I love Rio! A trip to Rio de Janeiro should be on everyone’s bucket list, especially now for Americans who can get in without a Visa! My first trip to Rio was in 2009 and I have been able to go back twice since then. The beaches are fun, the sights are amazing, the people are welcoming and the food is delicious.
Where to Stay in Rio
For the best experience in Rio, stay in Copacabana or Ipanema. I have always stayed in Copacabana on the edge of Ipanema. This way you can go to both beaches and easily get around.
In my trips to Rio, I have stayed in an Airbnb that no longer operates, another hotel that rebranded and I do not know where it is now, and most recently, the Windsor California, which I booked on points.
When deciding where to stay in Rio, you get what you pay for, but even the budget accommodations are the right place to stay for the right person.
If I were going to Rio alone or on a tight budget, I would stay at a hostel in Ipanema. I have spoken to people who have stayed at Che Lagarto Hostel, Mango Tree Hostel and Bonita Ipanema with positive reviews. They are all very cheap and close to the beach with good Rio vibes.
For something more luxury, the Windsor brand has several hotels in the area that are a huge value. We booked our stay using points, but without they would have been $110 a night for a luxury hotel on the beach. I was happy to spend the extra points to get the premier location and infinity pool on the 15th floor overlooking the beach.
What to see during 3 Days in Rio
Rio is a lively city with plenty of things to do. Here are the cant miss activities for you to enjoy during your 3 day stay.
Go To The Beach
You have just arrived from the airport so after checking into your hotel, make your way to the beach! I personally have had more luck with Ipanema for enjoying the water. 2/3 times that I have gone to Copacabana beach the water has had lots of trash in it. This has never happened at Ipanema so go there if you can.
It can be kind of annoying to have vendors constantly going by, but it really is convenient and they are not pushy until you talk to them. We ended up buying drinks, a pair of fake Ray Bans for $4 and a hanging hammock chair. I wasn’t going to buy it because I didn’t want to hall it around but the vendor went down so low in price I had to take it. Also on Copacabana is a nightly market where you can buy all sorts of souvenirs.
The beaches are full of vendors that sell all sorts of stuff. First you can rent your 2 chairs and an umbrella R$15 (US$4) for the day. From there vendors will offer you drinks, sunglasses, towels, necklaces, swimsuits and even hammocks. Food and drink prices are pretty set, but you can haggle for the other purchases.
Rio Botanical Gardens
Located nearby, the Rio Botanical Gardens has around 6,500 species (some endangered) distributed throughout an area of 54 hectares. It is a perfect place to stroll around, enjoying the natural gardens. The shade can allow for a break from the sun as well.
Sunset at Arpoador
Where Ipanema and Copacabana meet is a large rock that goes into the ocean. As sunset is coming, make your way towards the end of the rocks to enjoy the sun setting behind the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) peaks on the other side of Ipanema. Once it sets, it is normal for everyone to clap. I was saddened when that did not happen on my last trip. I think there weren’t enough locals around.
After the sun sets, relax if you have the time listening and watching the waves crash into the rocks below.
Now it is time to see all the sites! I recommend going on a guided city tour of Rio. Not only will it make things easier for you, but it is very affordable. The city tours include admission to the attractions which can add up when you add in the cost of transportation it will likely cost more to go on your own. You will also learn more about the city from your tour guide. Consider a private tour with Rio Cultural Secrets for more flexibility in your schedule.
There are plenty of fun sites to see in Rio including Maracanã stadium, Olympic Boulevard, the Cathedral and many more but the two places you cannot miss are Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar) and Christ Redeemer.
The most famous attraction in Rio and a symbol of Brazil is beautiful to be seen from all around Rio. You can get to the statue by train or by bus, but I prefer just going on a tour and letting them worry about it.
Once you arrive at the base of the statue you will continue to climb up until you are at the feet. The area just in front of the statue fills up with people taking advantage of the photo opt. The best part of your visit is the view of the city below.
Sugarloaf Mountain is a peak that rises almost straight up out of the waters around it. You arrive at Sugarloaf by taking 2 cable cars, stopping at Morro da Urca on the way up. Being on the cable cars as they climb is a mild thrill in itself, but the view from the top is the real attractions.
Plan to arrive around 40 minutes to an hour before sunset. This will give you time to explore the trails around Morro da Urca on the way up and possibly see a few monkeys, aka marmosets.
When you get to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, find a spot to enjoy the sunset. As the sun goes down, the city transforms into a city of lights. You can see the lights of the favelas climbing up the peaks in the cities. They grow brighter and eventually look like rivers running through the mountains.
Enjoy Night Life in Lapa
If you are still up for fun, head to Rios historic Lapa district. The area is THE place to go for a night out, full of hip bars and nightclubs where you can dance samba till your feet cant handle it (about 5 minutes for me).
If you want to make your trip truly unforgettable, do the craziest activity available. Jump off the side of a mountain to hang glide down to the bottom.
Make reservations a couple of days ahead of time and take an Uber to Pepino Beach, the landing zone, to meet your pilot.
You will then drive up to a peak through Tijuca forest and wait in line for your turn.
We found the tandem pilots to be very helpful and fun. After the GoPros were turned on and all the safety checks were made, my pilot Mauro counted to three and it was time to jump off a cliff!
My heart sank as I ran and I may have screamed a little as I felt myself dropping for a second or two until the wind caught the hang glider and we began to go higher. Over the next eight minutes, my heart slowly returned to normal until on more rush as we landed on the beach below.
At the end of your third day, head back to the beach and maybe find yourself a nice Brazilian steak house to end your trip to Rio strong.
What to eat in Rio
One of my favorite things about Rio is the food. Here are a few things you need to try during your trip.
- Açai Bowls – I know these have become popular in the USA, but it is not the same! The açai bowls in Brazil are so much better! We had açai almost every day with banana, strawberries, and granola. Not only is it delicious but it gives you a good kick of energy.
- Steakhouse – Speaking of Brazilian steakhouses, how can you go to Brazil without enjoying one?
- Fruit Juices – One of my favorite parts about meals in Brazil is drinking fresh fruit juice. My favorite is passion fruit, but limeade, pineapple and strawberry are great choices too. Try adding sugar if you think your juice isn’t very flavorful.
- Pao de Queijo – You may have tried Brazilian cheese bread at a Brazilian steak house outside of Brazil. It makes for a great snack and travels well during the day.
- Guarana with Orange Slice – Guarana is a Brazilian soda that is everywhere. Try it, then add a squeeze of orange and try it that way.
- Pastel – This is a fried snack or meal stuffed with both savory or sweet fillings.
We’ve shared where to stay, what to eat and what to do during a three day stay in Rio. Would you change anything?
He is an expert travel advisor and enthusiast. He has traveled extensively in the USA, Central American, South America and Europe. He has visited every Sandals Resort and is one of a select few Diamond Elite members of the Sandals Chairman’s Royal Club.
Dan graduated from Johnson & Wales University with an associate degree in Culinary Arts. Later he graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a focus on people and culture.