In a recent blog post devoted to the upcoming U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development (aka Rio+20) being held in Rio de Janeiro, I alluded to the fact that the Cidade Maravilhosa, has not been so marvelous in terms of meeting its upcoming obligations as host of upcoming mega events such as the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. However, if the construction and expansion of hotels is sorely behind schedule, the same can’t be said of the city’s hostels, which are enjoying an unprecedented bloom.
Within the last year or so, a fresh crop of hostels have opened their doors, bringing the total number of “albergues” to 65 – by far the largest number of any city in Brazil, and not bad at all when compared to global metropolises such as Barcelona (with its 60 hostels), Rome (45) and Paris (20). Moreover, according to Rio’s state subsecretary of tourism, Aldir Santana, by the end of the year, another 10 hostels are slated to be up and running.Rio’s hostels are not just increasing in quantity; they’re also improving in terms of quality.
Rio’s hostels are not just increasing in quantity; they’re also improving in terms of quality. Many of the owners are young Brazilians who have spent considerable amounts of time globetrotting. The exposure to foreign influences combined with Cariocas’ innate flair for hospitality makes for a winning fusion. As a result, offerings focus on personalized design and services and boast locations that are a little more interesting and off-the-beaten track (a growing trend is the number of hostels located in or near to high profile and recently “pacified” favelas).
Furthermore, while backpackers can take comfort in dorms that trade the bleak institutional feel of an army barracks for bright colors, polished wood furnishings, and natural light spilling in through picture windows, singles, couples and even small families can find private rooms and even suites with “luxuries” such as a/c, Wi-Fi and sometimes even bathrooms and verandas – at rates much cheaper than those of hotels.
Here are a sampling of some of the newest and hottest new hostels in town:
Since it opened in February, 2012, this hostel, housed in a beautifully renovated old house in the bucolic and charming hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa, has shot to the top of Tripadvisor’s best rated Rio accommodations (it currently ranks 2nd out of 128 specialty lodging listings!). It receives particularly high notes for cleanliness, ambiance, and great service (the owners are a couple of former backpackers themselves). Drawbacks include no kitchen and the steep climb involved in getting there.
At the extreme end of Copacabana’s famous crescent of white sand, Leme is a quieter, more residential, and less touristy strip of beach that sits in the shadow of Sugar Loaf (as well as the recently pacified favela of Chapéu Mangueira). Opened in 2011, Lisetonga’s Hostel occupies a grand whitewashed house, one of many once fancy abodes that were abandoned out of fear of encroaching favelas. This small, homey hostel features pretty patios, a cinematic spiral staircase, and a tower with a view, not to mention savvy staff and proximity to the world’s most famous beach.
The brainchild of a couple of buddies (one Carioca, the other Argentinean), Vidigalbergue is located in one of Rio’s most famous (and most recently pacified) favelas of Vidigal, which overlooks the sleek hood of Leblon. Spartan dorm accommodations (no private rooms here) take full advantage of the bewitching 180-degree sea views (and sunsets), but the biggest bonus – apart from the knowledgeable and very friendly staff – is being able to experience, first-hand, life in a favela and to interact with residents.
Located in one of Rio’s most traditional and least touristy neighborhoods – Botafogo – Oztel (which also opened this year) is the inspired creation of a quintet of partners whose professional backgrounds – ranging from agronomical engineer and artistic producer to chef and lawyer – are as eclectic as the beautifully designed, and utterly Carioca, rooms and common spaces. Highlights include a rooftop garden with a view of Corcovado and a snack and cocktail bar whose coveted cachet ensures that gringos can easily meet up with locals-in-the-know who drop by for drinks.
It was only very recently that the sophisticated and sedate beach bairro of Leblon, which formerly trafficked in 5-star hotels, succumbed to Rio’s hostel craze. Z.bra Hostel wasn’t the first albergue on the block, but it’s definitely the most funky. Dorm rooms resemble futuristic space ships in which guests sleep in brightly hued, modular (claustrophobic) capsules. Meanwhile, common rooms – which include a bar/lounge, and library – are decked out in refurbished 40s and 50s furniture. The close-to-the-beach location is hard to beat, although nearby nightlife offerings can up the noise factor.