Known the world over for its glitz and glam, Rio is rife with bargains if you know where to look. On top of that, it doesn’t hurt that as of press time the dollar is about three times the strength of the real, the country’s currency. What’s more, travelers who seek out homegrown attractions, from street art to samba, with the occasional splurge on a Michelin-star meal, will experience today’s Brazil at its most authentic. One tip before you start your adventure: Rio, stretched out against the curve of the Atlantic Ocean to the south, is massive, so consider grouping activities by neighborhood to minimize taxi time and maximize beach time.
Start in the North
Rio’s northern neighborhoods are filled with cultural hot spots. For an energizing and healthy start to the day, sample the Amazonian bounty at Asa Açai (79 Rua Sacadura Cabral; 011-55-21-2263-9094; breakfast for two, $24*). The modern space has a high ceiling, a large communal table and a menu of juices made from jungle fruits, such as cupuaçu, taperebá and graviola. The acai bowl (made of frozen, mashed acai palm fruit) isn’t overly sweet, and you can sprinkle the eatery’s own granola mix on top to make it a full meal. Next you’ll want to wander over to Avenida Rodrigues Alves, also known as Olympic Boulevard, where vibrant large-scale murals cover a long line of warehouses. Here, Nina Chini Gani with Gyde and Seek (two-hour walking tours, $30 for two people; additional costs, $20 per hour and/or per person) leads tours of the city’s dynamic street-art scene. She’ll fill you in on the life stories of various street artists, point out their techniques—as well as provocative political and historical references—and explain the meaning behind the black graffiti tags you’ll soon start to notice on buildings throughout the city.
Another sight bound to catch your eye: the Museum of Tomorrow (1 Praça Mauá; 011-55-21-3812-1812; adults, $6; children, $3), which resembles the head of an enormous futuristic crocodile emerging from the water. It’s outfitted with solar panels that rotate slowly throughout the day to follow the sun. The inside is a riot of floor-to-ceiling screens and interactive displays detailing the earth’s complex ecosystems, with a focus on the effects of climate change. Upon entering, you’ll receive a card that lets you engage with the exhibits and automatically converts them to your preferred language. Across the plaza, Museu de Arte do Rio (5 Praça Mauá; 011-55-21-3031-2741; adults, $6; children, $3) houses an excellent collection by local artists that’s centered on the theme of the city itself. Don’t leave without walking up to the rooftop for a view of Porto Maravilha (the Marvelous Port), which has been revitalized in recent years. Both museums are free on Tuesdays.
Stick around the northern part of the city for the hugely popular Roda de Samba da Pedra do Sal (38 Rua Argemiro Bulcão; rodadesambadapedradosal.blogspot.com.br, site in Portuguese; admission, free), a samba party that takes place every Monday night. Held in an amphitheater called Pedra do Sal (Salt Rock), a band of musicians plays in the center while samba lovers crowd the steps that double as seats. At times it’s hard to hear the tunes because of the many people chatting, sipping a beer or caipirinha (a cocktail made of lime, sugar and rum), nibbling skewers and singing and clapping along, but that just adds to the fun.
Drop In at City Centro
Centro, Rio’s downtown business district, is quiet in the evenings and on weekends, but during the week it’s bustling and offers terrific food options. Take Lilia (45 Rua do Senado; 011-55-21-3852-5423; lunch for two, $31), an elegant kitchen on the top floor of a townhouse. The three-course lunch is the only thing on the menu, and it’s a great deal; on any given day it might feature light coconut broth, smoky grilled beets or a leafy salad dressed in sesame seeds and kefir (fermented milk). Afterward you can stroll over to Curto Café (278 Erasmos Braga, Sobreloja Kiosk 47, in Terminal Menezes Cortes; 011-55-21-98176-2582), where aproned baristas turn out espresso made from beans grown in Brazil. The café is tucked unexpectedly into a shopping mall. Everything at Curto, from the lattes to the brownies, is pay-what-you-wish—the founders want everyone to have access to great coffee. You might not need a full day in Centro, but the neighborhood is conveniently located for a midday stop.
One of Rio’s most famous sights rises up from a small peninsula in the southeastern part of the city. The steep 40-minute hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) may be free, but many find it more fun to take in the spectacular tableau by cable car (520 Av. Pasteur; 011-55-21-2546-8400; adults, $25; children 6–21 and seniors 60 and over, $12; children 5 and under, free). Lines can be long, so consider buying tickets online in advance and come for sunset. The views of Guanabara Bay, the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, a scattering of small islands and the collections of boats in the marinas far below—plus the chance to see just how big Rio is—are unmissable. Stroll around the woodland section just below the viewing platforms to catch a glimpse of the pocket-size capuchin monkeys that live among the vine-covered trees.
Rio’s restaurants have been scooping up Michelin stars in the past few years, and Lasai (191 Rua Conde de Irajá; 011-55-21-3449-1834; lasai.com.br, site in Portuguese; dinner for two, $200) is one of the most deserving. In a historic townhouse in the trendy neighborhood of Botafogo, a couple of miles west of Sugarloaf, chef Rafael Costa e Silva showcases Brazilian ingredients from the restaurant’s own gardens in dishes like manioc (a native root vegetable) with banana and bok choy. There are thoughtful wine pairings that usually include a bottle or two from nearby vineyards. If you’re going to splurge, do it here—you’ll still get excellent value for your meal.
In the city’s southwestern quadrant sits the lush, peaceful Botanic Garden (1008 Rua Jardim Botânico; 011-55-21-3874-1808; jbrj.gov.br, site in Portuguese; adults, $5; children 6–21, $2; children 5 and under, free). Before going in, you may want to stop at Mil Frutas (15 Rua J.J. Seabra; 011-55-21-2511-2550; milfrutas.com.br, site in Portuguese; cones for two, $8) for exuberant ice cream and sorbet flavored with Amazonian fruits. Or try a creamy brigadeiro, made from condensed milk and cocoa powder. You can stroll from here to the gardens, whose 338 acres of wide boulevards lead to greenhouses full of orchids, bromeliads, fountains and a stunning cactus park. The Avenue of Palms, lined with sky-high trees planted 200 years ago, makes for a particularly Instagram-worthy photo. Once you’ve finished exploring, consider crossing the street to grab a sidewalk table at chic Jojö Café Bistro (812 Rua Pacheco Leão; 011-55-21-3565-9007; jojocafe.com.br, site in Portuguese; snacks and drinks for two, $40). A plate of Brazilian cheese and a round of the made-in-Rio craft beers—kept chilled in their own little ice buckets—make for a refreshing end to the day.
Hit the Coast
Some of Rio’s most legendary beaches are in the well-heeled neighborhoods of the South Zone. The beaches are free, though, and renting a city bike is a bargain. Bike Rio (011-55-21-4003-6054; bikeitau.com.br, site in Portuguese; unlimited rides up to 60 minutes long, $1.50 a day; add $1.50 to each ride longer than 60 minutes) has stands all over Rio, but it especially makes sense to rent one here so that you can cruise the boardwalk bike path along Copacabana beach. The ride affords stellar views of the ocean and the crowds lazing about or playing hands-free volleyball.
Once you’ve taken in the scenery, you can eat barbecued shrimp and drink from fresh coconuts sold by vendors that roam the shore. Or stop by a kiosk for a chopp (draft) of Brazilian beer Brahma or a caipirinha made with fresh lime juice, each only a couple of dollars. Stand-up paddleboarding shops are plentiful for those who want to get out on the water. Try Surf Rio (Copacabana Posto 6, Av. Atlântica; 011-55-21-9180-2287; surfrio.com.br, site in Portuguese; board rental and lessons, $22 an hour) for rentals and lessons with friendly instructors. But whether you bike, board or just lounge on the sand, a day at the beach—like any day in Rio—is a day very well spent.
RCI® affiliated resorts in Brazil include:
Adventure abounds. You can go horseback riding or hiking or practice your archery. Estrada Teresópolis-Friburgo, km. 12, Vargem Grande, Teresópolis, Região Serrana
Member Review: “Beautiful property.”
Splash around at the on-site water park. It’s the largest in Rio de Janeiro and home to one of the world’s tallest waterslides at about 164 feet high. Rodovia BR 393 km. 271, Dorandia, Barra Do Pirai, Região Serrana
Member Review: “Very helpful staff, and family-oriented activities are available.”
Rio Quente Suite & Flat III
Come to Caldas Novas to relax. The scenic city is dotted with therapeutic pools that are great for a long soak. Fazenda Agua Quente, Rio Quente
Member Review: Not yet rated
Shares amenities with Rio Quente Suite & Flat III. Fazenda Agua Quente, Rio Quente
Member Review: “We loved the on-site water park and hot springs.”
The kids won’t run short of activities—they can play in South America’s largest water park at this property. Fazenda Agua Quente, S/N Zona Rural, Rio Quente
Member Review: “Our vacation at this resort was quite simply spectacular. Every moment that we spent was amazing.”
You’ll have views of the Atlantic from nearly every room here thanks to the resort’s prime setting on the lush island of Santa Catarina. Rua Estrada Vereador, Onildo Lemos 2505, Florianopolis
Member Review: Not yet rated
You may not see Rio de Janeiro availability right away, so it’s important to plan now for travel in 2019.** We can help find your dream vacation with Ongoing Search.1 Choose your preferences, and we’ll search 24/7 then email you when there’s a match!
Tour Rio with a guided vacation! RCI® Travel Guided Vacations*** offers a range of itinerary types that take the hassle out of vacation planning. Visit RCITravelGuidedVacations.com for more information.
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Rio de Janeiro include:
Spacious, airy rooms in the heart of buzzy Ipanema. The staff provide free chairs and towels for the beach, just a four-minute walk away. 539 Rua Visconde de Pirajá; 011-55-21-3875-9191; maripanema.com; doubles from $170 a night, including breakfast
A tower of colorful Philippe Starck–designed rooms with beach views and a rooftop pool. 242 Praia de Botafogo; 011-55-21-3445-2000; yoo2.com/riodejaneiro; doubles from $130 a night, including breakfast
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- **These vacations are limited and subject to availability.
- ***RCI Travel Guided Vacations is administered by International Cruise & Excursion Gallery, Inc. d/b/a/ Our Vacation Center and/or ICE, a Delaware Corporation, with its principal place of business at 7720 N. Dobson Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona under contract with RCI, LLC. RCI disclaims all responsibility in connection with any third-party travel services.
- 1The current RCI Exchange Fee is required to set up an Ongoing Search. The Exchange Fee may be refundable if no match is found, provided the member is otherwise in full compliance with all applicable exchange program requirements.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Summer 2018