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The Complete Travel Guide to Rio Olympics: Part 1

Rio Olympics 2016

Are you a sports fanatic? Are you looking forward to taking a break from work and go for a vacation? Well then, there is no better opportunity than this one. The 2016 summer Olympics are being hosted by Brazil in its second largest city Rio de Janeiro. Ever since it has been chosen for the upcoming Olympics, the city has been teeming with palpable enthusiasm and rigorous activity for the preparations of the biggest sporting event on Earth.

Apart from the Olympics, there are a number of other reasons to visit Brazil. The five day carnival in Rio, the vibrant night nightlife, the architectural and cultural beauty of the Santa Teresa neighborhood, the beautiful beaches, the lush green rain forests and the breathtaking mountains in and around Rio. If ever there was a time to visit Brazil, 2016 is it! So if you have the means, just pack your bags and embark on the adventure of your life!

We bring to you a series of articles which will help you plan your trip to Rio and will guide you where to stay, what to eat and where to eat, major attractions to watch and the safety measures you should take while you are there.

The opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics will be held on August 5, 2016, and the excitement will last through to the concluding ceremony which will be held on August 21, 2016.

The Olympic village is situated in Barra da Tijuca and the venues where the games will take place are as follows:

  • Maracana Stadium – Opening and the Closing ceremonies plus Football
  • 
Joao Haelange Stadium –Athletic events
  • 
Maria Lenk Aquatic Center –Water Polo, Diving and Swimming
  • Copacabana Beach – Marathon Swimming, Beach Volleyball, and Triathlon
  • 
HSBC Arena –Basketball, Gymnastics, and Trampoline
  • Sambadrome –Archery and Marathon
  • Maracanazinho Gymnasium –Volleyball
  • 
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas –Canoeing and Rowing

Outdoor excursions in Rio include trekking, sports on sun kissed beaches, hiking and sightseeing some of the major spots in the city. Tourists from around the world come and enjoy the year round good weather, but it’s during the world famous Carnival – with its energetic samba dancers and flamboyant costumes – the whole city really comes to life.

Here are a few must-visit locations in Rio

Copacabana beach

Might sound like a cliche but it certainly is on every tourist’s punch list and Rio will never be complete without the mention of this beach. What’s more is that the beach is one of the hosts for the 2016 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup soccer 2016.

What actually made this area famous are the Copacabana fort and the Palace hotel. In fact, the hotel has now been declared as part of Brazil’s natural history. The Fort which dates back to 1914, today houses the Army Historical Museum. Ammunition dating back to the early 20th century are displayed here.

Beach activities you can enjoy at the Copacabana

  • Tourists of all ages have some or other activity to do at the beach, be it soaking in the sun, snorkeling or water sports. It’s a 4.5 km long coastline where visitors play beach soccer or simply soak in the warm sun.
  • Enjoy some of the most incredible sand sculptures that stand along the beach while enjoying some Agua de Coco or coconut water straight from the coconut.
  • Enjoy a gold cup of chopp (draft beer) and refeicao (herbed meat and fried onions) at one of the several beach bars.
  • The locals or Cariocas really enjoy their sports so there are many sports facilities along the beach like football courts and volleyball nets that are strung along the shores .
  • For the Cariocas to stay in shape, there are several places on the beach with training equipment where locals can pump iron and build muscles.
  • There is a 2.2 miles long promenade made of a black and white wave design which is a popular route for cyclists, joggers and roller-skaters.
  • Across the street from the promenade are some first class hotels and there are several excellent Brazilian restaurants in the area. You can try any of them for some real local cooking.
  • Enjoy the Sunday at Avenida Atlantica, half closed to cars. From Friday to Sunday there is a touristic fair in front of Rio Othon Hotel that starts at 6 pm. There you can find great souvenirs and artwork. Have breakfast at Confeitaria Colombo at Copacabana Fort, one of the best places to eat in the shine mornings in Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema beach

The beach, tagged as the best urban beach in the world, is famous for its water sports activities. Its beauty lies in its dusky stretch of sand dotted by greenery with cafes, bars and restaurants weaving up the place.

Leading up to the summer season, the place becomes jam packed with tourists who come to enjoy the clean waters, rough waves and the surrounding neighborhood. All over the beach one can see people sun bathing, playing beach volleyball and swimming.

Activities to enjoy at Ipanema

  • Ipanema is known for its beach events where tourists and locals come together to play games like beach soccer, beach volleyball, foot volleyball, etc.
  • It is an ideal place for people who are good at surfing, body boarding, skim boarding.
  • Frescobol is a sensantion among cariocas at the beach, it’s like tennis, it’s played by two people with racquets, not net and you are not to drop the ball. If you go to Ipanema don’t miss watching it and if you feel like participating also, it will be a pleasure for Cariocas to have a tourist playing with them.
  • If you are not much in sports, just lie down for some sunbathing.
  • In front of Rua Vinicius de Moraes the beach goers can enjoy the sunset on the 72 square meters viewpoint installed on the beach. The gazebo is an observation point for the Cagarras Island, also has a solar-powered shower to cool off.
  • There are scores of kiosks selling tempting food and drink.
  • Considered the “little Paris” of Rio it is renowned for its avant-garde galleries, bookstores and movie theatres. Take a tour of the museum at H. Stern, one of the most popular jewelry stores in the area. Not only is it free but you receive a little box of semi-precious and precious stones as a gift.
  • Every Sunday the Hippie Fair is held with vendors selling everything from wooden dolls to swizzle sticks topped with parrots.
  • Garcia D’Avila street has some of the best brands of the city as Osklen, H Stern, Amsterdam Sauer and many others.

Tijuca national park

Why visit?

  • It is one of the largest urban national parks in the world with most of its area covered with mountains.  The park’s summit, where the symbolic Christ the Redeemer statue is situated, offers fantastic views over the city and ocean. There are restaurants and public baths for tourists also.
  • The forest shelters an enormous variety of birds and butterflies as well as prego and sagui monkeys. You may get a chance to see sloths, monkeys and toucans.
  • From a Chinese-style pavilion there are great views of the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf mountains, Ipanema and Leblon beaches, and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.
  • Apart from Christo Redentor, other major attractions are the Cascatinha waterfall and the Mayrink chapel.

The park is divided into:

1) Tijuca forests

In the Tijuca Forest nucleus, attractions include trails, the Taunay Small Waterfall, the Mayrink Chapel -painted by Cândido Portinari-, the Açude Museum and the Solidão S

2) Carioca hill

At the Carioca Hill nucleus, the most remarkable attractions are the Dona Marta, Vista Chinesa and Mesa do Imperador Belvederes.

3) Gavea

Gavea Stone nucleus is the second highest peak in the city, rising 842 meters above sea level. The peak, apart from attracting visitors to see the striking scenery appreciable from its top, means an important attraction due to the impression of a human face on its vertical side which has been caused by the erosion.

Adventure activities in the forest

There are numerous hiking and trekking routes of differing difficulties, from a 50-minute “express hike” to a big circuit that takes in peaks and waterfalls. For more adventure, sign on with one of the park’s jeep tours.

For some real thrills, book a hang-gliding ride. If you have the nerve, you will hop in a tandem hang glider (with an experienced guide) and soar from the Pedra Bonita take-off ramp over the forest.

Christo Redentor or Christ the redeemer

The attraction, inaugurated in 1931, was built approximately 38 meters high and covers 710 meters of the Corcovado Mountain which itself is a huge attraction with every inch occupied by visitors and tourists.

Most visitors take a vertical cog train to reach the base of the summit. From there, visitors to the monument once had to climb hundreds of steps to reach the top. Today, elevators and escalators are available to shorten the trip.

Sugarloaf mountain

Atop this mountain presents great photo opportunities from where one can see sparkling Rio beaches, Christo Redenter( statue of Christ the redeemer), the lush green forest and a spectacular view of Rio.

There is a cable car facility to reach the top and it departs every 20 minutes from the base of the hill. So it’s upto you whether you want to climb the hill to reach the top or use the cable car.

Hiking on the Sugarloaf mountain

  • Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, long pants, long sleeved shirts and insect repellent are recommended.
  • The jagged mountain walls of the Tijuca-Carioca massif, the Corcovado, Sugarloaf, Dois Irmãos and Pedra da Gávea have some of the best trails for hiking. Do stop to take a look at the ‘breathtaking’ view of the natural surroundings.
  • The hikes up these mountains can be strenuous and are best accomplished with the help of an experienced guide.
  • The hiking trail for Sugarloaf begins at Pista Cláudio Coutinho, a walkway that originates from Praia Vermelha in Urca.
  • There are plenty of adventure clubs in Rio that offer guided tours. Make sure you hire an accredited guide so that you can enjoy the trail safely. Better still, join a climbing party that has the appropriate equipment.

Santa Teresa

Apart from the awe inspiring beaches and breathtaking mountains you can immerse yourself in the architectural and cultural beauty of the Santa Teresa neighborhood which invites visitors to step back in time and experience the faded elegance of Rio’s 19th-century plantation mansions and cobblestone streets. Also visit the Ruins Park and the Chácara do Céu Museum in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood.

It is famous for its winding, narrow streets and for being an artistic hotspot. Santa Teresa is located just 5 minutes away from downtown and 15 minutes away from Ipanema and Copacabana.

Things to do

  • The only remaining streetcar line connects Santa Teresa to Largo da Carioca. The streetcar passes by the Acros da Lapa to get to Santa Teresa. Do take a ride on this one and only remaining tramline in the neighbourhood.
  • The convent of Santa Teresa can be described as the heart of the neighborhood. The church can only be visited during mass.
  • The Escadaria Selaron is the beautiful staircase from Convento de Santa Teresa to Rua Joaquim Silva. Each step is unique and is made from ceramic, mirrors and tiles from all over the world.
  • The Parque Das Ruínas– Centro Cultural Laurinda Lobo the mansion was in such a state of ruin only a part of it was restored and was used for concerts and open air shows.
  • The Largo do Guimarães is located in the heart of the neighborhood on Rua Almirante Alexandrino. This square is filled with bars, restaurants, handicraft shops and is the center of carnival activities.

Maracanã Football Stadium

Maracana Stadium

The Maracanã Football Stadium will be hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics Opening and closing Ceremonies. It is Rio’s one of the most important landmarks as football is by far the most important sport in Brazil. Fans of legends like Ronaldo, Pele, Romario, Carlos Alberto and Nilton Santos will surely love to pay a visit to this Mecca of Football.

A trip to Rio de Janeiro is incomplete without experiencing the shimmer and jiggle of brilliant samba dancers, where shows of a modern or classical edge can be equally enjoyed. Not only is the Marcanã home to national football, but it’s also the home of 3 of Rio’s big domestic teams – Flamengo, Botafogo and Vasco de Gama.

Lapa neighbourhood

arches-of-lapa

To visit the vibrant nightlife visit this place which is lined with samba and choro bars, the music and dancing spills out into the street on weekend nights. Escadaria Selarón, a set of famous steps connects both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods.

Places to see in Lapa

  • Lapa is a neighborhood famous for its Bohemian culture. It is well known for its architecture, the most famous monument being the Arcos da Lapa, otherwise known as Carioca Aqueduct, is the most famous monument in Lapa.
  • The Passeio Publico is the first public park built in the city, which is another popular attraction of the neighborhood. Lapa is known for its lively social scene and cultural events.
  • The neighborhood has many restaurants and bars thus enabling Brazilian artists and intellectuals to meet and socialize. Many of these restaurants and clubs promote various forms of Brazilian music.
  • The Metropolitan Cathedral is definitely worth visiting. Built between 1964 to 1979, the cathedral stands 80 meters high and can house around 20,000 people. The Sacred Art Museum and the Bank of Providence are also located here.
  • If you want to see some more examples of old architecture in Rio then the Public Promenade, the National School of Music and the Church of Our Lady of Lapa do Desterro are perfect choices.

Lapa’s Music Culture

From intellectuals, artists politicians and especially to the citizens of Rio, who gather together to celebrate the samba, forró, MPB, electronic music, rock and much more The culture of Lapa has played host to all. Mem de Sá, Rua do Riachuelo Street and Lavradio are the major streets in this neighborhood.

The Sala Cecilia Meireles is considered to be the best concert of chamber music in Rio so do try to catch it. You can catch live performances by well known and budding artists and performers since it has established itself as one of the most important venues for chamber music in the city.

Nightlife in Lapa

Nightlife in Lapa is colorful, varied and as vibrant as ever. Rio Scenarium is the most popular bar in Lapa and even in Rio. Belmonte, Taberna, Buteko juca and Arco Iris are other popular bars in this area. Carioca da Gema is a popular eating spot and bar frequented by the locals so you are guaranteed to get good, authentic carioca cuisine, so be sure to drop in.

Asa Branca is among the most popular nightclubs. The club specializes in forro music where many famous artists have performed. Carioca da Gema specializes in samba music. Lapa 40 plays samba, choro and gaff music. Progress and Casting Flying Circus, are two clubs that cater to modern tastes with electronic music and rock concerts.

Adventure activities in Rio de Janeiro

1) Hang gliding and para gliding

Brazilians are sport loving people to the tee and there is no stopping them from indulging in adventure sports. So you can hang glide or para-glide over the city and land on a beach. Your dream of flying is closer than you imagine.

Some facts you should know

  • The Sao Conrado neighborhood on Pepino Beach, south of Rio is the place for paragliding and hang gliding.
  • There is a ramp close to Pedra Bonita within the Tijuca National Park. Each flight lasts around half an hour to 45 minutes, depending on the weather conditions.
    As you take off from an altitude of 520 meters with a professional tandem pilot, you begin to drift over the Tijuca National Park and over Pepino Beach for a very special airborne experience and aerial view of Sugarloaf , Corcovado and Copacabana.
  • A hang gliding tour costs around US$ 80, which may sound steep, but not higher than you will feel once you soar in the sky.

2) Beach soccer

Football is the favorite pastime of the Cariocas, be is a street game or beach football. Every free moment is spent playing football in one of three forms namely, field football, beach football or Futebol de salão.

Beach soccer is different since the sand makes it almost impossible to pass the ball on the ground, so be prepared. Many competitions are held at the beach, so if you are happy being a spectator, you can enjoy one from the sidelines.

3) Scuba Diving

mergulho

Brazil’s cool, calm, warm and clear waters offer tourists plenty of opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling. There are a few good dive spots including Ilha Grande, west of Rio along the Green Coast and Arraial do Cabo 170 km east of Rio de Janeiro.

4) Skateboarding

This is another serious sport in Rio with many skate boarders found dodging traffic on the streets. This may sound dangerous, but for the faint hearted, parts of the beach avenues are closed to traffic on Sundays and holidays to enable skateboarding.

There are plenty of skate parks like Aterro do Flamengo, Parque Garota da Ipanema, Lagoa, which have banks and ramps for skateboarding.

Shopping in Rio

1) Barra shopping mall

If you wanna go shopping while in Rio, this is probably the best place for it. It’s one of the biggest malls in Latin America and it has all the kinds of shops, restaurants and movie theaters. Shopping Barra is large, has nice shops and lots of interesting and unique eating options and if you’re into shopping malls you’ll probably love it. By local bus it is at a one hour distance from Copacabana.

2) In Ipanema, the shopping destination is Rua Garcia D’Avilia, known for its top jewelry stores. Nearby, Avenida Visconde de Piraja is a classic high street where independent little shops are nestled beside high-end emporiums.

3) Rio’s shopping scene spans from beach vendors to luxurious finds at up-market malls and designer boutiques. Well-heeled Cariocas head to Sao Conrado Fashion Mall, a sophisticated collection of domestic and international names (think Prada and Armani).

4) The hippie fair Ipanema

Lots of locals sell their wares at the hippie fair. But, understand that they see tourist coming from a mile away. You can haggle with the vendors over prices. But, the items that you find there are made by local artisans and won’t be found anywhere else in Rio! If you find yourself in Rio on a Sunday you MUST go to the hippie fair in Ipanema. It is a fantastic place to find low cost, quality souvenirs, as well as unique finds for yourself. It is also an easy walk down the beach back to Copacabana. Thanks to an abundance of beach vendors, this is also an excellent place to pick up sunglasses, sarongs and beach dresses.

5) Rio sul shopping centre
This mall is definitely for the upper middle class and the wealthy. It has great restaurants and stores for everything.  Some stores run sales and with the US dollar being strong, you may find a bargain.There is free shuttle bus service for tourists but it is real cheap to cab it from Copacabana. Also there are many cash machines situated in the mall where you can choose the bank note dominations.

6) Rio antigo fair

This splendid street bazaar is set on first Saturday of each month. If you happen to be in Rio on right date, it is well worth a visit and few hours spent there. There are few temporary antiques stands (more to be found on proper antique shops lined up on the street itself). But the real treasure are the art objects, textiles and even souvenir-like objects, which are of a much better quality and more reasonable price than the ones you would fine in tourist shops or Copacabana or Ipanema stree markets. 
Easily accessible by subway (Cinelandia station).

Places to visit around Rio

Though Rio will be the focal point during the Olympics, it’s a city that demands your energy and if you want to wind down a bit after it, there are places around the city which are exceptional places to visit and stay in within two to four hours’ drive of the city.

Búzios

If you have only limited time for relaxing after Rio, then head for the locals’ favourite out-of-town party place. You can find a deserted beach or party all night in the Rua das Pedras and along the waterfront Orla Bardot.

The peninsula is a travelling site that offers calmness, direct contact with nature and scenic views. The west coast beaches offer calm, clear waters while the east coast ones, facing the open sea, are more wild and draw surfers and water sports enthusiasts.

Common outdoor activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, tanning or lying in the sun, and beach hopping on aqua taxi or buggies.

Paraty

No one can fail to be enchanted by colonial Paraty, and by its magnificent coastal setting amid jungled mountains, pristine beaches, waterfalls and islands, with colourful local boats to reach them.

  • Paraty has hundreds of beaches but one of the favorites is Trinidade.  The area is bustling with activity, from beach parties, to nightlife, and a buzzing music scene.
  • Walking around the city, you’ll also see the best examples of colonial architecture in South America.
  • The town comes alive at night, with many excellent restaurants and music venues to choose from.

Ilha Grande

Holiday makers have been crossing by ferry to Ilha Grande for its fabulous beaches, forest hikes and diving. The accommodation is uniformly low key – inexpensive hostels and pousadas – and the atmosphere youthful and laid-back, with plenty of guitars on the beach and live music in the bustling harbour town of Vila do Abraão.

The forest is all around. You can also get a chance to watch miniature sagui monkeys, frogs, porcupines, tiny hummingbirds and even turtles in the vicinity of your accommodation.

There are about six months until the Olympic games and if you intend the join the action, now is the right time to plan your trip to Rio. We hope this article lets you see why it is called the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City).

In the second part of this series we will talk about the getting around within the city and affordable accommodation around the Olympics venues to help you commute easily to the games and never be too far away from all the fun.


 

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