Rio’s countdown to the 2016 Summer Olympics has begun, and we can’t wait to see this city host the first South American games. From wildlife and beaches to architecture and mountains, Brazil’s spirit is contagious. After weeks of watching the events on television, you’ll be hooked and adding Rio to your travel wanderlist. We’re breaking down everything you need to know before heading south!
How to Get There
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Brazil contains three different landscapes: mountains in the west, dense rain forests across the north, and rolling grasslands in the south. Rio de Janeiro, situated on the eastern coast of the continent, combines world famous beaches with a bustling scene that stays alive until all hours of the night.
The city’s high season is from December to March, especially during the Carnival festival, so expect prices to be a bit higher as a result. Low season from May to September is much milder and a good time to plan a visit to the Amazon.
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Once you’ve picked your travel dates, citizens of the US need to begin the visa application process that can take up to two weeks, so plan accordingly. However, if you’re heading there in 2016, you’re in luck. Brazil has waived these visa requirements for citizens of the US, Canada, Japan and Australia from June through September 18th.
Today’s economic conditions across the country are a bit rocky, but have made the city incredibly affordable for tourists. While you’ll notice your surroundings change from the life of the rich and famous to worn down areas or “favelas” in just a block, as long as you keep your wits about you and watch your pockets, a trip to Rio is safe.
Keep in mind current health and safety precautions when doing your research to ensure you have a great trip. Travel clinics at your local pharmacy are a great resource to help in preparations and only charge a small fee for consultations. If you’re thinking about heading south for the Olympic Games, there are still tickets available for the majority of events.
Ready to start packing? Check out our favorite luggage options and tips to streamline your process.
What to Do
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Make sure you’ve packed your sunscreen because Rio is home to 23 beaches that run along an almost continuous 45 miles of sand. Whether you’re strolling along the water with a parade of beautiful locals or sipping a cocktail on a shaded patio, the lively scene is intoxicating with a little something for everyone.
Copacabana: 2.5 miles of sand flanked by mountains makes this a hub of the local scene.
Ipanema: the place to strut your stuff in a more trendy, upscale neighborhood.
Leblon: off the beaten path and much quieter without the party atmosphere.
Prainha: for the adventure seeker looking for rainforest-covered mountains and surfing conditions.
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After you’re bronzed and ready for a new adventure, it’s time to put on your walking shoes and head to the mountains.
Christ the Redeemer: the 100 foot tall monument that sits atop Corcovado is even more striking in person. Take a van or hop on the train to head up the mountain.
Sugarloaf Mountain: take a gondola into the clouds to the peak for sweeping views of Ipanema and Guanabara Bay.
Adrenaline Junkies: Rio Adventures offers options for all levels, from hang-gliding and parasailing to zip-lining and canopy tours.
You can’t leave Brazil without participating in the country’s national pastime, futebol. There’s nothing the locals love more than cheering for their home team! Maracana Stadium is one of the largest in the world, known for hosting a record number of fans in the 1950 Uruguay v. Brazil match and was also the location of the 2014 World Cup Final.
What to Eat
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Keep it simple for the majority of your meals to get the true local experience. Most hotels serve morning meats, cheese and bread that make a great breakfast on-the-go or a mid morning snack. While you’re on the beach, fill up on coconut treats and a cold beverage to beat the heat no matter what time of day. Locals, known as cariocas, are famous for having a 10 a.m. breakfast beer, so you’ll be in good company! Stop at a barzhinhos de praia (beach bar) or boteco (bar with a few stools) along the coast – don’t forget to sample an empadinha stuffed with beef, pork, ham, chicken, cheese and vegetables on the go.
Academia da Cachaca: famous for 2,000 varieties of cachaca, a Brazilian liquor similar to white rum, and the best caipirinah in town.
Porcao: the classic churrascarias, or steakhouse, option that sets the standard for all others in town.
Churrascaria Palace: a more affordable steakhouse experience. Visit their website ahead of time and get a 10% discount to apply to your meal.
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Casa da Feijoada: known for their traditional bean stew.
Garota de Ipanema: a boistrous local spot where the The Girl from Ipanema was written!
Where to Explore
If you have extra time and are looking to venture outside the city, take advantage of domestic airlines, such as Gol Airlines and TAM, that are surprisingly efficient, inexpensive and trustworthy to head outside of Rio.
Salvador: a port town with 17th century charm.
Natal: perched on the Atlantic coast, known for its beaches and Dune State Park where you can even go on a buggy ride across the terrain.
Sao Paulo: a bustling metropolis with world-class museums, dining and shopping.
Iguazu Falls: described as a magnificent display of nature, made up of 275 waterfalls across a 1.5 mile stretch.
Buenos Aires: the furthest destination, but well worth a trip, known as the Paris of South America.