Rio is divided in zones (as all cities) being Downtown (Centro), North Zone, South Zone and West Zone.
The West Zone is the most modern, its where you will find Barra and Recreio, noted for large avenues, green areas and a concentration of shopping centres per square meter I have never found anywhere else in the world.
Centro has been upgraded lately (after the Olympics and other high attention events in the last few years) and what was before a highly dangerous place to be, is slowly being revitalized and people are also slowly moving back to live there. I confess, as a woman solo traveler, I feel uneasy there, specially at night.
The South Zone is mostly made up of neighbourhoods along the coastline, such as Leblon (the most expensive), Lagoa, Ipanema, São Conrado, Copacabana, Leme, Urca, Botafogo, Flamendo and Glória. Contrasting with the high end shops and restaurants, houses and shopping centres, Zona Sul also includes a number of favelas such as Rocinha, Vidigal, Cantagalo in Copacabana and Dona Marta, in Botafogo.
Its in this zone most tourists usually stay. It is packed with accommodation options – the world famous Copacabana Palace is at Avenida Atlantica, Posto 2 in Copacabana, hostels, guesthouses (not so common) and apartments for renting.
Botafogo is a rapidly becoming the apple of the eyes for people that are looking for nice bars and restaurants and a cheaper option to stay. However, the beach is bad and safety is moderate. Rio Sul, a great shopping mall, is located in Botafogo, as well as Botafogo Praia Shopping, not a good shopping but with a breathtaking view of Sugar Loaf from the terrace at the last floor, worth a couple of visits only for the view.
Urca is a very charming neighborhood (where Roberto Carlos, an Icon of the music scene lives), very safeand ideally located close to Botafogo and Copacabana. The It has a small town feel and you will be surrounded mainly by locals
I must confess I am hooked to the South Zone (Zona Sul). I started being a Copacabana kind of girl but lately due to various factors I stay at Ipanema. These two parts of Rio are where most foreigners stay, being touristy and expensive when compared with other parts of the city
Copacabana, also called the Princess of the Sea is home of the famous calçadão, Copacabana palace, Forte de Copacabana and an impressive array of restaurants and bars. Prices range from medium to very high depending on the time of the year. The beaches are good, and crowded, and you will find English speaking people quite easily. Lately safety has become a concern, and that is the main reason why I am now staying at Ipanema, definitely a more expensive option, but where I feel safe most of the time. The beach is excellent, shopping is 5 star, lots of bars and nightlife, and very good restaurants to choose from.
Lagoa and Leblon are extremely pricey, although beautiful neighborhoods to stay, safe enough and also with good options for bars, restaurants and shopping. A walk in the lagoon is a must for everyone. If you are into the famous people scene, Leblon is THE place to find all actresses and actors from the world famous Rede Globo de Televisão (TV broadcasting).
And how to choose accommodation?
Well that highly depends on your budget and what do you want when on holidays. The Hotel offer in Rio is impressive. However, its generally expensive. As closer to the beach the more expensive it gets. The Brazilians are a very welcoming people, very talkative and the customer care at hotels is great. Guesthouses are not as common, but slowly its a niche that is developing. Backpackers/hostels are a few, with really nice options and conditions.
I personally prefer, as I travel alone and for longer periods of time (21 days at least), to rent an holiday apartment. It gives me the independence I like, and the possibility to cook at home (I just love to cook), saving my money for special restaurants. Renting an apartment is easy and you will find really good places to stay, with welcoming owners that will quickly put you at ease and make you feel like family.
For me the best options to find accommodation is by using the sites below posted. They are reliable, you get value for money and there is a lot of options to choose from. To find accommodation in Rio, I mostly used alugue temporada, and was always able to find very good options. I like to stay at the same place every year, so when staying in Copacabana I always rented the apartment from a really nice man called Raul, located in Rua Souza Lima 37, Posto 6, the prime zone of Copacabana. Since I changed to Ipanema, I stay at a very quiet and nice apartment at Barão da Torre, Posto 9, from a lovely lady called Diana, who I strongly recommend. Its clean, it has all you need, extremely organized, located in a very nice area and with a very good restaurant just in front of it, called Salitre. Close to the apartment you can also find lots of Bistros, high end restaurants, botecos, healthy food restaurants, coffee houses, you name it.
- Make sure you take enough time to plan and to book, best deals are made when booking in advance
- Avoid (unless you like it) high season: overpriced and crowded
- make sure you rent from a trusted source, there are a lot of scams on the internet. If negotiating directly with the owner, try to avoid paying a deposit in advance, unless you trust the person
- Choose an apartment with a doormen (portaria), it helps with safety as well as luggage if needed
- Always check the norms and rules of the apartment
- Beware that some people always push up the price for foreigners, negotiate
- Always ask for free wifi and aircon
- When entering the apartment, check it with the owner by your side, to agree on the conditions found and ask for replacements if items are not working or missing
- An important tip (warning: TMI): sewerage pipes in Brazil have a smaller diameter than usual, always make sure you use the trash can instead of the toilet for throwing paper, etc, otherwise you will get into a very embarrassing situation
- . Many apartments have electric showers. make sure they are in good conditions, and beware that pressure will be lower and temperature sometimes difficult to control.
- Make sure you know where the waste disposal is. Many apartments have a dedicated place inside the building (on the stairs), and large bags do not fit there.
- make sure you bring an adapter for your cell phone, shaving machine, hairdryer, etc. Not all apartments have it.