The actual accommodations themselves were simple (but a real character house!!) so the WOW factor was the fantastic location and the owner, who is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about his city!
As part of my South American trip planning process, I needed to research accommodations. I knew Rio was going to be expensive as the days lead up to hosting international events (the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016).
Deciding on a safe and convenient location
I also heard all those stories about Rio being dangerous so I wanted to stay somewhere safe. After perusing the Trip Advisor listings where many basic hotels were almost $200.00 a night, I stumbled upon their forum where people were discussing pleasant experiences staying in pousadas (home-stay/b&b kinda deal).
Close to the famous beaches
I was interested in a few. I knew I wanted to stay close to Ipanema Beach as it’s generally regarded as a nicer beach than Copacabana, and also safer.
The Rio Dolphin Inn stood out to me for several reasons
- Located right in between Ipanema and Copacabana – the 2 famous beaches of Rio only a few minutes walk away
- Private-gated community – felt safe
- 100 5 star reviews – how do you get better than that?!
- Embedded in these reviews was a lot about the owner, John! An American ex-pat who has been living in Brazil for the almost 30 years aka someone who can gives us a local point of view and who we know will speak good English!
- The price was fair at $150 USD per night. Not the cheapest accommodation and it’s not a hotel but given the above, I felt this was a good price!
Given the reviews, expectations were HIGH.
He exceeded all of them.
Making the booking
We emailed several times before the trip (8 weeks in advance) and he offered to arrange for a private driver to pick us up from the airport. Private drivers cost $95 Reais compared to $70-80 for a taxi (if the meter isn’t rigged) but with a private driver, we knew someone would be waiting and we could go straight to our accommodations. We were scheduled to arrive close in the evening so we opted for this choice. I’m really glad we did this!
Arriving in Rio
Upon arrival, John met us and offered us coconut water right away. He doesn’t include breakfast but keeps his fridge stocked full of coconut water, orange juice and filtered water. He also has snacks on the counter like local chocolates and nuts.
On my last day, he even offered to make me a sandwich, haha! He explained that there are so many great food places around in this neighbourhood and with this arrangement, you are free to explore the area and try different things each day. I have to say, with the exception of our expensive Iguazu Falls accommodations, the breakfasts that were included in South America weren’t that interesting anyway.
Besides, in Rio you have an abundance of tropical fruit juice stands at every other corner so I’m glad I had the opportunity to try those for breakfast instead 🙂
In the living room, he showed us his special book for visitors filled with wifi passwords and suggestions for activities and food. On the table is a large collection of travel guides and books about Rio and Brazil. This was incredibly useful as we didn’t bring any travel books with us! He also pointed out some funny ones like “The Partiers Guide to Rio“. I definitely don’t consider myself a partier, so I didn’t think to look at this book, but John showed me all the colourful pictures of food, fruit and snacks which was really practical!
He also shared a piece of gossip:One edition was banned because of suggestive text on “how to pick up a girl/guy” lol!
Hospitality and personal tour
Even though we were nearing 10:00 pm in the evening, John still took us out for a short walk after the house orientation to help us get our bearings around the neighborhood.
“So..we have to ask about safety in Rio..can we walk around here at night?”
John replied, “Absolutely, this is the safest I’ve seen Rio in all my years, but it’s also the most expensive”
We walked for about 4 blocks close to the beach along a busy street and I did feel safe. Lot’s of streetlamps lit the way and many people were out and about.
He did advise that we stick to the main streets and not go into alleyways but I feel that’s something you would do anywhere! A far cry from the travel advice I had read about taking a taxi everywhere, even if it’s 2 blocks.
Having a local walk us around, especially the first night, put us at ease and made us feel comfortable exploring on our own the rest of the trip. What a way to set the tone! Since we were hungry, John recommended a few different places to go for food from cheap and convenient local pastels (filled with meats and cheeses) or a place to sit down and enjoy a traditional meal like feijoada.
We ended parting ways after John gave us a map and trick for remembering how to get home: Think of San Francisco, backwards: you are on Francisco Sa!
After getting some food, we brought it back home and went to sleep in our “Little Prince Room“. It slept 3 so we used the extra bed to lay out all of our extra clothes and get organized. Across the hall was our own private bathroom with many towels John said we could help ourselves too. On our bed we each had a set of towels, chocolates, and sarongs (or congas) for use at the beach. Super thoughtful as cariocas (locals) don’t take much to the beach other than this simple cover up!
Close to the Ipanema Beach
For the next few days, we would run into John (after his early morning surf) and chat about all kinds of things. His girlfriend Cindy was super cool and together they have 3 very endearing dogs 🙂
On our second night, they both walked us around Ipanema, showing us different restaurants and stores. “Over there is the American street with a starbucks and KFC” “On that side you’ll find a lot of backpackers” “Kilo restaurants, you can actually go in and survey the food before decided to eat there”..
In the end, they invited us to join them for dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant of which the details I wish save for a later Foods of Brazil post 🙂
It was these kinds of personal touches that made such a big different on our experience. We felt welcome and it’s been said so many times in TA, but we really did feel like we were visiting an old friend.
And his Great recommendations!!
Because of him and his direct experience and contacts with locals – we went hang gliding with Ruy Marra (world record holder).
We went on a local Favela walk with Jefferson (his friend from a local surf club). Both of these people I would not have found on my own (neither are listed on Trip Advisor) and really added to my overall experience!
On our last day, John told us we could keep our stuff in our room and use the bathroom facilities one last time (which was helpful since we hung out at the beach for a bit and it felt great to rinse off).
John is one of the coolest people I’ve met and we’re so happy to stayed with him!
On our previous stop before Rio at Iguazu Falls, we treated ourselves with a stay at luxurious 5 star accommodation by the Belmond group which was excellent and spectacular in its own way. You can’t really compare that experience with this B&B one. The same Orient-Express groups owns the swanky Copacabana Palace in Rio in front of the beach.
We took a quick peak in that hotel which was striking and grandiose, but we would not have gotten then same level of attention and local experience had we stayed there. Different types of accommodations for different experiences, is my takeaway and since our goal was to explore the city, get a bit of local taste and feel safe – the Rio Dolphin was perfect on all counts!!
To view my Rio de Janeiro Flickr Photo Gallery, please click here