Wander or Bust is an Elite Daily travel series that follows young women all over the globe to record their journeys as they experience the thrill of the far-flung and unknown.
They'll track their budgets, where they stay, where they eat and drink, and where they took that amazing Instagram that got them ~maximum exposure.~ The internet is full of travel advice, but none from women just like you. Read on for the tips no one else gives you, and when in doubt, get on the plane.
Here's Olivia Arguinzoni's Wander Or Bust guide to Rio de Janeiro.
My Name: Olivia Arguinzoni
What I Do: I'm a recent master's graduate who's job searching.
Where I Live: New York City
Where I Went: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
How Long I Stayed: 11 days, 10 nights
My Spending Style: Occasionally indulgent. I don't throw money around, but I will definitely splurge on more than a few expensive things on a vacation.
Where I Got My Recommendations:
I've previously lived in Rio for about a year, so my recommendations are things I came to love while living there. I have gone back since for shorter trips, and when I do, I text my Brazilian friends to see if there's any new stuff I should be aware of. I like checking Rioetc for events and TimeOut Rio is also a great resource.
Exchange Rate At Time Of Travel: $1 USD = $3.6 BRL
What That Looks Like IRL: $50 USD = $180 BRL
Preferred Payment Method: I used cash and my debit card.
Phone Bill: I have a Brazilian SIM, so $0 extra.
Mode of Transport: Airplane
Extra Costs: $30
The international airport is pretty far from where most tourists stay and public transport is lacking, so you'll need a taxi. There are pre-paid, flat-rate taxi kiosks in the airport, which run you about $30. There are also regular city taxis that charge via meter outside the airport that'll run you about $15.
There's also an airport bus that's only $5. If you're not in a rush, this is a good option, but it may take you three hours to get to where you're staying.
Transport Total: $930
Accommodation: VRBO (like AirBnB, but not marketed to millennials)
Location: Ipanema, Zona Sul
The city is divided into zones, which can be thought as boroughs. The southern zone, or Zona Sul, is what most people think of when they think of Rio de Janeiro and it's where most tourists stay.
Extra Costs: $0
Would I Recommend It To Someone Else:
Yes. The apartment was a good size with a washer in-unit and fully functional kitchen. As for the neighborhood, Ipanema is great. It has beautiful, tree-lined streets and the beach that runs along its portion of the coast is one of the most famous in the world.
Accommodation Total: $375 (It was $1,500 total, with each person contributing $375.)
Breakfast-Lunch Cost: $10/day
Dinner Cost: $10/day
Average Total Cost: $20/day
Tip Situation: Tipping is not customary in Brazil, but it's not considered bad manners to tip and people appreciate it when you do.
We did breakfast in the apartment most days. Grocery stores are everywhere in neighborhoods in Zona Sul, so it was easy to stock up on food. We did as many Brazilians do and ate fruit and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on pão frances (single serving baguettes freshly baked at the grocery store).
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Brazil, and usually includes rice and beans and some type of meat. We usually went to "kilo restaurants," buffet-style places where you pay by how much your food weighs.
Rio also has tons of places that are made for snacking while out and about. You can stop by these lanchonetes, place your order, and then eat while standing at the counter with the other patrons.
As for dinner, when we went out, we did pizza (which is eaten with a fork and knife), crepes, salads, sushi, etc.
Favorite Restaurant: Bar do Mineiro
Location: Santa Teresa
This place is famous for its feijoada, a stew of black beans with beef and pork. The food is absolutely delicious, but it’s the experience that keeps me coming back. It’s located on a main street in Santa Teresa, a bohemian, hill-top neighborhood with beautiful colonial-style houses and expansive views of the city. Every time I've been there, I've waited at least a half hour to be seated. I don’t see this as a bad thing. At Bar do Mineiro, it’s a tradition to order appetizers and drinks from the bar and eat and drink them on the sidewalk outside while you wait to be seated.
Food Total: $200
Bars are the nightlife of choice for most Cariocas (locals of Rio), but there is also a good amount of live music and dancing. Clubs can be found, but they tend to cater to college-age people. A lot of the nightlife in Rio happens outside, in public places. Bars are small and people usually end up spilling out onto the sidewalk and sometimes into the street.
A really popular place to go out is a neighborhood called Lapa. You can catch some live Samba at Democráticos or head to Circo Voador, a music venue in a former circus tent, for more contemporary shows. You can also just spend the night bar hopping along the main street. If you want a place where the locals go, head to Casa da Cachaça, a hole-in-the-wall bar serving strong caipirinhas and shots of flavored cachaça.
What People Wear Out:
Cariocas dress casually, yet stylishly for a night out. A “going-out” dress and high heels would be too formal for most places. People look good when they go out, but you never get the sense that they spent a lot of time getting ready.
Average Cost Of A Pint: A 600ml bottle of beer is $2-3.
Extra Cost To Know About: Some bars with live music have cover charges. The amounts vary, but I’d say $7 will be enough.
Last Call: Around 4-6 AM.
The night starts late and ends late in Rio. I’ve had many a night where my bus ride home was filled with people going to work.
Average Total Cost Of A Night Out: $15
Cheapest Bar I'd Actually Go Back To: B.G. Bar in Gávea
One of the things I love about Rio nightlife is that the best bars aren’t necessarily the trendy, expensive ones. A cheap bar I would go back to is B.G. Bar in Gávea. It’s a mainstay in what locals refer to as Baixo Gávea. Almost every night of the week, people hang out on the sidewalk in front of this bar (it’s too small to fit more than 10 people comfortably), but on the most popular nights, Thursdays and Sundays, the sidewalk, streets, and even the square in front are packed with young people.
Going Out Total: $125
What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Worth It:
Rio is filled with famous elevated points from which to view the city below. The two most famous and easiest to access are Corcovado, where Christ the Redeemer watches over the city, and Sugarloaf Mountain. I’ve been to Corcovado twice (which is one time too many), but I always find myself going back to Sugarloaf, especially at dusk, despite the 71 reals ($20 USD) charged to get up to the top. The view of the sun setting behind the hills that dot the landscape makes me pretty emotional, and I always think about that line from Pride and Prejudice where Mary asks, “What are men to rocks and mountains?”
What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Not Worth It:
There’s a small beach town about three hours north of Rio called Búzios. I’d liken it to the Hamptons — high-end stores, expensive(ish) restaurants, etc. There’s even a Pacha nightclub. While I did have a good time hanging out there with my friends, what it has to offer doesn’t differ wildly from what you would find in Rio, and the money you will spend on transportation, accommodation, food, and fun really isn’t worth it.
However, I highly recommend Ilha Grande, an island off the coast of the southern Rio. There are no cars on the island and many of the streets in the main town, called Abraão, aren’t paved, but filled with sand. You will have to hike or take a ferry to get to the points of interest away from Abraão, but that just adds to the charm.
What I Spent Little Or No Money On That Was Awesome:
The Escadaria Selaron (known in English as the Red Steps) is a bit touristy, but well worth it for the amazing tile art covering almost every inch of the stairway. You may recognize it as the stairs where Snoop Dogg and Pharell sit in the “Beautiful” music video. Sometimes the artist, a quirky Chilean guy whose studio is in one of the houses that line the stairway, will come out and chat with visitors. Oh, and it’s free.
Favorite Thing I Did, Regardless Of Cost:
Democráticos. I’m mentioning it again because it’s that good. It’s an old club in Brazil frequented by people of all ages. It has tons of history and sublime live music. My favorite night to go is on Wednesdays for Forró night. Forró is a partner dance, but if you don’t already know it there will be plenty of people there willing to help you out.
Hidden Gem I Found:
I don’t think many tourists know that Cariocas applaud the sunset on the beach. In the summer, the sun sets behind a beautiful rock formation called Dois Irmãos. You can watch it from the sand or you can go to the big rock, called Arpoador, that juts out into the ocean at the northern end of Ipanema Beach. The view is beautiful and the communal applause is moving.
There are also weekly outdoor produce markets, called Feira Livre. These markets are filled with vendors selling fruits and veggies, but I like to go for the pastel. Pastel is similar to an Argentinian empanada, but fried and much larger. My go-to is the ground beef (carne moída), but you should also try the palmito, or heart of palm.
The Photo I Took That Got The Most Attention:
I’m pretty sure any photo you post in Rio will get tons of likes. Come on, it’s Brazil. Everyone loves Brazil.
Excursions/Extras Total: $215
General Shopping: $0
I brought back tiny bikini bottoms for my girlfriends. Once you go Brazilian bikini you never go back! Other popular souvenirs include cachaça, cangas, and snacks like bananada and paçoca.
Souvenirs/Shopping Total: $30
Best Rio Hack:
The beer situation can be confusing. Most bars serve beer in 600ml bottles. These are not meant to be consumed by one person directly from the bottle, but poured into tiny glasses and shared among friends.
My personal favorite is Antarctica Original. It’s a tad more expensive, but worth it. If you're looking for beer on tap, you need to order chopp (pronounced more or less like sho-pee). The more informal, smaller bars probably won’t have this, but lots of sit-down places will.
For a non-alcohol related hack, don’t bring a towel to the beach! It screams tourist. Brazilians lie on Cangas at the beach and let themselves air-dry rather than wiping the water off.
Advice For Anyone Traveling Alone:
Stay in a hostel. There are a few really nice ones that are a bit more comfortable than your typical hostel, but still offer the opportunity to get to know the people staying there.
A really great place to meet people is Empório, a bar popular with tourists and locals. You can groove on their tiny dance floor or hang out in the throng of people on the sidewalk outside drinking beer and talking.
Total Trip Cost: $1,875
Worth It? Mmm-hmmm.