Though Rio has a good number of hotels, there's surprisingly little variety: There are few pousadas, boutique hotels, or fancy bed-and-breakfasts, at least not in the beach neighborhoods. (The exception is the hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa, which has pousadas in heritage buildings, fancy boutique hotels, and quaint historic B&Bs galore.) In Copacabana and Ipanema, the vast majority of hotels are in modern high-rises, many built in the '60s and '70s, most with a similar layout and design. The difference between hotels thus lies in the location, the room size, the amenities, and, of course, the view. The best rooms always face the ocean and are priced accordingly. Note that if you choose not to stay in a prime oceanview room, you often get much better value by staying at the best room in a less expensive hotel away from the beach than by paying for a cheaper room in an expensive beachfront hotel.
The best-known hotel area is Copacabana, with easy access via Metrô back to the city core, and a good selection of inexpensive hotels close to the beach. One beach over from Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon have become increasingly popular over the past decade and now have better nightlife and trendier shopping than Copa. The area is much farther from the city core, but integrated Metrô/bus routes now connect the area to the subway, and there are lots of regular buses.
Farther out in Barra da Tijuca is where you will find the city's newest and most modern hotels. Hotels out here are close to the convention center and the big new malls and office complexes, but it's a 30- to 60-minute cab ride from Ipanema and Copacabana and the people and street life that make Rio so fascinating.
Back toward downtown you find the lively and more historic neighborhoods Glória, Catete, and Flamengo. Located a 15-minute subway ride from both downtown and Copacabana, they offer excellent budget options. The hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa now has a few wonderful pousadas, B&Bs, and boutique hotels, most of them in the gorgeous converted mansions of Rio's 19th-century elite. Santa Teresa offers cobblestone streets and terrific views in all directions, and a bohemian artistic feel. The only drawback is access; getting up to or down from Santa Teresa is a matter of a bus or taxi ride, and later in the evening some taxis are reluctant to go up the hill.
In the lobby, hotels always list the rack rates on a sign behind the desk, but you can expect to pay 50% to 80% of this amount, depending on the season, the staff person, and your bargaining skills. Prices are quite flexible; always negotiate. Sometimes just paying with cash can result in a 10% to 15% discount.
The only time of year when it's difficult to get a deal is during high season, from the week before Christmas through the end of Carnaval. The city overflows with visitors from all over the world, not to mention Argentines and Brazilians taking their summer holidays. New Year's and Carnaval are the tourism industry's cash cows, and during this time most hotels will only accept reservations for set package deals -- usually a 2- or 3-night minimum stay for New Year's and a 5-night minimum stay for Carnaval -- at highly inflated prices. Shop around in advance if you're going to be in Rio during these times; packages (especially the less expensive ones) sell out by October or November. Most hotels now have websites and will provide quick information upon request.
Make sure to ask about taxes that will be added to your bill. Most hotels charge a 10% service tax, a 5% city tax, and, if they are a member of the Rio Convention and Visitor's Bureau, a tourist tax of R$3 to R$9 per day. This can add up to a total of 18% extra on your bill.
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.