Blog post type – Best of List
Booking a hotel in a country you’re visiting for the first time when you don’t speak the language is a bit daunting. It seems simple if you hunt around on the internet, but do your research to match expectations and promise. I visited Rio just before Carnival and watched the frenzy ramp up while visiting several different neighborhood hotels.
Recognized as an international party city, Rio also has quiet neighborhoods, flourishing arts districts, high fashion design to the notorious, hillside favelas. The best places to stay in Rio de Janeiro depends on whether you can splurge or have backpacker budget.
1. Love hotels – Not what you’d imagine
In the Brazilian Portuguese, motels are actually “love hotels,” and they are perfectly legal. In Brazil most young singles live with their parents until they’re married. Romance is ever creative and over time, love hotels that rent by the hour have filled a niche keeping Brazilians happy and the population booming. Many of these are being turned into ‘family hotels’ offering medium range prices for those coming to Rio for sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup.
My family rented two rooms in a love hotel on a quiet street of the Flamengo neighborhood. While we felt a world away from the touristy areas of the city, there were restaurants, parks, pubs and public transportation half a block away.
At first I thought we had been given the honeymoon suite by accident. There was a very small dining area separated by a door into a bedroom paneled in mirrors – everywhere. The bed crinkled a bit from its plastic mattress cover and there was a roomy Jacuzzi. That’s what most of the rooms were like. It was comfortable but a bit claustrophobic with small windows opening onto a dark, grey window-well, but we weren’t in Rio to spend much time in our hotel room.
2 Luxury on Copacabana Beach
Most Rio visitors want to spend their days on the famous beaches of Copacabana or the ritzier Ipanema for good reasons. That’s where you’ll find the iconic Brazil babes on the beach, teeming cafes, and bars; long rows of souvenir and swimsuit shops.
The five-star, Copacabana Palace is one of the world’s finest hotels. Rising like an art deco phoenix above the strand, movie stars and presidents have stopped to enjoy its excesses. If you’re on a more modest budget there are still plenty of other options in the vicinity.
We stayed several nights at a high-rise hotel one block from the beach but close to restaurants and not far from the Cidade Copacabana shopping mall with its designer shops and multitude of restaurants.
The Ipanema neighborhood reminded me of New York’s Fifth Avenue with its luxury storefronts and hotels. If it had been up to me, I’d have booked a boutique hotel in the Lapa district amongst the art galleries and home to dozens of nightclubs bursting with samba, forró, and choro rhythm. Once a drug infested, dangerous area it’s turned around as the city has been investing in tourism and security.
3. Alternatives for the best places to stay in Rio de Janeiro
That said there are many other creative options for where to stay in Rio de Janeiro. Airbnb hosts are sprinkled throughout the city. Several homestays are open in the favelas and the hillsides are dotted with small boutique hotels fashioned out of mansions and homes. Further from the beaches and most tourist attractions these offer unique spaces and stunning views throughout Rio de Janeiro. You can find out more about getting in and around Rio here.
This post was sponsored by Hipmunk but opinions and comments are always my own.
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Nice read. We stayed at the Porto Bay right on Copacabana and loved it.
Staying near Copacabana would be a trip too. So much to see & do in Rio.
haha a love hotel must have been quite an experience 😉
Pretty funny. I’m glad we took the chance.
Thanks for the recommendations! I’d like to add Airbnb listings too. During the World Cup in 2014, we rented a suite in Ipanema overlooking the beach! It was a bit pricey but 10 of us (all from Couchsurfing) shared the unit! Again, thanks for sharing your list! xx
Sounds like you had a great arrangement. Lodging is dreadfully pricey anywhere around major events.
Ha! I love the concept of “Love Hotels!” It’s interesting how many different ways commerce can capitalize on culture!
It was hilarious. At first I thought we had been given the honeymoon suite by mistake!!
Copacabana Palace sounds fantastic! Would love to stay in a homestay, too. Always fun to see how people live in different countries. And that’s too funny about the love hotels!
Yes, the Copacabana Palace would be incredible for a night or two. Now where to tie up the yacht!!
Some great recommendations Elaine! Haven’t been to Rio de Janeiro but if I go there, I’ll make sure to refer back to your article 🙂
Thanks, Kathrin. I’m glad you found this helpful and hope you visit one day.
I’m not sure if I would use the jacuzzi in a “love hotel” room! Granted, I wouldn’t want to pay for (I assume) the over priced luxury hotels though! I think I’d play it safe w/ the AirB&b lol
The neighborhood was lovely and everything was discreet. Breakfast was a tickle seeing who showed up but they looked all like tourists!
I would love to visit Rio during the Carnival and the idea of staying in alternative accommodations in hillside neighborhoods sounds amazing!
I’d definitely head for the hills if I get a chance to return. Very Boho!
I went to Rio but didn’t hear about love hotels. We’re going later this year as part of our big trip on the continent and this is perfect for the planning. When I went (many many years ago) it was only Lonely Planet and no internet. Thanks for the tips!!
Have fun. I hope your trip is a dream come true.
Perfect timing! I’m planning a trip to Rio in April and I was just looking for accommodations. I was thinking Copacabana Beach.
It’s very popular. Don’t miss checking out other adjacent neighborhoods as well. You might find fewer tourists and more locals.
We’ve run into the concept of “love motels” in other Central and South American countries but how fun to actually stay in one! I’m not sure about the mirrors but the idea of an in-room Jacuzzi has me drooling.
As our Brazilian daughter-in-law did the booking we didn’t know what we were getting into when we entered our room. It was fun and close to other attractions we wanted to visit, that and the economy made it easy to get over any hesitations.
Love the picture of you on the beach! Rio sounds like a fun place. I’m not sure we’ll go there any time soon, but maybe some day… Thanks for sharing your tips on where to stay.
Thank you, Jolanta. I had a blast in Rio and thanks for the sweet note about the picture. Rio is one mash-up of high and low adventures, natural and urban treats.
Great insight! And LOVE the pic at Ipanema beach!
Thanks, Breanna. Glad you found it helpful and liked the picture at Ipanema. I felt like a character in a romantic, foreign film!
Can’t wait to visit Brazil, it’s on top of my bucketlist! Will definitely pin this for when the time comes for booking places to stay, it all looks great!
Thank you, Samiya. I hope you get a chance to visit Brazil. There’s so much going on across the country. Could spend a lifetime exploring.
Oh my, oh my, oh my!!! Rio looks soooo inviting. Wish we could fit that in our bucket list. (And I wouldn’t mind staying in one of those Love Hotels!)
Thanks, Marlys. Rio stunned me and watching it transform as Carnival erupted was a blast. I’d love to return!
Useful info for a first time visitor. I’d love to experience life in a favela.
A favela visit would definitely be off the tourist track even though some are offering stays there. I hope you’ll write about it one day.
I didn’t stay in a luxurious place on Copacabana beach but I did stay right on Ipanema! It wasn’t luxurious but how can you go wrong being that close to the beach 🙂
Truly. The beaches are just churning cultural experiences in themselves from the sand to the boardwalk and avenues. Such an amazing place!
AH Rio, so beautiful. Thanks for these fantastic accomodation tips!
Thanks, Eileen. I hope they serve you well.
Dying to go!!! Airfare is just so expensive 🙁
Watch for fares out of the Southern States. I hear that going through Dallas, Texas can be more affordable. I’m hoping that the new connections between San Diego and the Tijuana airport will make South America travel a bit more affordable too.
I have always wanted to go to Rio and am hoping to make it there one of these days. Love your descriptions of the different accommodations that could be found there.
As with any large urban area, Rio has so many nooks and crannies to explore. The topography makes for interesting ‘islands’ in the hills and of course, the favelas in and amongst it all.
When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester in Bogota, Colombia, living with a family that had 10 children. There wasn’t a lot of privacy, so I “get” the concept of love hotels. I’ve traveled in Colombia, Argentina, Peru and Chile, but I have a feeling Brazil is it’s own thing, starting with being the only Portuguese speaking country in South America. Interestingly, I can follow conversations and get the gist in Brazilian Portuguese from my knowledge of Spanish, but I could barely understand a word of European Portuguese which sounded more like a slavic language to me.
You are fortunate to have a grasp of Spanish and I’m sure it serves you well on the road. I know just enough to get in trouble. Interesting about the big difference between Brazilian and European Portuguese. Mirrors what I’ve heard about French in Canada contrasted with Europe. What a world we live in!
We stayed in a number of these “Love Motels” in South Korea last November. They were very reasonably priced and very clean and quiet. We have also stayed in a few in Mexico. I think they are a great option for travelers.
When we make our way to Rio we will have to remember this.
I’ve found out just how many of these exist around the world. Very practical and I’m sure a good business model!
Glad to learn about love hotels!
It’s a giggle but love has its ways.
I didn’t know Rio has love hotels. I’ve only heard of them before in Japan.
I’m finding out they’re in several places around the world! I think in predominantly Catholic countries. Hmmmm.
Great info for a first time visitor. I’d love to spend time there during Carnivale and photograph all those costumes.
You’d go nuts with the color and creativity from the streets to the Sambadrom. A truly world-class experience. I hope you get to go one day.
Ipanema Beach! Wow! So beautiful! We haven’t been to South America yet, but it’s definitely on the list and now we’ll know to look for a “love” hotel, lol! A gorgeous place, thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Lisa. Rio is spectacular and I hope you can visit sooner than later.
Yea, Tokyo also has a lot of these love hotels and it’s amazing how interesting and themed they are. They too rent rooms by the hour, but many of them are actually quite nice. I hope I get the chance to visit Rio one day soon :).
I’m finding this trend across the globe. Thanks for sharing!
I am completely with you in regards to the vibe of the Lapa district where the prices are lower and real life happens with locals, dancing, and food.
The touristy places can be pretty much the same the world over — you even compared the Ipanema neighborhood to Fifth Ave. While I love to visit all places in a new city, I choose — like you — to spend my money and time in the off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.
What a gorgeous place, by the way! Thanks for a nice — and very pretty — post.
So kind, Josie. There’s a time and room for all kinds of travel. I was lucky to glimpse the popular beach areas and get a taste of another kind of neighborhood on the same trip.
It seems that love hotels are common in Spanish/Portuguese influenced cultures. They sound like what we have in the Philippines, too, which was ruled by Spain for 300 years before the Americans came! So that’s where we will stay and from where we will explore. We will have a chance to go to Rio de Janeiro in 2017 so thanks for these tips!
I so want to visit the Philippines one day too, so thanks for the love hotel tip. Enjoy Rio in 2017!
Wow, these look like great places to stay. I haven’t been to South America yet, but I so want to get there one of these days.
I was so lucky to tag along on a family trip as we attended a wedding reception outside of Sao Paulo. Trip of a lifetime but it only whetted my appetite to see much more of South America.
These all sound like good options. I’ll remember this should I get a chance to go to Rio. I think I’d be most apt to go for the beach area.
There are so many beach areas around Rio with its undulating coastline. I hope you get the chance to visit soon.
Good info for the first-time visitor to Rio. Kinda funny about the “love hotels” but ingenuity will prevail!
Yes, as the song goes, love will find a way!
Those all look like excellent stays in Rio. I haven’t been, but I would love to see South America some day even Carnival.
Carnival rolls out across Brazil I discovered with each region celebrating at different times and in different ways anytime between New Years day and the beginning of Lent. Brazil loves to party!