Updated May 29th, 2017.
When most people think of traveling to Brazil, their minds often wander to beautiful Rio de Janeiro and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, Ipanema beach, and the diverse culture of the festive residents of the city. While the picturesque image of Rio is one that we all wish to experience, more often than not, the idea of traveling to a city that’s so well-known for its tourism, and actually seeing all that the region has to offer, is enough to make most backpackers turn away in fear. Brazil is renowned for being THE most expensive place in South America to travel. So is it worth it?
Recently, The Telegraph published an article documenting how Rio is one of the most expensive cities to visit, with hotels in Rio ranking among some of the most costly in the world! Yet, backpackers need not worry. We’re here to give you tips on how to keep your money in your pocket in Rio and elsewhere in the country, and make sure that you don’t miss out on exploring one of the most fascinating destinations in the world!
Here are some ways to save money when backpacking to Brazil:
1. I’ll have the lunch special!
There are hundreds of restaurants in Brazil, fit for every budget, but for the backpacker looking to save a little bit extra, it’s good to note that many of the restaurants in Rio offer excellent value for money lunchtime specials. The Guardian has compiled a list of some of the best budget restaurants in Rio, with some notes on which ones have the most affordable lunchtime deals. Also look for signs saying ‘rodízio’ (all you can eat) which may be more expensive than the ‘lunchtime special’ but will be your breakfast, lunch and dinner (and dessert!) in one sitting! If you’re travelling with a partner, take advantage of the huge meal portions and order one dish between two!
2. Choose your accommodation wisely
Rather than stay at one of Rio’s world-famous expensive hotels, backpackers should look into various accommodation options. If you’re staying long-term, it can be very worth your while to rent an apartment on airbnb and get into living life like a local, buying food at the local market and cooking at home. As well as hostels, bed and breakfasts are also great value for money and services like Cama e Cafe have popped up, listing all the possible alternatives to expensive hotels. Booking.com and Hostelworld have also grown recently with small budget digs in remote places which are really easy and cheap to book. Perfect for the budget traveller! And don’t forget, there’s always couchsurfing – the best way to save tons of money and make connections with locals as you travel.
3. Travel out of season
Brazil’s domestic tourism is booming, which means that holidaying Brazilian’s jack up the prices. The trick is to travel when the Brazilian’s don’t. The peak holiday season is December to March. Accommodation prices can double or even triple over New Year and Carnival time (February). You’ll find that it’s easier to haggle prices down at B&B’s and hostels during off-peak season and being such a huge country, you’ll find somewhere with a great climate all year round, so there’s no need to worry about the weather ruining your trip! (In northeast Brazil, the best time to visit is September and October, as heavy rains can occur April – July.)
4. Get out of expensive Rio fast!
There’s more to Brazil than just Rio. Much more.A great state to base yourself in for further exploration is the Bahia state, in northeastern Brazil (said to be the cheapest region of Brazil) with beautiful relatively cheap villages along the coast where accommodation is a lot cheaper than the cities – try Morro de São Paulo, Barra Grande, Itacaré, Santo André and avoid snazzy hotspots such as Trancoso or Florianópolis. From here, a trip to Chapada Diamantina National Park is a must! Also on the must-see list for budget travellers is the lesser known region of Minas Gerais, a waterfall-studded mining state that’s both spectacular and inexpensive to travel here. Baroque style churches, gorgeous mountaines and a unique cuisine await the curious traveller…
5. An Amazonian Alternative
Trips to the Amazon can be extremely expensive, and not to mention, disappointing. As the Amazonian region is so enormous, it is difficult to sightsee and even more difficult to spot wildlife. Tourists return to civilisation, feeling let down that they did not see as much wildlife as they thought they would during their short excursion into the jungle. What they thought would be the highlight of their Brazil trip, wasn’t so. For a more satisfying experience, why not try Brazil’s amazing alternative – The Pantanal – where you’re likely to spot much more interesting wildlife and have a much better value for money trip!
5. Avoid taxis from airports to the city
Backpackers need to be mindful of little expenses that can quickly add up, from bus tickets to small meals, and these expenses can start right from the moment you land. Unlike major airports in Europe and the UK, Brazil’s airports aren’t quite as easily accessible. Heathrow Airport is one of the biggest aviation hubs in Europe and has buses and trains traveling to the centre of London every 15-minutes, according to Parking4less. However, Sao Paulo’s Guraulhos International Airport can only be reached by bus from Tietê, Barra Funda, Republica, and Tatuapé stations with the buses running every couple of hours. And this is the case for most airports in Brazil, so be wary of this and plan ahead otherwise you may have to allocate some extra funds to pay for a cab to your accommodation.
6. Snack on street food
Brazil’s interesting street food culture can be a great way to keep energy levels up on the road and your spending down! In São Paulo, try pastéis de feira, (like empanadas in the rest of South America) filled with either meat, cheese or vegetables and will set you back about 3 reais. In Salvador, try acarajé (a pea fritter stuffed with shrimp) sold on street sands in the city by baianas, (women in traditional white dress) for around 6 reais. In the Amazon, try tacacá (shrimp and jambu soup) for 10 reais. And don’t forget to try coxinha, chicken filled puffs that are cheap, delicious and make an awesome bus snack! And there’s always the amazing exotic fruit you can buy at Brazil’s amazing markets! Or head to one of Rio’s many juice bars for a ‘vitamina’ (batido in spanish) or smoothie – fruit and yoghurt.
7. Take local transport
The Brazilian bus system is surprisingly good if you know what you’re doing. And that’s just the challenge! It can be difficult to find bus timetables and price info online (especially in English), so you’re best to go to the bus station in person and ask at the ticket booth. Rio’s and São Paulo’s subway lines are not huge, but are good and cheap for getting around the major sights. In the northeast of Brazil, taxis are also fairly cheap. You may even want to rent a cheap car in the national parks or along coastal routes, so you’re not dependent on expensive tour companies. Also, having your own freedom can enhance your experience tenfold!
8. Party right in the street!
Forget expensive bars and clubs – there’s no need to spend money on entry fees and overpriced drinks in Brazil. When live music can be heard all over the bustling streets, you can take the party outside! The most famous area for its Bohemian street culture is Lapa neighbourhood in Rio where people pour out of the bars and restaurants to drink and socialise right on the streets. (Backpackers should be careful here not to lose a whole load of money in one go, by getting robbed!) During the day, the street culture is alive and well, with street performers and dancers popping up everywhere to create the lively . Grabbing some street food (see above) and sitting on the street to people watch is a great way to pass your time in Brazil!
9. Buy a Brazilian Air Pass
If you reckon you might end up taking a lot of flights during your trip to Brazil (you may do, it’s a big country!) then a Brazil air pass can be a good idea. The major Brazilian airlines (Varig, VARS and TAM) all offer these passes that will cost you around $500 USD and offer you 4 flights. You can then add on additional flights for a set rate of $130 USD. The only snag is that the pass is only valid for 21 days so make sure you are going to make the most of it before you buy!
10. Free or nearly free things to do in Rio
Apart from lying on the beach checking out Brazil’s beautiful people, there are few free things to do in this expensive city. Here are a few ideas:
- Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain will cost you to hike to the higher mountain, but trekking to the top of the smaller mountain is free and offers amazing (just as good!) views over the city.
- Hiking in Tijuca Forest – Known as the lungs of Rio, the forest represents 7% of the city’s territory and offers nature; waterfalls, monkeys and an escape from the city.
- Botanical Gardens – Rio’s beautiful Botanical Garden will set you back just $2 USD, which is great value for money in this expensive city.
- Browse local markets – we didn’t say you had to buy anything!
- Take a stroll or jog along Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – Located in a less commercialised part of the city, the area features many parks, squares, trees and mountain views.
- Relax in Laje Park – Located in the Jardim Botanico neighbourhood in Rio, this is a great spot for a picnic!
- Visit the National Library of Brazil – for all culture vultures, this is the place to go to learn about Brazil’s history and heritage, this is the place to go.
Brazil is a great place to visit for just about any kind of traveler, and if you do a little research and planning, you will find it can be an extremely enjoyable destination that won’t break the bank for budget backpackers! Looking to save even more money as you travel through South America? Find out the ‘7 Secrets to Travelling on a Budget’ here!