If you’ve spent all your money on sequins and feathers for your Carnival costume, don’t despair! The list of free and awesome things to discover in Rio de Janeiro is a as long as it is diverse. Here are a few of our favourites.
It’s impossible to talk about Brazil without mentioning favelas. These illegal shanty towns built on the outskirts of town are mostly known for their poverty, violence-filled streets and lack of infrastructure. There are hundreds in Rio, and yes, many are ruled by gangsters and drug dealers that have turned them into war zones. But other have morphed into bohemian neighbourhoods, beaming with art and culture. Perhaps this positive turn began with Brazil’s iconic Samba dance, which was born in the favelas at the beginning of the 20th century. Since 2008, however, the police have begun to take back full control and today, many tours allow tourists to discover favelas from the inside, while gaining a better understanding of the economical and social challenges Brazil faces.
As part of the Favela Painting Project initiative, two Dutch artists transformed the brick walls of the favela Santa Marta into an explosion of colourful patterns. You can follow this bright trail all they way into Praça Cantão or go to the other side of the favela and catch a bonde (historic streetcar) up the mountain, where you can enjoy a jaw-dropping view of the ocean. Think I’m exaggerating? Have a look at Michael Jackson’s They Don’t Care About Us video! It was filmed here.
Close to the subway station Cinelândia, the bonde brings you to the the heart of Santa Teresa. This bohemian neighbourhood where many artists have set up shop, is a foodie’s destination and a trendy place to shop or hang out. You can follow the cobbled streets lined with colonial architecture to the Parque das Ruínas, home to the ruins of a manor and another jaw-dropping view, this time of the city.
Situated at the foot of Santa Teresa, Lapa is where the nightlife happens in Rio. Every night, particularly on Fridays, the Cariocas gather under the Arcos da Lapa where countless kiosks spring up to sell caïpirinhas, pizzas and churrascos for a few dollars. There are so many people going to bars and clubs in the streets here that it feels like Carnival all year long.
The escadaria Selarón is Chilean artist’s Jorge Selarón masterpiece. He dedicated 23 years of his life to transforming the stairs on Manuel Carneiro street, in both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. Selarón turned the 250 steps into a multicolour mosaic, using over 2,000 tiles from 60 different countries. There are illustrations of women wearing the traditional Portuguese dress, Arabic calligraphy and Indian gods, to name a few. Without resources or support from the city, at the beginning Selaró found these tiles in the streets and construction sites. Later, when his project began to gain recognition, neighbours, friends and visitors began bringing them to him. Do you remember Pharrell William and Snoop Dogg’s video, Beautiful? It was filmed here. If you know a thing or two about filming, you can create your own lip dub and, who knows, become the latest YouTube sensation! Go crazy!
This is the most famous beach in the world… do you really need an introduction? This place is perfect for playing volleyball, jumping in the waves and working on your tan, all set against the background of the blue ocean and the green morros. This is also where the craziest party nights begin and end. Just sayin’…
This public park is located at the entrance to the Tijuca forrest, the biggest urban forest in the world. It has gardens, waterfalls, lakes and an immense mansion that seems unreal in this tropical setting filled with monkeys, lizards and toucans. It’s here that the road to Cristo Redendor begins. The trail up to this iconic statue is hard, but the views from the top are, without a doubt, worth the effort.
There are eight HI hostels in Rio where you can set up basecamp to discover all the free amazing adventures detailed above. Rio Rockers Hostel, Cabanacopa Hostel and Copa Hostel are perfect for enjoying the beach and the Copacabana parties. Brothers Hostel and Tupiniquim Hostel are located in the central neighbourhood of Botafogo, which is just south of Lapa and very close to the Santa Marta favela. Cidade Maravilhosa Hostel in the heart of Glória, two steps away from Santa Teresa. If you want to go surfing, then you should stay at either Rio Surf and Stay Hostel or Braz Hostel.