Rio has a wide range of lodging, including B&Bs, hostels and guesthouses; there are scores of luxury hotels, particularly in Copacabana. Prices are comparable to what you'd expect in a North American oceanside city such as Miami or LA; an abundance of options keeps rates from going sky high, except during Carnaval and other major events.

Book at least two or three months ahead during high season.

Hotels

Rio has a few appealing new boutique and luxury hotels, but apart from the upscale options the selection can be somewhat lackluster. Most hotels are in glass-and-steel high-rises, with marble- and chrome-filled lobbies, and comfortable but uninspiring rooms. The best features will be the view (if there is one) and the door by which to exit the room and explore this fascinating city. Amenities to look for include pools, wi-fi and beach service (towels, chairs and attendants).

Hostels

With more than 100 hostels scattered around the city, Rio does not lack for budget lodging. Hostels are great settings for meeting other travelers, and with more and more Brazilians traveling, your dorm mate is just as likely to be from Porto Alegre as Perth. Rio's hostels vary in price and style. The best options are in Copacabana and Ipanema, though you'll also find some decent crash pads in Botafogo and Lapa.

Apartment Rentals

There are numerous apartment-rental outfits in Ipanema and Copacabana, though you can also go through Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). This site allows you to rent a whole apartment or simply a room in a shared flat, making it a good way to meet cariocas (Rio residents).

If you book an apartment through an agency, nightly high-season rates start at around R$200 for a small studio apartment in Copacabana and R$350 for one in Ipanema. Typically, you'll need to pay 30% to 50% up front; some agencies accept credit cards, and others use PayPal. Make sure you ask whether utilities and cleaning fees are included in the price. Reputable outfits include Rio Spot Homes, Ipanema for Rent and Blame It on Rio 4 Travel.

Love Motels

Living in such a crowded city, cariocas (residents of Rio) can have a terrible time snatching a few moments of privacy. For those living with their parents or sharing a tiny apartment with roommates, an empty stretch of beach, a park bench or a seat in the back of a cafe are all fine spots to steal a few kisses, but for more…advanced action, cariocas take things elsewhere: to the love motel.

Love motels aren't so much a carioca oddity as a Brazilian institution. They're found in every part of the country, usually in the outskirts of cities and towns. Some are designed with lavish facades resembling medieval castles, Roman temples or ancient pyramids, while others blend in discreetly. Regardless of the exterior, the interiors are far removed from the 'less is more' design philosophy. Mirrors cover the ceiling, and heart-shaped, vibrating beds stretch below. Rose-tinted mood lights, Jacuzzis, televisions loaded with porn channels, dual-headed showers and a bedside room-service menu featuring sex toys: all these come standard in most love motels. People need a place for their liaisons, so they might as well have a laugh and a bit of fun while they're at it. Motels are used by young lovers who want to get away from their parents, by parents who want to get away from their kids, and by couples who want to get away from their spouses. They are an integral part of the nation's social fabric, and it's not uncommon for cariocas to host parties in them.

Quality varies. The most lavish offer three-story suites with a hot tub beneath a skylight on the top floor, a sauna and bathroom on the 2nd floor, and a garage underneath (allowing anonymity). These come with all the other mood-enhancing features. The best suites cost upwards of R$500 for eight hours, more at weekends. (Cariocas claim that an equally fine time can be had in the standard rooms.)

Breakfast

Nearly every guesthouse, hostel and hotel serves some form of café da manha (breakfast). At cheaper places this may only be a roll and instant coffee; better places serve fresh fruit, juices, strong coffee, yogurt, cheese, cured meats, fresh bread and perhaps cooked eggs. Oddly, Rio's most expensive lodgings often charge for breakfast.

Favela Accommodation

Favela sleeps are nothing new. Intrepid travelers have been venturing into Rio’s urban mazes for over a decade, but as more and more of Rio’s favelas are pacified (drug traffickers forcefully driven out and security posts installed), hostels and pousadas (guesthouses) are popping up faster than the rudimentary constructions that make up the favelas themselves. Unfortunately, security is now an issue even in once safe favelas: be sure to check out the latest situation before booking.

Need to Know

Ocean Views

Rooms with an ocean view cost 30% to 50% more than rooms without.

Peak Seasons

  • Summer (December through March): rates rise by about 30% and many places book up well ahead.
  • New Year's Eve, Carnaval and major events: most accommodations, including hostels, only book in four- or seven-day blocks.
  • Carnaval: the better places book out up to a year ahead.