of your Rio bucket list. They might be among the most expensive attractions in Rio, but we recommend saving a portion of your budget for them as these iconic monuments shouldn’t be skipped. Be prepared for long queues and $30 USD odd entrance fees, but it will be worth it.  

How to eat in Rio on a budget

Rio de Janeiro food cart
Photo by ADDICTIVE_STOCK/Envato Elements

It goes without saying, if you want to save money, eating local is your best bet and Rio is amazing for rustic Brazilian cuisine and global street food. The most expensive restaurants are concentrated in the touristy areas and along the beachfront in Copacabana, especially to the west where most of the hotels are located. If you’re after upscale sushi haunts, Mediterranean seafood delights, and rooftop bars, this is the place to go, but not if you’re on a budget. 

You’ll find some cheap street food along the seafront, but the best budget eats are located in downtown. Lapa is a hotspot for buzzing eateries and most bars will serve generous appetizers along with their drinks. This is a great chance to savor some Brazilian delicacies like Feijoada, the hearty black bean stew, or Coxinha, the dumpling croquettes that are served by the bucket load on street corners. You can enjoy a generous meal for less than R$75 ($15) in Lapa.

Brazilians love their meat and a barbecue at a cheap eatery like Monchique shouldn’t go amiss. This restaurant is located in bustling Copacabana, but their all-you-can-eat deal is great for travelers on a budget. Enjoy a non-stop stream of quality steak, chicken, lamb, and pork for $24 a head. You’ll know how good it is as you’ll find more locals than tourists here. 

For after-party delights, head to Stalos, the 24-hour pizza haunt offering thick slices for around $4 apiece. Or for a more authentic taste of Brazil head to Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão, the sprawling food market with hundreds of stalls selling local Bahian products. Order a plate of dried meat, rice, and beans, a quintessential Brazilian meal, for around $9. This will be enough to feed two.   

Places to Stay in Rio on a Budget

Ipanema Beach
Photo by imagesourcecurated/Envato Elements

Accommodation can be one of the things that really burns a hole in your pocket in Rio. Prioritizing your safety should be first on the agenda, but the hotels in tourist-friendly areas are always going to be the priciest. If you’ve got a tight budget, there is a middle ground in Rio and you shouldn’t be scared away from hostels and homestays just because of the city’s reputation. 

That said, you should always do your own research before choosing where to stay, especially if you’re traveling alone. Check out some of these budget-friendly stays in Rio that get our seal of approval:

Vila Galé Rio De Janeiro, Centro ($$) – In the heart of the city center, this property offers a communal pool, wellness center, onsite restaurant, and free wifi. Each room is spacious and air-conditioned. Doubles start at $67 USD a night with breakfast included.

Américas Granada Hotel, Centro ($) – This four-star hotel has its own rooftop pool and bar, with clean and comfortable rooms, a fitness center, a 24-hour front desk, and a rich buffet breakfast. Standard doubles start from just $40 a night. 

Ipanema Beach House, Ipanema ($) – Just two blocks from the action of Ipanema Beach, this guest house is located in one of Rio’s safest and best-loved neighborhoods. The property has an outdoor pool, a games area, and a bar. They offer mixed and female-only dorms from just $17 a night and private doubles from $50. 

Casa 48 Guesthouse, Santa Teresa ($) – Located in the hilly and bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood, this laid-back guest house has a panoramic terrace, shared kitchen, and family rooms. Just 2.5 km from the Selarón steps, private rooms start at $35 a night with breakfast included. 

Selina, Copacabana ($) – Selina hostels have taken the world by storm in recent years. Located on the seafront overlooking Copacabana and Sugarloaf mountain with a coworking space, shared kitchen, library, cinema, and rooftop bar, this Selina has it all. Dorms start at $18 a night and doubles from $55. 

Rio on a Budget: Our Top 7 Money-Saving Tips

  • Make the most of free attractions – Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain are as good as they say, but wandering Rio’s bohemian neighborhoods, white sand beaches, and national parks is equally special. Consider a free walking tour if you want to get around the main sights on a budget, just make sure to tip your guide at the end. 
  • Snack on street food – Brazil’s street food culture is thriving and indulging in it is a great way to understand the local cuisine better. Go to stalls with queues for a sign of quality and use your own judgment when it comes to hygiene.
  • Avoid carnival time – If might be the most lively time of year, but it’s also the most expensive, and flights and hotels will soar in price around the carnival. Carnival takes place in February but comes one month earlier and you could make impressive savings. 
  • Bring a filtered water bottle – The tap water isn’t safe to drink in Rio and you could end up spending a fortune on single-use plastic bottles as a result. Bring a water bottle with a built-in filter and ask restaurants and hotels to fill it up for you to stay hydrated on the go. 
  • Visit the market – If your accommodation has kitchen facilities, stock up on food and eat like a local by cooking at home. The same goes for alcohol which is much cheaper at grocery stores than in bars. 
  • Eat por kilo – If a restaurant offers a pay-per-kilo option for your food, this is a sign that you’ll probably get a better deal. This is another great way to eat like a local.
  • Get around on foot – Rio’s bad reputation doesn’t come from nowhere and walking around at night isn’t safe, but by day, you can see a lot on foot and you’re less vulnerable to pickpockets when you’re striding through the streets than you are on public transport. Bring a good pair of trainers with you and save the taxi fares for nightfall.

How many days do you need in Rio de Janeiro?

Rio de Janeiro isn’t just any old city. There are so many bucket list sites you’ll need to tick off. With the beach, the mountains, and the bustling Centro, we recommend five to seven days in the Brazilian metropolis, and ten days if you want to see it all, including the nearby islands. 

How much money do I need for a week in Rio?

The average traveler spends around R$423 ($78) a day in Rio with around R$160 ($30) of that going to food and R$66 ($12) on local transportation. However, if you’re savvy with your spending, you could get by on closer to R$260 ($50) a day, so R$1,800-2,600 ($350-500) would be a comfortable budget. 

When is the best time to visit Rio on a budget?

December to March is the best time to visit Rio on a budget when the weather is warm enough for beach days and outdoor adventures but the summer crowds have dissipated. The hot season sees heavier rainfall, but this helps keep away the tourists so flights and accommodation are at their lowest. The carnival atmosphere picks up in mid-February, but bear in mind, hotel prices will soar again during these annual festivities. 

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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