Famous the world over for its spectacular beaches, stunning natural landscape, and colorful Carnival, Rio de Janeiro is set to dazzle as the host of the 2016 Olympic Games.
Despite much-publicized problems in the run-up to the games, Rio is primed to put on a stunning show. Vibrant street parties are planned, and seriously beefed-up security means the city’s tourist hotspots will be much safer than usual. An added bonus: visa requirements have been waived for those heading to the city for the Olympics, and the country’s weakened economy means it’s once again affordable for international visitors. The 2014 FIFA World Cup highlighted Rio’s chronic shortage of hotel rooms, and hoteliers faced a sprint to the finish line as they raced to double the number of beds available in time for the Olympics. New hotels have sprung up across the city, including several close to the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca but—despite predictions of poor ticket sales—most have already been snapped up for the duration of the games. However, last-minute planners can still find plenty of enticing accommodation options.
For those who like their home comforts, Brazil’s pousadas—independently run guest houses—are a pleasant alternative to often charmless hotel rooms. A common complaint among Western visitors to Rio is that high prices are rarely matched by quality in the city’s mainstream hotels, but for those prepared to sacrifice a beachfront location in return for lush tropical gardens, personalized service, and lots of charm, the country’s pousadas offer excellent standards. Options range from simple guest houses to “boutique” pousadas and eco-lodges, and prices vary accordingly. As a rule, however, they offer vastly more bang for your buck than standard hotel rooms.
Hidden Pousadas Brazil cherry-picks the best guest houses in the country, like Casa Kobert in the laid-back beach suburb of Recreio. The brand new German-American run property offers seven chic suites with excellent facilties, including a gorgeous pool and gardens. For an even better experience, take a side trip from Rio—guest houses in gorgeous nearby beach towns such as Buzios and Paraty offer great stays without the Olympic pricing.
Cariocas, as natives of Rio are known, are renowned for their entrepreneurial spirit, and many are now offering rooms or entire homes for rent. Home rental site airbnb was appointed as an official “alternative accommodation provider” for the 2016 Games, allowing savvy travelers to search by price bracket, location, and accommodation type according to their needs. (Options range from sofa-beds in locals’ downtown apartments for less than $10 to entire luxury Ipanema penthouses with pools, starting at around $1,000, and everything in between). Potential guests can vet hosts and read comments from previous guests, making airbnb a relatively safe option for visiting sports fans.
For those prepared to venture a little farther off the beaten tourist track, truly unique accommodations can be found within the city’sfavelas. Formerly the bloodied terrain of heavily armed drug factions, many of these urban developments have now been pacified by Rio’s military police. Elliot Rosenburg runs the favela rental agency Favela Experience, a sustainable tourism service that works with locals to offer beds, rooms, and entire homes to rent while presenting the realities of the community. The prices are about half the rate of hostels, and the rentals offer an immersive experience in city life. Favelas in Rio’s Zona Sul—the beautiful South Zone of the city, which encompasses the beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon as well as leafy, upper-class suburbs such as Jardim Botanico and Lagoa—cling to the mountainsides, offering sweeping vistas that are unsurpassed by any hotel in the city.
Insider Tip: Visitors must be sure to double check the security situation before making a booking as some favelas are significantly safer than others. Travelers should also search for reputable booking and housing services that work with and for the favela communities in order to facilitate genuine, non-exploitive cultural exchange.
Rio has an excellent hostel scene, which goes well beyond bunk beds for backpackers. Many offer double rooms, pools, and stylish communal areas. Some of the best hostels can be found in the boho-chic hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa, where the recently opened Hennessy House has private rooms from $62 per night during the games, while suites start at $92. A hammock-strewn roof terrace with spectacular views makes this a real Olympic winner, while visiting monkeys and toucans add to the tropical appeal.
Open-minded travelers can find competitively priced lodgings at Rio’s “love motels.” These discreet accommodations are found across the city and, while they traditionally rent to couples looking for a few hours’ privacy, many have modified their offer to cater to longer-stay Olympics visitors. Rooms are cheaper than standard hotels, and many feature giant whirlpool baths—a seductive offer for those who don’t object to a mirrored ceiling.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Rio de Janeiro Guide