The CheapAir Quick Guide to Rio de Janiero: Authentic and Cheap Things to Do While You’re in Rio for the Olympics

With an expected 500,000 travelers converging on Rio de Janeiro this August for the 2016 Summer Olympics, this cosmopolitan and vibrant mecca is sure to be busier (and more expensive) than usual! Here are some awesome tips for keeping it real while you keep more money in your pocket!
ipanema beach, rio de janeiroLounge on Ipanema Beach
Rio has some of the best sandy beaches in the world, accompanied by big surf breaks and people watching to rival any metropolis. Ipanema Beach is the OG of Rio’s many beaches; immortalized in the 1960s by the bossa nova hit, “The Girl from Ipanema,” so plan to clock some serious sunning hours there. You’ll have a hard time telling the supermodels from the regular people – pretty much everyone is in see-and-be-seen mode on Ipanema.

Eat at a Barracas (Food Stall)
For cheap eats on the beach, you can’t go wrong with any of the many barracas along Ipanema. We can heartily recommend Uruguai, which has been around for years and serves up tasty (and cheap) beef, chicken, and sausage sammies with chimichurri sauce for about $2 a pop.

prainha beach, brazil

Catch a Wave
You can take surf lessons in Rio, but the serious surf breaks make the city a mecca for experienced surfers. If you’re one of those, we recommend heading to the beaches west of Rio, specifically to the spot known as the Prainha – it’s the half-mile break that backs up onto lush jungle and gets 10-12 foot waves on the regular. Get there by catching the Surf Bus from Largo do Machado (and all along the beachfront hotels of Copacabana and Ipanema) for about $2.50 a ride. You can take the Surf Bus to many beaches outside the city, and you don’t have to be a surfer to catch it either!

Ride Public Transport
Travel geeks know this to be an old chestnut in most locales, but Rio is the perfect place to put it to good use. With taxi fares in Rio normally quite expensive ($30 is pretty standard from hotel districts to either Copacabana or Ipanema beach) and prices certain to skyrocket during the Olympics, you’re much better off just taking the metro for the bargain price of less than a buck.

Take a Stroll
Locals like to meander along the bike path on Copacabana, but another fun walk is to take the Pista Cláudio Coutinho, which is a moderate, 1.2 mile trail that winds around the southern arm of Morro do Urca on the northeast point of the city near Sugarloaf. To find this little gem, you’ll walk about 110 yards north along the edge of the Praia Vermelha. The path is straight ahead of you, just past the beach. Aside from a lush, tropical walk you’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for marmosets, which pepper the area.

sugar loaf, rio de janeiro

Sunset on Sugarloaf
Is it a touristy thing to do, taking the double cable car ride to the top of Sugarloaf mountain? Sure it is. Do we recommend you skip it? Heck no! Sugarloaf is one of the most iconic representations of Rio and it offers spectacular views back on the city. Sunset is a stunning time to visit – definitely worth the ride to the top. You’ll see rock climbers on your ascent, but we don’t recommend trying to summit this way – Sugarloaf is for expert climbers only. You can take both cable cars to the top for $20, or walk up to the first cable car station and catch the second for about $10. For the money, we give a slight edge to the ascent to Sugarloaf over the tram ride ($20) to Corcovado Mountain to visit Christ the Redeemer. More adventurous (and fit!) types might want to hike to the top – it’s a steep 2.5-3 hour hike through Tijuca National Park so just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

If you’re planning to visit Rio de Janeiro this summer, you might also want to read our post “What Travelers Need to Know About Zika.” It’s essential reading for a stress-free trip.

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