Party like a local in marvellous Rio de Janeiro

by Sarah.Benton

Rio is famous for its beaches, its beautiful people and its nightlife. If you want to party, you've come to the right place

When I think of Rio, the first three things that pop into my head are: the huge statue of Christ, Cristo Redentor, on top of Corcovado Mountain; beautiful tanned people on long stretches of sandy beach; and sipping caipirinhas whilst dancing to loud, rhythmic music late into the night.
Brazil’s marvellous city is a place that really gets under your skin. The poverty is overwhelming and overflows from the favelas onto the city streets. It is matched only by the exuberant wealth of Rio’s high-society, but despite this, I ended up loving the place. From the winding alleys and street art of Santa Teresa and the shabby-chic beauty of the historic buildings in Centro to the long sandy beach of Ipanema, there is something for everybody. But what drew me back a few years ago was the nightlife. The Cariocas (Rio locals), really know how to party.
Music ranges from modern dance tracks, drum‘n’bass and hip hop to more traditional styles like the samba and choro. Things don’t normally kick off until around midnight, and go on until five or six in the morning, so don’t start drinking too early. My two favourite drinks were caipirinhas, a rather potent mix of lime, crushed ice, sugar and cachaca (sugar-cane rum), and mojitos, made from lime, mint, soda, ice and dark rum. Bear in mind that drinking local alcohol is much cheaper than drinking imported brands.
There are several different areas to party in Rio. It is a sprawling city, so unless you want to spend half the night in taxis, stuck in traffic trying to get from one side of the city to the other, pick an area and stay there for the whole night. You can drink pretty much anywhere in Rio, and most locals drink with friends on balconies, parks or the beach before a night out. Cafes are also a popular place to warm up, as the booze is cheaper and you can munch your way through various snacks to give you some energy for the evening’s activities. I can’t name all of these; all I can say is don’t be put off by plastic picnic tables and chairs - if you see a bunch of locals seated at one of these places, then chances are it’s a good place to pull up a pew.
To mingle with the beautiful and most wealthy people of Rio, make a beeline for Ipanema and Leblon. Popular clubs/lounge bars are Baronetti (354 Rua Barão da Torre) and Melt (Rua Rita Ludolf), but be warned that these aren’t cheap. Partying here is similar, in terms of price, to London or New York and don’t expect to get in with your Havaianas (the famous local flip-flops) on. Also note that these clubs often charge a cover charge and will issue you with a card as you arrive. Your drinks will then be charged to this, and if you don’t buy enough you have to pay a forfeit charge!
Copacobana is probably Rio’s most famous district but its club scene has faded from glory in recent years. It is now frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers after dark. However, there is still one club that remains popular: Bunker (Rua Raul Pompeia 7). The music here varies from week to week and the crowd is a mix of backpackers and locals, so it has a friendly, relaxed feel and it’s easy to make new friends with the Cariocas.
When I was there, Lapa was the best party hotspot. This bohemian district has a unique sense of style and culture, which oozes out into its music scene. You’ll hear traditional samba beats mixed in with drum'n'bass and electro music that is so catchy even your granny will want to get up and dance. My favourite spots were Rio Scenarium (Rua do Lavradio) and Carioca de Gema (Rua Mem de Sa 79). Scenarium is large and lavishly decorated, whilst Carioca de Gema is a smaller, more intimate affair but it still knows how to pump up the volume.
To get into the groove of old-time Rio, head to the many gafieiras, samba halls that fill the Centro area. Estudantina (Praça Tiradentes 79) and Passeio Publico Café (Av Rio Branco 277) are two of the best places to learn some new steps or watch the Cariocas strut their stuff.
Of course, Carnival is one of the craziest and most exciting times to visit Rio. It is pretty much one long party and everyone is in high-spirits and good natured, but be prepared to book well in advance for accommodation, to pay extra for everything and for every nook and cranny of the place to be full to the brim with revellers. But, believe me, it is worth it.
Where to stay
Promenade Visconti: this apart-hotel is located in Ipanema so perfect for getting home after a night out in Melt or Baronetti or a day on the beach. If you are staying for a few nights it is worth getting the suite (actually a small apartment). Fantasic views from most of the rooms make this a perfect choice for enjoying an evening aperitif on the balcony. Double rooms are around £100 per room, per night. (Rua Prudente de Moraes, 1050, Ipanema)