Rio de Janeiro
State: Rio de Janeiro
Stadium: Maracanã (cap. 73,531)
Games: Seven including Spain v Chile, a quarter-final and the World Cup final
Airport to beach: 30-40 mins from the international airport, Galeao; 20 mins from domestic airport, Santos Dumont.
Rio – the jewel in the crown – is likely to be top of most fans’ lists of places to visit, regardless of where their team is playing. I’ve lived here for 18 months and I still love it; it’s a special city.
Is it safe?
This is the question I most frequently get asked. All I can say is that in 18 months – touch wood – I have had zero security problems. None. I haven’t been mugged or even pickpocketed. The only guns I have seen have been in the hands of police officers or soldiers. That does not mean risks don’t exist. Here are my tips:
- plan where you’re going so you don’t a) look like you’re wandering aimlessly and b) get lost and inadvertently walk into trouble;
- stay where there are people. Safety in numbers;
- go out only with what you’re prepared to lose. Bring an old phone handset so you can leave your iPhone behind, forget the watch/jewellery;
- blend in. No socks and sandals;
- take enough money out with you to hand over if required;
- take taxis – licensed taxis are recognisable by their red number plates;
- seek advice before going into favelas.
If you only have the time/money to visit one of these attractions, I recommend Sugar Loaf. While Christ is impressive, there is more to do and see on the way up to Sugar Loaf, including the two-part cable car ride, several viewing platforms, shops, cafes and trails around the mountain top.
I thoroughly recommend visiting Christ as well if possible but the concourse is much smaller and you’ll find yourself photo-bombing every single person posing for a picture with their arms stretched out. Sugar Loaf at sunset is spectacular. Both are only worth it if it’s a clear day.
You cannot escape the favelas of Rio. You’ll see one of the biggest – Maré – on the way from the international airport to wherever you’re staying. Often described as slums, it’s not quite an accurate translation. Favelas are more characterised by their irregularity than their poverty, and they often show Rio’s most creative side in terms of music and art.
Many favelas in zona sul – the area that includes Ipanema and Copacabana – have tour guides that can be found online or near the edge of the favela. Often not necessary, it’s probably a good idea unless you know someone local or have been before. Santa Marta in Botafogo is popular with foreign visitors – it’s a small favela long occupied by police and has a funicular that stops at several levels. It’s where Michael Jackson filmed part of his They Don’t Care About Us video and there’s now a “Michael Jackson square” with a statue dedicated to the late King of Pop.
Others of interest are Complexo do Alemão in the north zone, which has its own cable car passing through five stations, and Vidigal, which has great views of Ipanema and popular bars and restaurants.
The World Cup takes place during winter in Rio. There will be days when it’s pleasant on the beach but don’t expect sweltering temperatures. Beaches here are like parks: they are places where people go to hang out as much as sunbathe. You’ll find all kinds of foods on sale from vendors and all kinds of sports. And people tend to use cangas, or sarongs, instead of beach towels.
:: Beer is served in small glasses, called “chopes”. Or, you can get a 600ml bottle to share out. But you’ll only find pints in the Irish bars. And take it steady on the caipirinhas – many a good man has fallen after three.
“quatro/oito/dez chopes, por favor” = “four/eight/10 beers please”
:: Those bangs are normally fireworks not guns. And they usually accompany goals in big games.
:: Head to Aconchego Carioca for pre-match drinks near the Maracanã – even if it’s full, there’s plenty of other bars on Rua Barão de Iguatemi.
:: Rio isn’t London: escalator rules of standing on the right and walking on the left don’t apply. People stand wherever they like when on the escalator in the metro.
:: When paying by card, you’ll be asked “credito or debito?” because in Brazil, people have one card for both. If paying by a Mastercard debit card, you may have to tell them “credito” for it to work.
:: ATMs are temperamental. If your first attempt is unsuccessful, try a couple more times before giving up and going elsewhere.
:: Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a requirement. Allow as much time as possible to do anything.
With thanks to Gustavo Oliveira