Top 5 Rio de Janeiro activities on a budget
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Free walking tour
This has got to be my Number One travel tip for literally any city! It's such a great way to get an overview of a place, and learn a bit of history, often including some awesome insider tips (our guide was so interesting I asked her about racism in Brazil, the truth about Favelas and got some local tips on the nightlife).
Me and Grace on the Lapa steps.
We went with free walker tours on their Downtown and Lapa tour: https://freewalkertours.com/rio-de-janeiro/tours/free-walking-tour-downtown-and-lapa/.
I would highly recommend them, as the guide was great, the route was varied, and they give a discount for their Lapa pub crawl. This was our best night in Rio, it starts in a Cachaça distillery where you can press your own sugar cane and ends at the best local Samba club with a live band (our guide even gave us dance lessons!)
Me enjoying my samba lesson.
Obviously with any free walking tour the guides rely on your tips else they don't get paid, so it would be rude to not give anything for their time. But you can pay them based on your experience of the tour and your budget.
2. Walk to Christ the Redeemer
Christ The Redeemer is one of the most famous landmarks of Rio! Not only does it have spectacular views of the whole city from the top, it is situated in a national park filled with rainforest with the possibility of spotting marmosets and capuchin monkeys. The hike is pretty steep, you follow the yellow footprint signs, hiking past waterfalls and even climb up a ladder built into the rockface.
Stopped for a rest by one of the waterfalls (why do I look so sassy? I blame the heat).
You have the option to go via the visitors centre or you can carry on up to the statue and pay your entry up there (we opted for a needed coffee stop at the visitors centre!). It is a steep but doable hike that took us around 3h round trip, we left early at around 6am to beat both the heat and the tourists. Hiking is also a much cheaper way of viewing the statue; entry cost for hikers is £4 whereas by train the cost is £12 and by van £7-Note you need to pay by cash.
Views from the statue
Several websites advise to take care on the hiking trail as several people have been mugged for their possessions. When we went, we felt safe the whole time and although the trail wasn't busy we saw a few other tourists, and we signed in and out of the trail at the ranger's hut at the bottom in Parque Lage. We also had an app where we downloaded the trail route offline in case we were lost, but we didn't really need it as the trail was well signed and easy to follow.
3. Watch the sunset at Ipanema Beach
Arpoador is a rock sticking out from the beach at Ipanema where locals gather for the sunset. It's a beautiful spot with street performers, stalls and a striking view of the city and the sun setting below the mountains behind it. Best of all it's free! Make sure you check the sunset time and get there an hour or so before to see the best bit.
Sunset from Arpoador rock.
4. Try the local delicacies
Eating out on a budget is pretty easy in Rio, especially when there's so much nice street food! One of our favourites were the little cheese-filled dough balls pão de queijo, which we tried for the first time at a tiny vegetarian restaurant called Cultivar, where I also tried cashew nut juice after being persuaded by a very enthusiastic local.
The pão de queijo in Cultivar.
Another firm favourite was our morning Acai Cuco at the downstairs street food vendor; this is a frozen acai berry smoothie served with granola.
And finally the Caprinha, a delicious cocktail based on the local sugar-cane rum Cachaça, which you can find literally everywhere. Our favourite was brought to us on Copacabana beach at the end of a long day hiking.
A well-deserved Caprinha on the beach.
5. Don't be afraid to take an Uber
Hear me out. Normally I hate taking taxis, it's such an unnecessary expense and I often think you see more of the city if you go by public transport. However, the metro in Rio doesn't go to a large part of the city and the bus routes can be tricky to understand and not that much cheaper. Plus in a city like Rio you definitely need to consider safety, and both our Air BnB host and our Brazilian friend advised us against using public transport after dark.
Rio Metro map, as you can see hardly any lines.
Luckily in Rio the Ubers seem to be so much cheaper than at home, and as 2 young women we never had any issues or felt unsafe.
Just as an example, a journey from Botofogo to Santa Teresa cost 7 Brazillian Real (around £1) and from Lapa to Botofogo at 1am cost 14 Real (£2), and were even cheaper if we fair split. For comparison, a single bus ticket is 4 Real, and a single metro ticket just over 4 Real.
Rio is such an awesome city, and the people are so friendly. Definitely an unforgettable place to visit.
Total cost £28- Ubers £10, Sunset at Arpoador FREE, Beach Caprinha £2.50, pão de queijo 50p, Acai Cuco £1, Walking tour £TIP (we gave around £10 each), Entry to Corcovado £4 for hikers.