Travelers love South America for its accessible language, easy transportation, and relatively inexpensive prices. But within the region, one notorious budget-breaker (and language anomaly) tends to be avoided or quickly skipped through.
The rumors are true: compared to the rest of South America, Brazil can be more difficult. The whole country is pretty pricey – and the language is Portuguese rather than Spanish. And within Brazil, the city of Rio de Janeiro is arguably the most expensive, scaring off a lot of travelers.
But contrary to popular belief, budget travelers should not avoid Rio! Most Cariocas (residents of the city) do not have an overflowing bank account, and still succeed to have a fun and active life. You can too, if you visit Rio like Cariocas do and hit up the awesome free options that the city offers every day.
Of course, the most well-known pastime is hitting the beach, and it’s a staple activity of Cariocas and visitors alike. The beaches really are as spectacular as the reputation that precedes them, and they vary in personality.
But in addition to the obvious beach attractions, there is so much to do in Rio that doesn’t cost even one real.
Top 5 Totally Free Activities in Rio de Janeiro
Visit Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas
The secret to Cariocas’ great bods may be the multitude of free athletic activities available. From volleyball and football on the beach, to workout equipment scattered in parks and along walkways, to extensive bike and jogging paths throughout the city, you can’t escape the fitness opportunities.
One of the best and most popular jogging paths is around the Lagoa. A 7.2km multipurpose path, the Lagoa is a haven for bikers, runners, joggers, and walkers of all shapes and sizes. If the physical exertions get to be too much, you can join the rest of the scattered picnickers and take a break next to the relaxing scenery of the lake.
This is also the best place to view a number of wild animals within Rio, including capybaras and all kinds of birds.
Hang out at the Selaron Stairs
The Escadaria Selaron is the iconic work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron. The world famous, ceramic-tiled stairs took over 20 years to create and include tiles from countries in every corner of the globe. The stairs were almost complete yet still unfinished at the time of the artist’s suspicious death in 2013.
Now a popular place for teenagers to hang out, the photogenic stairs are often full of kids and tourists taking selfies.
While easily reached by Cinelandia metro station, the area is not advisable to visit at night, and is best seen and experienced during the day.
Wander the markets at Praca General Osario
One plaza, two days, two totally different markets. Directly outside of General Osario metro, the plaza offers a produce market on Tuesday mornings, and the “Hippie Market” on Sundays.
On Tuesdays, vendors with every fruit, vegetable, meat, and seasoning available hawk their goods. Come hungry, as every salesman will want you to try a bit of his mango or pineapple. On Sundays, the market transforms into a goods fare, tailored towards tourists. With trinkets, bags, and traveling clothes galore, this is the must-buy place for any souvenir.
Hike Morro do Urca
Pao de Acucar is the second-most famous site in Rio (after Christ the Redeemer), offering stunning views of the city, but it also costs a steep 62 reals.
But you can skip the fee and work in a little exercise while still getting a great view by hiking up the first hill, known as Morro da Urca. An excellently maintained and paved trail is open to the public, and is a peaceful refuge within the busy city. An offshoot from the paved trail, a dirt hike leads up to the top of the hill, offering breathtaking views of the ocean.
Watch the sunset at Arpoador
The perfect way to finish any day in Rio de Janeiro is on the beach. The juncture of Copacabana and Ipanema called Arpoador, a rocky outcropping known for its excellent surfing, is especially popular amongst Cariocas.
Many couples and groups of young people gather on cangas or blankets on the beach next to the rock to watch a fiery sunset slowly fade into darkness over the horizon.
About the author
Steph is a serial expat American based in Rio de Janeiro. She blogs at My Quarter Life Epiphany, exploring the balance between worklife and wanderlust while chasing cultural insights and veg food. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, too.