When we went: november 2023

We went to Rio for a week, and spent a couple of days in Ihla Grande while we were there. We admittedly didn’t do too many touristy things in the city but we still had such a great week so I’ll include my recs below!

Where we stayed

For the first 4 nights we stayed at Janeiro Hotel and it was amazing. It came recommended from our Brazilian friend and it was a little bit of a splurge but so worth it. It was in the nice, quiet neighborhood of Leblon, had an amazing breakfast, the rooms were super chic, and it had a small but nice rooftop pool. 

After we got back from a few days in Ihla Grande we stayed at Hotel Arpoador in Ipanama – this was a bit more happening than Janeiro and was totally fine but not quiiiite as nice. 

Neighborhood wise, you’ll want to stay in one of these 3 neighborhoods (which are all next to each other on the main beach strip): 

  • Ipanema – where most of it’s happening
  • Leblon – a bit more residential and upscale (this is where Janeiro Hotel was)
  • Copacobana – even more touristy

Where to eat 

(I got sooo many of these recs from a friend who has spent lots of time in Rio, so I can’t claim to have found most of these on my own!) 


  • Nusa café – good breakfast spot
  • Aussie café – if you’re craving an Australian coffee (like a flat white) 
  • Our hotel had the best breakfast included, so we really didn’t go out to breakfast much


  • Viasete – yummy Brazilian food, a good lunch spot
  • Nola – good lunch spot on the main strip in Leblon
  • Cozi Bistro – laid back lunch spot if you’re in this part of town 


  • Zaza Bistro Tropical – Moroccan/Asian spot, really yummy, cute, local vibes
  • Sushi Leblon – multiple people recommended this as a vibey place for great sushi… book in advance
  • Oia – great Mediterranean spot
  • Le Pulé – trendy fun dinner spot with good cocktails 


  • Jobi – local bar to sit and get “chopps” (pints)
  • Boteca Belmonte – popular place to get chopps, some of them get really crowded at night

Things to do

what we actually did

  • Went to the beach and hung at the hotel pool
  • Shop – get your price-adjusted Farm Rio & Haviana things! Zinzane was another great store I stumbled upon. 
  • Went to the Lapa steps 
  • Tried a lot of different restaurants 
  • Saw Taylor Swift hehe
  • Went to Ihla Grande (amazing!) 

what we also should’ve tried to do but got lazy

  • Go up to see the Christ the Redeemer statue 
  • Take the cable car up Sugarloaf (especially gorg at sunset, apparently) 
  • Check out a Sambo school 
  • Mirante Dona Marta for sunrise (you can Uber there) 
  • Explore Santa Teresa & Lapa (during the day)
  • Hike Morro Dois Irmãos

Ihla Grande

Ihla Grande is referred to as the “Maldives of Brazil” and it was such a special place. It’s about a 2.5 hour journey from Rio (2 hours in a taxi + 30 minutes in a speedboat) and once you get there it’s all beaches and jungle. We decided to go for 2 nights, 1 full day towards the end of our week in Rio.

We stayed at the Atlantica Jungle Lodge and it was incredible. It only has 4 rooms so it’s a really special spot in a prime location. The owner Rodolfo literally lives there and was super helpful all around. If you decide to book, he’ll arrange the transportation to & from for you. We stayed for 2 nights so that we could have 1 full day there, and it was a good amount of time but I honestly could’ve stayed longer. We ate 3 meals a day at the hotel, which was all homemade and yummy. 

The hotel was essentially right on a small beach, and it was a 20 minute walk (or rather, an easy hike) to the famous Lopes Mendes Beach, which is completely unspoiled and stunning.

The mosquitos were BRUTAL at night – BYO Deet! (And I don’t even believe in Deet). 


  • There are direct flights from JFK to Rio, or you can fly via Miami 
  • A lot of people—tourists & locals alike—warned us about safety before we went. We were mostly in the nicer neighborhoods but were always really careful with our belongings. I didn’t wear any jewelry, even stuff that wasn’t nice, because people are known to just rip it off you. I only took my phone out when I needed it to check directions. 
  • Ubers were abundant & affordable 
  • Credit cards widely accepted
  • Don’t drink the water
  • Nobody spoke English. Some basic Portuguese will go a long way (if you have survival Spanish, you’ll pick up the main phrases quickly) 
  • A visa was not needed for American tourists when we went but that is going to change. Keep an eye on the changing e-visa requirements (it keeps getting postponed). 

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