Nestled between rocky peaks and the sea, the city of Rio de Janeiro offers unparalleled access to nature. It’s the kind of place where the ocean becomes an inherent part of your everyday life. You hang out on the beach, work out on the beach, and even take your coffee breaks on the beach—except here, caffeine is replaced with fresh, ice-cold coconuts.
This vacation-like lifestyle has attracted a growing community of digital nomads and expats from all over the world. Now, Brazil’s new digital nomad visa makes it easier for them to stay. Although Rio’s digital nomad scene is still in its infancy and there’s a lack of modern cafes to work from, those who are captivated by the city’s charm don’t seem to mind.
The best part about working remotely from Rio is getting to know the city beyond the shores of Copacabana Beach. As you venture inland, you find leafy green neighborhoods and all the modern comforts of a big city. Busy, store-lined avenues clash with quiet residential streets. High-end restaurants and casual dive bars share the same block, and palaces that once served as royal residences hint at the city’s past. Here in the birthplace of samba, the rhythmic music plays all year round, leading you down the gritty alleyways of downtown Rio, far past the polished buildings near the beach.
Rio is not without its safety issues, which keep many from visiting. Yet after living here for two years, I’ve realized that the city is a lot less scary than I imagined it to be. Most digital nomads can generally afford accommodation in the city’s tourist-friendly neighborhoods, far from the drug and police violence that’s given the city a notorious reputation. Still, muggings can happen, especially during the peak summer season on the beach.
This is why I avoid leaving my valuables on the sand while I jump in the ocean. I also don’t visibly carry my expensive camera or laptop when walking around. At the end of the day, Rio will probably serve more culture shock than fear: My apartment sits just a couple of blocks from a major favela, a working-class community with poor infrastructure. Here, these communities are interwoven with the rest of the city and are an essential part of carioca culture.
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Most people are attracted to Ipanema for its postcard-like beach, where Rio’s mountainous skyline is proudly on display. The neighborhood’s central location near Leblon, Arpoador, and Copacabana beaches is a bonus. Many expats and remote workers live near the division of Ipanema and Copacabana—nicknamed “Copanema”—where tourist-friendly bars and restaurants are plentiful.
You’ll find a few coffee shops to work from nearby, such as Aussie Coffee, a great spot to meet other nomads. There’s also Livraria da Travessa, a quaint bookstore with a cafe on the second floor, and a big, modern Starbucks on the neighborhood’s main avenue. The lack of coworking options leads most people to rent an apartment. Instead of Airbnb, which tends to drive up living costs in a neighborhood, you can search for a short-term rental through local sites like Quinto Andar or Zap Imoveis. With the new nomad visa, some hotels are now offering special rates for extended stays. Head to the Sol Ipanema Hotel for a luxurious beachfront room or the Hotel Vermont for a more affordable stay. For shorter stays, hostels like El Misti and Ipanema Beach Hostel are popular options.
Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of restaurant options, from laidback sandwich counters like Polis Sucos, which has been around since the 1950s, to sophisticated places like Mäska, helmed by a chef who once worked at the revered Noma restaurant in Denmark. Casual places like the Bali-inspired Nusa Cafe, the breezy Zaza Bistro, and the fast-service salad bar Delirio Tropical make for the ideal lunch break.
Living here, you’ll soon learn that Rio is a city of steep economic contrasts. Ipanema is ranked among the wealthiest neighborhoods in Brazil and one of the safest for digital nomads to live. Yet it’s also bordered by a big favela on one end.
Leblon is Rio’s trendiest beachfront neighborhood. It’s located right next to Ipanema, and both beaches share the same stretch of sand. It’s the most expensive place to live in Rio, but it does have a lot to offer in terms of safety, entertainment, and dining. Even the beach feels more exclusive, with a narrower stretch of sand limiting the number of sunbathers.
If you love restaurants, Leblon offers the best of Rio’s wining and dining. There are French bistros like CT Boucherie and Chez Claude; New York-style pizza Ferro & Farinha; top-notch sushi San; Italian delicacies at Gusto; and traditional Brazilian steakhouses like Giuseppe Grill. Even if you don’t live in Leblon, you’ll be coming here for the nightlife. The street of Dias Ferreira is lined with bars on both sides and often gets so crowded that cars can’t pass through.
Leblon is also home to two popular shopping malls, Shopping Leblon and Rio Design Leblon, each of which has its own share of restaurant options. Most remote workers who live here likely work from home, but if you need to escape, there’s Coffeetown and a big, spacious Starbucks inside Shopping Leblon.
Copacabana is home to the world-famous beach that goes by the same name. It’s easily the most touristy neighborhood in the city, with several big-name hotels flanking the beachfront. The mosaic-tiled boardwalk is teeming with activity both day and night, with beach bars known as quiosques playing live music late into the evening.
Many digital nomads settle into Copacabana because it has more affordable apartment options than Ipanema and Leblon. Another option is the Selina hotel, which offers both shared and private rooms and doubles as a great place to work. The hotel has a coworking space and a beautiful cafe overlooking the beach and the popular Copacabana Fort. The fort was built on a privileged location at the tip of the beach in the early 1900s to protect Rio’s Guanabara Bay. Today, you can swing by for breakfast overlooking the dome-shaped Sugarloaf Mountain. Here, the waves are much calmer than on Ipanema or Leblon beaches, making it a great spot for paddle boarding and kayaking.
For a true carioca experience, check out the live samba circle at Bip Bip. Another local nook is Bar do David, which serves fried bar snacks and seafood. The original bar opened in a nearby favela and has since expanded to Copacabana. You can also find hip, modern spots like Canton, which serves great cocktails and Chinese-Peruvian cuisine.
If you like getting beyond the beaten tourist path, then Botafogo is your best choice as an equally residential and commercial neighborhood located further inland from the city’s most well-known beaches. The neighborhood does have its own beach, but it’s not suitable for swimming. Still, people take advantage of the spectacular views of Sugarloaf Mountain along the waterfront by gathering for picnics on the grass or cycling and jogging along the beach.
Overall, Botafogo has more of a city feel than the other beachside neighborhoods on this list. There’s a vibrant cultural scene made up of theaters, cinemas, and museums. You’ll find more work-friendly cafes, too, like The Slow Bakery, which is reminiscent of a Brooklyn coffee shop. Even if you’re not a fan of malls, Praia Botafogo Shopping boasts a spectacular view of the ocean and surrounding peaks from its terrace. It also has a free coworking space on the third floor.
There’s an eclectic group of bars and restaurants, including the city’s first food hall, Be+Co; a rare natural wine bar, Winehouse; a fine dining restaurant with Michelin status, Lasai; and an endless array of casual dive bars on Rua Voluntários da Pátria. And if you miss jumping into the ocean, Ipanema is just a metro ride away.
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