Visitors to Rio de Janeiro often find themselves somewhat startled when they first catch sight of prices in Rio de Janeiro. While Rio may have been a bargain beach destination a decade ago, today it is expensive not only by South American standards, but by Western standards too. The steep prices mean that many locals pay for their purchases in instalments, but savvy shoppers know that there are bargains to be had even in this city of soaring prices.
The shopping centers of the affluent Zona Sul (South Zone, home to touristic areas such as Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana) are chockful of stylish, if pricey, boutiques, while those on a tighter budget would be wise to head downtown, where there are some bargains to be found if you know where to look - the vast indoor market at Uruguaiana, and the surrounding shopping streets known as the Saara, are a good place to come for throwaway fashion, beauty products and the like, but be warned that designer labels are almost always fakes.
If you're wondering just how the locals afford to shop at all - pay close attention to the price tags. That dress that looks like it was R$50? Look closer and you'll see 'X10' written next to it. Almost everything is payable in installments, although this option is rarely open to foreign visitors.
10 Santa Teresa
There's more to Rio de Janeiro than its beaches, and the artistic heart of the city can be found up in the jungle-clad hills of Santa Teresa.
Here, pastel-colored colonial mansions have been converted into bucolic bars, friendly guest houses, artists' studios and some of the best restaurants in Rio, and the lofty location makes for some terrific views over the city.
Start your visit to Santa Teresa at Largo do Guimaraes, the busy square at the start of the city, and follow the steep cobbled streets to discover vintage clothes stores, bustling drinking dens and some of the friendliest locals in the city. (No phone-neighborhoo)
If you want to look as hot as the locals on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, make a beeline for this chic swimwear store. As well as the barely-there bikinis that Brazil is famous for, BumBum (the name reflects the national predeliction for displaying ample amounts of buttock flesh on the beach) sells sey one-pieces and some more modest bikinis. Thankfully for visitors not blessed with year-round scorching temperatures, the dental floss bikini is no longer considered chic beachwear, and BumBum bikinis, while revealing, enhance curves and aim to flatter the rear. As a mark of how much Brazilian beach fashion has changed in recent years, the store now has a wide range of sexy one-pieces. ((21) 2542-9614)
8 Bazar Centro do Saara
Saara - the maze of downtown shopping streets that attracts bargain hunters like bees to a honeypot - should be the first port of call for anyone looking for colorful carnival costumes at bargain prices. Along with scores of stores selling everything from full-on spangly samba outfits with feathered headdresses to animal fancy dress and glitter wigs, the stores of Saara sell the type of fast fashion that is ideal for anyone who wants to look like a local in a snap and without spending a fortune. Think teeny tiny denim shorts, flip flops and boob tubes for the girls, surf shorts and casual tees for the boys. ((21) 2242-3682)
7 Shopping Leblon
if you're in the mood for a splurge or in need of some serious retail therapy, this shopping center located in upscale Leblon is just the ticket. From itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis in body confident cuts to handcrafted homeware and stylish jewery, Shopping Leblon is filled with fashionable, upwardly mobile shoppers browsing the tempting, if pricey, wares on offer. There are lots of good places to eat and drink too, with opportunities to sip an iced coffee or dine on sushi and fine wine, depending on your mood. Budget travelers beware, the prices here will leave you wide-eyed in disbelief. ((21) 2430-5122)
Farm is the go to fashion store for the fashionable young things of Ipanema, and stocks colorful, fresh-looking fashions for both girls and boys about town. Fun, flirty dresses and floaty fabrics are hallmarks of Farm's ladies' wear section, while board shorts and tees in bright colours are staples in the menswear section. Formal wear has little place in the social lives of most young cariocas, and this store is a great place to pick up versatile fashion items that can be transformed from daytime to nighttime as fast as you can change from flip flops to heels or smart trainers. ((21) 3797-3400)
Stylist-turned-swimwear queen Lenny Niemeyer is the woman credited with re-inventing the Brazilian bikini. The designer has made stylish Cariocas less interested in sporting the famous 'dental floss' and more concerned with beautiful cuts and curve-enhancing designs. Niemeyer launched her Lenny brand with this Ipanema store in the early 1990s, and today the chain has 18 branches in Brazil while the brand is stocked by the chicest of swimwear stores in Europe and the USA. Head here for super-stylish bikinis, one-pieces and beachwear, including some beautiful sarongs that work equally well as skirts, dresses and beach towels. If you want to give the locals a run for their money in the sexy and stylish stakes, head here. (21 2227.5537)
4 FEIRA HIPPIE DE IPANEMA (Hippie Fair)
The name 'hippie fair' may conjure up images of flowing kaftans and incense sticks, but this colorful market, held in Ipanema each Sunday for some 60-plus years, is in fact a great place to pick up everything from local arts and crafts to fashion finds. Set aside a good few hours to browse all the stalls and don't be afraid to bargain with sellers - you can often bag a bargain if you buy more than one item from the same stall. Eagle-eyed shoppers will be able to find everything from vintage designer shades to hand-made dresses in funky fabrics. ((21) 8746-1082)
3 Feira do Rio Antigo
The historic center of Lapa is the setting for a lively street market, held on the first Saturday of the month and offering a chance to buy everything from antiques and folk art to handmade fashions and vintage accessories. The sound of live samba music fills the air, the streets throng with shoppers and sightseers, and the many pavement cafes and bars housed in converted colonial buildings do a brisk trade as groups of friends linger over a reviving coffee, refreshing beer or refueling meal. The market is a great place to pick up keepsakes to take home, and there are some beautifully made clothes to be found here, often at surprisingly reasonable prices.
2 Barra Shopping
If you're in the mood for some serious retail therapy, it's time to jump on a bus or grab a cab and head for Barra da Tijuca, the wealthy, modern suburb to the west of the city that has been nicknamed 'the United States of Barra'. Here, sprawling shopping malls line the wide avenues, and Barra Shopping is the largest of them all - with food courts and entertainment complexes housed inside, along with all manner of chic boutiques and high street fashion stores. You can even work out mid-shopping spree, should you feel the urge, as there are workout stations dotted around the mall. ((21) 4003-4131)
1 Havaianas Store
Funky Havaianas are synonymous with beach life in Rio de Janeiro, and the sheer range of colors, styles and sizes - from tiny baby flip flops to adult male sizes - will have style conscious shoppers watering a the mouth. Luckily for those who struggle to control their shopping impulses, prices are more than accessible - starting at around R$15 for basic models, and rising to around R$35 for the season's latest styles. At these prices, it's well worth picking up a few pairs for folks back home - as well as couple for yourself, of course. (0055 21 2222-4634)
About Lucy Bryson
Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.
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