“,” croons the late great Barry White with his signature rasp. He’s singing about the second largest city in Brazil next to Sao Paolo, a place home to Carioca culture, Capoeira, caipirinhas, Carnival festivities, the famed Copacabana and The Girl from Ipanema.
If you have plans to visit Rio as just one of those 9.24 million arrivals — particularly in the weeks and months leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup or the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games — making a decision about where to stay might just make or break your trip to the land of samba. There are more than a few things to consider before you choose between renting a hotel room or an apartment in one of Rio’s 4 neighborhood zones: Zona Norte (North Zone), Centro, Zona Sul (South Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone).
Visitors will find it all in Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s most visited cities, with over 6.3 million inhabitants and more visitors per year than any other city in South America. In fact, according to the Brazilian tourist board Embratur, 9.24 million passengers arrived in Rio on international flights in 2012 alone.
Hotel vs. Apartment
If you prefer to be pampered with room, concierge and bell services, for example, then a luxurious Rio hotel on Copacabana Beach might be your best bet. But if you like to immerse yourself in local culture, which might include shopping at the local grocery store, cooking a few of your own meals at home and whipping out your Portuguese phrasebook to chat with neighbors, then renting an apartment or hostel is the only way to go. In the interest of making your immersive trip to Rio one for the memory books, here are a few travel tips to make finding an apartment stress-free.
Location, Location, Location
With close to 6,000 apartments and villas for rent in Rio between VRBO and Airbnb alone, there is no shortage of vacation rentals to choose from. But choosing a Rio neighborhood that is safe, with emergency medical services close by, good restaurant choices and an overall ambience that fits your travel style is key.
Zona Oeste, a suburban area that also boasts beaches in the districts of Jacarepaguá and Barra da Tijuca, is where most of the Olympics in 2016 will be hosted and has quite the nightlife.
Beach-goers looking for an upscale neighborhood with many tourist attractions and a hot nightlife nearby will want to choose from among Copacabana Beach, Leblon and Ipanema, while those looking for a more Bohemian artistic vibe will likely be more comfortable in the Santa Teresa neighborhood high atop Santa Teresa Hill near the center of Rio.
Know Your Stuff
Unless you have relatives in Rio or have friends you trust who can give you apartment or villa referrals, you will want to be extra careful about whom you choose to book your apartment with. Selecting an agency with a good reputation that offers legal recourse in the United States in the case of an unforeseen apartment mishap is key.
Read your rental agreement thoroughly and question anything you don’t understand. Find out, for example, who is responsible should the dishwasher break or should the toilet overflow. Always get a working local phone number from the agency the manager on duty in the event you have questions during your stay.
Choosing the Right Accommodations & Amenities
Villa or apartment? Ground floor or penthouse? Budget or luxury? Party building or quiet sanctuary? The choice is yours. Just be certain that you choose the accommodations suited specifically for your needs without compromise, particularly if you are traveling with friends who might have unique tastes or high expectations.
Consider choosing accommodations that are within walking distance of a local hotel to take advantage of their amenities, especially in the event you want to catch a taxi or book an excursion (and you haven’t booked in advance with a tour provider like Viator). Keep the hotel business card in your pocket so communicating with your taxi driver and getting back to your home-away-from-home is as fluid as a Brazilian breeze.
Be sure to inquire about Wi-Fi access, public transportation, local landline use and the proximity to local grocery stores, restaurants and tourist attractions.
Renting an apartment is an immersive way to experience Rio and offers a local intimacy that might not necessarily be found during a traditional hotel stay. Whatever type of vacation rental you choose on your trip to South America’s No. 1 international destination, you’re sure to experience a trip that . After all, it’s Rio!