Where Not to Stay in Rio -- The only neighborhood to avoid hotel-wise is downtown Rio. The Praça Mauá hotels may look like a bargain, but this area transforms into a red-light district at night when the office workers have gone home.
São Conrado/Barra da Tijuca
The only reason to stay beyond Leblon is if you prefer your hotel with a large leisure area such as tennis courts and large swimming pools. Close to the convention center and the new business centers, hotels in Barra usually have huge recreational areas. The drawback is that you're anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more from Ipanema and Copacabana (depending on traffic) and thus quite isolated. If you do choose Barra, resign yourself to long cab or bus rides.
One beach over from Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon offer some of the city's trendiest shopping and best dining options. Leblon, in particular, has become Rio's prime neighborhood for fine dining. There are both affordable hotel options and outstanding luxury accommodations.
Copacabana may not be the upscale neighborhood that it was in the days when bossa nova was young, but there are still advantages to staying in this part of the city. Prices are lower than in Ipanema, and with Copacabana's strategic location, it's only a 10- to 15-minute cab ride to Ipanema or to downtown; there's excellent bus service and a Metrô line, which makes it easy to get downtown or to places farther out, such as the Sambodromo or the Maracanã soccer stadium. The best hotels are on the Avenida Atlântica and some of its cross streets. Avoid the hectic Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Avenue and Rua Barata Ribeiro.
The drawback to Copacabana is that you share the hood with seniors, lots and lots of other tourists, vendors, hawkers, hustlers and, in certain sections, street hookers and (mostly foreign) johns (it's particularly bad around Av. Prado Junior and in front of the Help discothèque). With some common precautions the neighborhood is just as safe as Ipanema, but you do get that extra local flavor. We find it quite colorful and a part of what makes Copa unique. However, it may not be for everybody. Leme, at the far end of Copa, could be the perfect alternative for those who want to have all the benefits of being close to Copa without sinking in the midst of it.
Flamengo, Catete, Glória
These older neighborhoods just south of downtown offer a range of excellent accommodations. These neighborhoods are also architecturally interesting and offer many glimpses into Rio's fascinating history. The chief drawback to the area is its distance from the ocean beaches.
Santa Teresa Bed & Breakfast Network -- A change from most of Rio de Janeiro's high-rise accommodations, the Santa Teresa Cama e Café B&B Network (tel. 021/2225-4366 or 2221-7635; www.camaecafe.com.br) offers beautiful rooms in one of the city's most charming neighborhoods. The participating homes are often quite spectacular and situated in some of Santa Teresa's finest locations. You can choose your bed for its price and size and location, or you can fill out a more detailed form and staff will match you to your host according to your hobbies, interests, and language skills. Hosts include a variety of resident artists, chefs, and academics, as well as specialists in Brazilian music, art, and history. Houses range from century-old mansions to Art Deco villas to spacious apartments with fab views. Prices range from R$120 to R$210. Even at the cheaper end you can book yourself into a fabulous house with great views, swimming pool, and garden. The drawback to Santa Teresa is its isolation. In the evening you need to rely on taxis to get around. However, in the daytime you can grab a bus and be at the Metrô or downtown in 20 minutes. Santa Teresa in itself is worth a day of exploration. It's a perfect retreat, away from the beach.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.