By Brazil Nuts Director ADAM CARTER
When choosing a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, the typical visitor will have start by making three key decisions The first one is in which part of Rio to stay. In the past this was simple: Either Ipanema for style, beautiful people and bossa nova vibes; or Copacabana for variety of lodging options, a sensationally wide beach and a broader cross section of Rio society. (Note: In fact, just in the last two years, this traditional dichotomy is blurring as Copacabana has undergone a fantastic renaissance of sorts, with drastically improved landscaping, urban revitalization and eradication of most of the unseemly street characters who cruised the area. Copa today – in addition to being the area with the greatest variety of lodging options – is remerging as its vibrant, stunning and colorful old self. Don’t let your Brazilian friends scare you away from it with outdated stories and opinions!) Today there is a growing interest in the third option “beyond the beaches” in the increasingly chic hilltop (though definitely landlocked) neighborhood of Santa Teresa, with its charming cobblestoned streets, cafes and galleries and stunning views over Guanabara Bay. This is in part a reflection of Rio maturing as a destination that is not just sun and beach, but one that also offers easier access to its historical, cultural and off-the-beaten track locally flavored attractions (more on this in future postings). While definitely worth a look, suffice it to say 90% of visitors still gravitate to the beaches in order to maximize their sunning opportunities. But if your Brazilian itinerary includes other beach destinations beyond Rio, and you like a very local vibe, Santa Teresa may be an option to consider. The second consideration – if you have settled on one of the beaches as your base – is whether your hotel is ON the beach or a few blocks back. This is closely tied to your BUDGET and an important decision to make, as there is a very reasonable trade off to make in terms of giving up on direct beach access and saving up to a couple of hundred dollars. Sure its great to be beach front, but if your room is a Standard (the least expensive category), you may not have a beach front view; for that you may need to upgrade to a Superior or maybe Deluxe Room. In such case, a good hotel one to three blocks back may offer an excellent alternative and value. It’s all about what is important to you. The third decision is about style (that is; are you looking for a charming boutique property or will any well located, reasonably appointed property suffice). In fact I confess that this third factor is a bit of a red herring as there really are NO such boutique charmers in Rio beyond some small inns found in Santa Teresa. The only three are at the beaches and two of these are the most expensive in town, if not all Brazil: the Fasano in Ipanema and the Copacabana Palace in Copacabana. The lone moderately priced “boutique-ish” hotel would be the Olinda Othon in Copacabana. (more detail on these three in the following section). But I just bring up this factor so that we can quickly address it and move on, as many travelers agonize too much over this issue, hoping to find the charming inns and B&B’s they loved in Europe in Rio. Sorry to report it is really not an option. In fact, Rio has a fine but rather limited hotel stock to select from, and most are 20-30 years old, built for comfort more than style. You will find the more charming properties as you continue your trip outside the major cities, in Buzios, Paraty, Floripa, Minas and the Northeast.