Best accommodation in Brazil
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Accommodation in Brazil covers the full range, from hostels and basic lodgings clustered around bus stations to luxury resort hotels. You can sometimes find places to sleep for as little as R$20 a night, but, more realistically, a clean double room in a basic option will set you back upwards of R$30–45. A good, comfortable hotel varies according to the city – Rio being considerably more expensive – but R$100–150 a night will get you better accommodation than you’d expect for that price in Europe or the US. As is so often the case, single travellers get a bad deal, usually paying almost as much as the cost of a double room. In whatever category of place you stay, in tourist spots – both large and small – over New Year and Carnaval you’ll be expected to book a room for a minimum of four or five days.
Hotels proper run from dives to luxury apartments. There is a Brazilian classification system, from one to five stars, but the absence of stars doesn’t necessarily mean a bad hotel: they depend on bureaucratic requirements such as the width of lift shafts and kitchen floor space as much as on the standard of accommodation – many perfectly good hotels don’t have stars.
Hotels offer a range of different rooms, with significant price differences: a quarto is a room without a bathroom, an apartamento is a room with a shower (Brazilians don’t use baths); an apartamento de luxo is normally just an apartamento with a fridge full of (marked-up) drinks; a casal is a double room; and a solteiro a single. In a starred hotel, an apartamento upwards would come with telephone, air conditioning (ar condicionado) and cable TV; a ventilador is a fan. Even cheaper hotels now have wi-fi (sem fio) in the lobby at least, and three-star hotels upwards have wi-fi and/or cable (cabo) in rooms as standard, although you will often have to pay a surcharge.
Rates for rooms vary tremendously between different parts of Brazil, but start at around R$25 in a one-star hotel, around R$60 in a two-star hotel, and around R$80 in a three-star place. Generally speaking, for R$60–80 a night you could expect to stay in a reasonable mid-range hotel, with bathroom and air conditioning. Many hotels in this bracket are excellent value for the standard of accommodation they offer – but expect to pay more in major cities such as Rio and São Paulo. During the off season, most hotels in tourist areas offer hefty discounts, usually around 25–35 percent.
Most hotels – although not all – will add a ten percent service charge to your bill, the taxa de serviço: those that don’t will have a sign at the desk saying Nós não cobramos taxa de serviço, and it’s very bad form to leave the hotel without tipping the receptionist. The price will usually include a breakfast buffet with fruit, cheese, ham, bread, cakes and coffee but no other meals, although there will often be a restaurant on-site. Hotels usually have a safe deposit box, a caixa, which is worth asking about when you check in; they are free for you to use and, although they’re not invulnerable, anything left in a caixa is safer than on your person or unguarded in your room. Many hotels also offer a safe deposit box in your room, which is the safest option of all.
Finally, a motel, as you’ll gather from the various names and decor, is strictly for couples. This is not to say that it’s not possible to stay in one if you can’t find anything else – since they’re used by locals, they’re rarely too expensive – but you should be aware that most of the other rooms will be rented by the hour.
In a slightly higher price range are the small, family-run hotels, called either a pensão (pensões in the plural) or a hotel familiar. These vary a great deal: some are no more appealing than a dormitório, while others are friendlier and better value than many hotels and can be places of considerable character and luxury. Pensões tend to be better in small towns than in large cities, but are also usefully thick on the ground in some of the main tourist towns. In southern Brazil, many of the postos, highway service stations on town outskirts, have cheap rooms and showers, and are usually well kept and clean.
You will also come across the pousada, which can just be another name for a pensão, but can also be a small hotel, running up to luxury class but usually less expensive than a hotel proper. In some small towns – such as Ouro Preto and Paraty – pousadas form the bulk of mid- and upper-level accommodation options. In the Amazon and Mato Grosso in particular, pousadas tend to be purpose-built fazenda lodges geared towards the growing ecotourist markets.
At the bottom end of the scale, in terms of both quality and price, are dormitórios, small and very basic (to put it mildly) hotels, situated close to bus stations and in the poorer parts of town. They are extremely cheap (just a few dollars a night), but usually unsavoury and sometimes downright dangerous. They should be avoided unless you have no choice.
You could stay for not much more, in far better conditions, in a youth hostel, an albergue de juventude, also sometimes called a casa de estudante, where the cost per person is between R$20 and R$35 a night. There’s an extensive network of these hostels, with at least one in every state capital, and they are very well maintained, often in restored buildings. It helps to have an IYHF card (available from your national youth hostel associations) with a recent photograph – you’re not usually asked for one, but every so often you’ll find an albergue that refuses entry unless it’s produced. The Federação Brasileira dos Albergues de Juventude in Rio publishes an excellent illustrated guide to Brazil’s official hostels – and there’s a growing number of hostels that aren’t affiliated with the IYHF, many of which are very good.
Demand for places far outstrips supply at certain times of year – July, and December to Carnaval – but if you travel with a hammock you can often hook it up in a corridor or patio. A major advantage that hostels have is to throw you together with young Brazilians, the main users of the network.
There are a fair number of campsites in Brazil and almost all of them are on the coast near the bigger beaches – mostly, they’re near cities rather than in out-of-the-way places. They will usually have basic facilities – running water and toilets, perhaps a simple restaurant – and are popular with young Argentines and Brazilians. A few fancier sites are designed for people with camper vans or big tents in the back of their cars. Having your own tent, or hiring one, is also particularly useful in ecotourist regions such as the Amazon and the Pantanal, where it can really open up the wilderness to you. In all cases, however, the problem is security, partly of your person, but more significantly of your possessions, which can never really be made safe. Great caution should be exercised before camping off-site – only do so if you’re part of a group and you’ve received assurances locally as to safety.