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published on March 04, 2010

Cheap Rio: The Cidade Maravilhosa on a Budget

by Tom Moore

Erick Barros Pinto (RC&VB)
Rio de Janeiro's Theatro Municipal
Rio de Janeiro - Tom Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. During his frequent and extended visits to Rio de Janeiro , he’s learned how to make the most of his reals. See his Rio budget travel tips below.

Budget Accommodations in Rio de Janeiro

Almost all foreign visitors to Rio stay in the beach neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. If you stay in Flamengo or Catete you can pay a lot less.

Paysandu Hotel, Rio de Janeiro - Rua Paissandú. Metrô stop: Largo do Machado - This is a small and charming art-deco style hotel very close to the bay-shore in the older neighborhood of Flamengo, with all of the normal hotel amenities for a price around R$100 per night. Quiet, pleasant and comfortable. Tel. 2558-7270.

Hotel Barão do Flamengo - Rua Barão do Flamengo, Metrô stop: Largo do Machado - Primarily a hotel serving local Cariocas who need a private space for a few hours. Tourists on a budget will find it economical at R$42 for an overnight stay, including a breakfast brought to your room (coffee, juice, French bread, butter, etc.) Tel. 2205-7231.

Book your accomodations in Rio de Janeiro through WHL Travel, a company that shares BrazilMax’s commitment to responsible and sustainable travel.

Hostels, Budget Hotels, B&Bs, Apartments, Campsites via

Live Music

Brazil is justly famous for its popular music overseas. The variety of music on offer in Rio is jaw-dropping, and lots of it is available free or nearly so.


Teatro João Caetano, Praça Tiradentes (Centro). Metrô stop: Carioca; walk down Rua Sete de Setembro (5-10 minutes.) The theater has regular series featuring important samba and choro musicians offered to the Cariocas who work in the center, scheduled at lunch time or immediately after work. Priced to please at R$1.


The following places have frequent free (or almost free) concerts:

Casa de Rui Barbosa - Rua São Clemente, 134 (Botafogo). Metrô stop: Botafogo. Walk three minutes up Rua São Clemente from the station. The elegant house of Barbosa, an important politician in the early Brazilian Republic , sits in a park on Rua São Clemente, a major thoroughfare in Botafogo. The concerts are in the modern building at the rear of the property, not in the house itself.

Espaço Cultural Finep - Praia do Flamengo, 200 (Flamengo). Metrô stop: Largo do Machado. Walk down Rua Almirante Tamandaré one long block to the Praia . Regular concerts at 6:30 p.m.

Museu da República - Rua do Catete, 153 (Catete). Metrô stop: Catete. The Museum is immediately outside the Metrô entrance.

Teatro Arte SESC - Rua Marquês de Abrantes, 99 (Flamengo). Metrô stop: Flamengo. To attend a SESC concert, you must stand in line for free tickets, which are distributed one half hour before the performance. The space is small and the demand great, so get there early.

Conservatório Brasileiro de Música - Av. Graça Aranha, 57, twelfth floor (Center). Metrô stop: Cinelândia, walk down Rua Pedro Lessa (pedestrians only), turn left (5 minutes from the station).

Sala Cecília Meireles - Largo da Lapa, 47 (Lapa). Metrô stop: Cinelândia; walk down the Passeio Público to the Sala (5 minutes from the station). This is the most important concert hall in Rio , and has plenty of inexpensive concerts (tickets about R$5) as well as occasional free performances.

Theatro Municipal - Praça Marechal Floriano (Centro). Metrô stop: Cinelândia; walk across the street to the theater. The best bet here (a lovely opera house from the early 20th century modeled after that of Paris) is the series of orchestral concerts on Sunday mornings at 11 AM, with tickets at R$1. Performances by the OSB (Brazilian Symphony Orchestra), the Chorus and Orchestra of the Theatro Municipal, and other ensembles. Website:

Forum da UFRJ - Avenida Pasteur, 250 (Urca), very close to the corner of the Avenida Venceslau Brás. Take any bus to Urca. The Forum has an excellent series of free concerts which take place every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in one of the best concert spaces in Rio – elegant, high ceilings, fine acoustics.


Rio is full of padarias (bakeries which usually include a small market) where you can breakfast standing up at counter. My favorite is the Panificação Aliança (Rua Laranjeiras at the corner with Rua Mário Portela); it has barstools where you can sit down with your coffee. A large cup of coffee with hot milk is called a media. Ask for more milk (mais leite) or more coffee (mais café) depending on your taste. Get grilled bread and butter (pão na chapa) to go with it. And a juice, of course (choose from a variety of tropical fruits). For all three you will pay a total of R$4.


Perhaps the most popular form of fast food in Rio is Arabic. Kibes and esfihas can be found everywhere. You can have a economical, quick and filling lunch at the Rotisseria Sirio-Libanesa in the Galeria Condor, Largo do Machado. The esfihas (a sort of pasty filled either with beef, cheese, or greens) and kibes (a large deep-fried ball of ground meat and bulgur wheat) are just R$1.50 each, and two of either will hold you over until dinner time. A vast panorama of juices is available at R$2.70 each (try the mangaba). For a change of pace, try a lunch of açaí in a bowl topped with granola (R$4). Açaí is a delicious fruit from the Amazon, which has only recently become popular in Rio . It is the deep-red berry from a palm, and the juice is served cold, with the consistency of a thick milk-shake or frappe.

Another economical and health-conscious way to dine in Rio is at one of the many kilo restaurants (more common in less elegant neighborhoods such as Largo do Machado and Catete). Prices range between R$0.99 and R$2.19 per 100 grams (a normal portion is between 300 and 500 grams ). A favorite is the Novo Paraíso do Chopp in Largo do Machado (corner of Rua Dois de Dezembro with Rua do Catete), which, though it may not have the best selection of greens and vegetables, has very nice barbecue.


For those with big appetites, an interesting option is the all-you-can-eat Vulcão das Massas (Volcano of Pasta) on Rua Evaristo da Veiga (just down the street from the Teatro Municipal in the center). For R$10 you can sample sundry kinds of pasta from a never-ending stream of waiters passing by, and cap off your feed with the delicious banana pizza. Come to think of it – you might just want to start there.

Street food

One of the pleasures of Rio is that almost anywhere you go on the streets there is someone there to feed you. For someone who believes in instant gratification (count me in) – heaven! And there is quite a variety of treats to indulge in, even if most of the street food falls on the sweet side ( Brazil divides almost all solid food into two categories – sweet or salty).

Popcorn (R$1) - Popcorn (pipoca in Portuguese) is to be found everywhere, popped right there in front of your eyes, fresh and tasty. Every cart offers both sweet (eat it as is, or with sweetened condensed milk poured over it) and salty (either plain with salt, or with bacon bits added).

Churros (R$0.50 to R$1) - Churros are not native to Brazil , but were imported from its Spanish-speaking neighbors in Latin America . A little tube of fried dough (fried right on the spot), and with a sweet filling injected at your order (usually three flavors – doce de leite [caramel], doce de leite with coconut, and chocolate).

Pamonha/Curau (R$1) - These are usually sold from the same cart. Pamonha is a sort of steamed, sweet corn mush served in corn leaf wrappers (biodegradable packaging!). Curau is a sweet corn pudding with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and comes in a little plastic cup to eaten with a spoon.

Toasted Peanuts and Coconut (3 or 4 for R$1) - Vendors of toasted peanuts and coconut can found most often in the center, cooking wares on the street. The tidbits are sold in tiny plastic bags, usually three or four for a dollar.

Cuzcuz/Cocada/Bolo de Aipim (R$0.50-R$1) - These fall into the category of desserts, and are usually sold from a cart with a transparent cover that can be opened to sell the treat. Cuzcuz is a close-to-solid tapioca pudding with coconut. Your vendor will cut some off, pour condensed milk over it, and hand it to you on a piece of aluminum foil. A little messy for the street, but nice. Cocada is a dessert of coconut and sugar, sometimes with other flavors added (passion fruit and pineapple are popular). If you are lucky, you may find cocada that is a little moister than usual – it is usually rather dry. Bolo de aipim is a solid and moist cake made from aipim (another name for manioc).

Nuts (R$1) - Both cashews and Brazil nuts can be found in the center and sometimes elsewhere. Sold in small bags.

Cat Barbecue – No, you can’t order cat meat, but the popular name for the street-side barbecue really is churrasquinho de gato. They usually open up at the end of the working day, when hungry workers begin to make their way home. The vendor will also feature a variety of mixed drinks for sale (dispensed from 2-liter plastic soda bottles).


BrazilMax generally encourages people to explore on their own, but guided tours Rio de Janeiro can be booked through our partner WHL Travel, a company that shares our commitment to responsible and sustainable travel.

Corcovado on foot. Metrô stop: Largo do Machado. Kombi to Silvestre (R$1.60 each way) - Yes, everyone goes up Corcovado . 99.9% go by the cog railway (R$30) or by taxi up the autoroad. Join the truly elite and walk up – pedestrians enter for free. If you are really a glutton for punishment you could begin at Largo do Machado and walk all the way up through Cosme Velho. For just a few pennies more you can take the kombi (a VW van) to Silvestre, and walk up. Your hike to the toll gate for cars will be about 45 minutes, with an additional 20 minutes to the summit and the Christ statue. Those looking for even more exercise can take a side trip along the Paineiras road (turn right before the toll gate), closed to traffic on weekends only, and a very pleasant seven-kilometer jaunt.

Floresta de Tijuca ( Tijuca Forest ). Metrô stop: Saens Pena, bus to Alto da Boa Vista . - The Tijuca National Park (free admission) lies beyond the neighborhood of Tijuca, a comfortable, traditional middle-class enclave at the opposite end of the Metrô from Copacabana. The park is home to some very nice hikes and beautiful scenery, and is scandalously underused by Cariocas who usually would rather be at the beach on the weekend. The Metrô ride from Zona Sul to Saens Pena (the last stop) is about a half-hour. There you will need to catch the bus going over the pass to Barra da Tijuca. Get off at the top, and enter the park. There is a small network of auto roads in the park. Follow the bicycle path all the way up to the parking lot (about an hour’s walk) for the ascent to Pico da Tijuca ( Tijuca Peak ) or Bico do Papagaio (Parrot’s Beak). Tijuca Peak ( 1028 meters ) boasts a staircase cut into the rock to facilitate the final stretch (shades of Sam and Frod). Parrot’s Beak ( 975 meters ) is a little easier except for the last twenty minutes, which is practically straight up. Very nice views are to be had from either, and both will take about 70 minutes from the parking lot. Thirsty hikers leaving the park will find liquid sustenance at the Bar da Praçinha (next to the bus stop where you got off). Cash only.

Quinta da Boa Vista, the Zoo, and the Feira de São Cristovão. Metrô stop: São Cristovão - São Cristovão is well off the beaten paths for tourists, but worth the trip. Take the Metrô to Estácio, transfer to Linha 2, go one stop to São Cristovão, walk over the tracks of the Central do Brasil, and you are at the entrance for the Quinta da Boa Vista, the former residence of the Brazilian Imperial family when they were in the capital (in hot weather they retired to their palace in the mountains in Petrópolis). The former palace is now the National Museum , worth visiting for the Brazilian ethnographic exhibits. It deserves a little more support from the government. Also located in the Quinta is the Rio Zoo, interesting and well-kept. Once you have visited these attractions, keep going another three blocks and you will arrive at the Fair (Feira de São Cristovão), which is the center for Northeastern culture in Rio . On the weekends there will be live forró music on the stages at either end of the Fair (loud!!) with people dancing. There are plenty of restaurants serving traditional Northeastern cuisine such as sarapatel, carne seca, carne de sol, etc., and in the center there are likely to be repentistas, who will improvise verses about you until you make a contribution.


The Metrô is not as extensive as one might like it to be (only two lines at present, though more are planned), but it runs like clockwork, and seems to be one of the best administered companies in Rio . The fare is R$2. If you are going to Ipanema or Gávea in the South Zone, or a number of neighborhoods in the North Zone, you can catch free connecting buses run by the Metrô at the northern and southern ends of Line 1. Ask for the appropriate ticket at the ticket booth.

Another transit deal, and a tourist staple for years, is the surviving trolley line serving the hill neighborhood of Santa Teresa. The trolley leaves a station behind the Petrobrás building in the center, and the line branches at Largo dos Guimarães, with some trolleys continuing on Avenida Almirante Alexandrino out to the Dois Irmãos stop by the Prazeres favela, and some winding their way down to Largo das Neves near Catumbí (which has a marvelous restaurant, Goiabeira, serving pizza and flavored cachaça, open evenings). The fare is only R$0.60 each way. The trolleys are original equipment from circa 1900 – still running. Not to be missed. A collection of historic photographs can be found on the Santa Teresa Tramway website.

Travel to Rio de Janeiro

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