We lived in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, in our tiny box apartment yet eating out merrily several nights a week. We had to do Brazil on the cheap. Including a big ‘ole list of Brazilian fruits and which months to eat them, to guidance on choosing the restaurants adorned with tacky tiles. So here’s how to fill your days in Brazil with not a lot of cash.
1. Slow Travel & Airbnb
Not everyone can get extended periods off for travel, but Brazil on the cheap depends mostly on slow travel. The hotel scene in Brazil has prices to rival Western Europe, however Airbnb has picked up over the last couple of years. Some Airbnbs land in condominums with pools and communal BBQ areas. We were afforded these luxuries when we traveled to Cumbuco in Ceará. Staying a little away from hubs offers a greater price benefit. The downsides of being further from the action are countered by the fact that Uber is dirt cheap in Brazil.
What to look for when choosing an Airbnb in Brazil?
Check if WiFi exists and it’s speed. Read Airbnb comments or ask the host directly through an inquiry message before you book.
Check the noise level. Rio is a loud city, as is São Paulo. You’ll be fuming if you have to hear the traffic all night long. Our Airbnb is located on a busy street, but we installed triple glazing for a sound night’s sleep.
Security is a must in Brazil. A doorman is a good sign because it means that the building has a gate. I would also bring a small lock for your suitcase to lock away valuables. I’ve never had an issue in Brazil, but I have in France.
An air conditioner unit. You need AC in the summer in Brazil. Different from the US, there usually aren’t screens on the windows (except in the Pantanal or the Amazon). This means there is no chance of leaving the windows open past 17:00 PM, unless you want to sleep with the mosquitos.
2. Go to the Ugly Looking Restaurants/ Snack Bars
Brazilians love to eat out. “Comer na rua” (eat in the street) in Portuguese, Brazilians find a way to afford this lifestyle.
The snack bars known as lanchonetes line every street. You’ll recognise them for their tile decor, glass fronts full of pastries (like jewellery cabinets, but with food) and a lack of walls/ doors. In the evening they closed up by pulling down those metal panels. Try coxinha and kibe to start out. This can bide you over inbetween meals. Fresh juices are about R$12.
Brazilians have a thing for bathroom tiles in eateries and it’s these places that will surprise you. Both in your belly and in your wallet.
A couple of tips for locating the budget restaurants:
Is it packed at lunchtime?
Are there individuals eating alone?
Are there people taking boxes to go (these are called quentinhas)?
Is there an executive lunch menu? (More on this further down the list!)
3. Avoid Brazilian National Holidays
Holidays are taken seriously in Brazil. The prices are yanked up high on and around the following dates.
Carnaval, which is 6 weeks before Easter. The two weeks surrounding Carnaval are prime vacation periods. Obviously, if you are coming to Brazil for Carnaval you’ll just have to absorb these prices.
April 21 Tiradentes (what is Tiradentes?)
May 1 Labour Day
Corpus Cristi (moves according to Easter, between May and June)
September 7 Independence Day
October 12 Nossa Senhora Aparecida
November 2 Finados
November 15 Proclamation of the Republic
December 25 Christmas Day
Then there are also State and City holidays. For instance Black Conscience Day, on November 20, is a holiday in 5 Brazilian States.
4. Eat Local Produce and Seasonally
Rice, beans and mandioca make up the staple foods of Brazil. Therefore, choose these options to keep the grocery bills down. Brazilians also know how to fantastically transform these simple ingredients, so they’re not a bad option when eating out.
Brazilian Vegetables and Greens:
Collard Greens (mostarda)
Mango (manga) from Nov- Jan.
Tangerine (tangerina) from Mar-Nov.
Cashew fruit (caju) from Jan-Feb and Aug-Dec.
Banana (banana) there’s always at least one variety in season. You should sample different types that change seasonally like banana ouro, banana maça or banana plata.
Papaya (mamão) Jan-Apr and Oct-Nov.
Coconut (coca) Oct-Mar. This is available as a fresh drink on the beach, costing just about a dollar.
Star fruit (carambola Jun-Aug and Jan-Feb. So cheap in Brazil!
Pineapple (abacaxi) Sep- Jan, there are different varieties available at staggared times.
Jack fruit (jaca) from Apr-May and it is available from sellers at the side of the road, Pick up a ready cut portion.
Imported Produce that are therefore more expensive in Brazil:
Mushrooms are mostly imported. The best place to eat them is an all you can eat sushi rodízio. Not the supermarket. However, you can purchase them at Japanese supermarkets.
Choose the little apples (maçã gala) as they are grown in Brazil. Most of the rest are imported.
Lemons come from Europe. Limes are Brazil’s forté and you’ll get dozens of them for a bargain. The yellow lemon is called Limão Siciliano and it will cost you some to buy.
The little brown avocados are imported from other Latin American countries. Brazil’s avocado is the green giant of an avocado. Check the difference in avocados here.
For a more detailed view of the seasonal availability of fresh produce check this dream of a website.
5. Flights Can Be Budget, Just Don’t Book Last Minute
Brazil is the size of a continent. So, yes you can get long distance buses, but do you want to? It’s 33 hours from Rio to Salvador! And that’s just 2 States apart.
Note that if you do opt for a bus always bring your passport on State-crossing buses. They wouldn’t let me board the bus from Rio to São Paulo without it!
6. Executive Lunch and Kilo Restaurants
An executive lunch is basically a set menu that caters for city workers. Many businesses by law have to offer a lunch coupon for their employees. This means that eating out at lunch on a budget is a big business. Also, lunch is the main meal in Brazil, so that’s when the best grub is available anyway.
7. Buy National
Estante Virtual sells used books. You’ll need an address for delivery.
Mercado Livre is kind of like a Brazilian Amazon. There are a bunch of sellers and thousands of products available. Again, you’ll need a delivery address.
Clothes aren’t cheap, but if you are need of something basic try Renner and for men Reserva. Actually, on the clothes front international brands H&M and Forever 21 are affordable. Find them in malls in the large cities.
8. Leave Rio! Try the Northeast and Minas Gerais
Everyone says it, but the Brazilian off-the-beaten track is barely trodden by foreigners. Why? International tourists almost exclusively stay in Rio, Iguaçu, Ceará and São Paulo, due to language and transportation constraints. There is so much more to see. Due to a lack of international influx, prices outside these 4 hubs are pegged to the Brazilian Real salaries. A bargain. Get a meal for two with abundant cocktails for under $50 in Minas Gerais.
9. Drink Cachaça
International liquor is taxed 70% – 80%. Thus, drink the local stuff. Brazilians love their alcohol, so the good news is that there are plenty of local breweries and distilleries.
Vodka choose Smirnoff, which is produced in Brazil. Absolut is imported.
Gin in general is imported. We have friends that produce a local variety, Gin Prisión though!
Not local: tequila, rum, cider, whisky.
10. Brave it and Drive!
Brave driving in Brazil and you’ll not only unlock vast parts of the country that no foreigner goes, but you’ll be able to access the more reasonably prices restaurants and hotels. Minas Gerais is an absolute bargain compared to Rio de Janeiro. Renting a car can be as low as $20 a day. You can reach stunning locations like Ibichipoca. Closer to Rio, there’s Paraty, Arraial do Cabo are Petropolis. Or fly to the Northeast. Read our post for tips on driving in Brazil.
The Expensive Things in Brazil
Electronics and electricty
Ice-cream! Go local and get açaí.
Clothes and shoes.
Gym (just run by the beach)
Furniture and decor
The Cheap Things in Brazil
Alcohol (not wine)
Taxi and uber
Sushi (in comparison to the USA and UK)
Other things you might like to read to save money on your Brazil Trip