From June 12 through July 13, soccer fans from around the world will have their eyes squarely planted on Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The 32-team tournament takes place in 12 cities throughout Brazil, but none of them quite has the panache of Rio de Janeiro.
In the soccer-obsessed city, Rio’s Estádio do Maracanã ranks behind Christ the Redeemer as one of Rio’s most popular tourist attractions. During the tournament’s opening rounds, the 74,698-seat venue will host match-play battles between Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Chile, Belgium, Russia, Ecuador and France. The hottest tickets in town will no doubt be for the quarterfinal and championship matches also taking place at the famed venue.
Speaking of tickets, buying them on unauthorized websites is a roll of the dice. Fake tickets are reportedly floating around, and FIFA warns against purchasing them from unofficial dealers. Ironically enough, though, finding authentic tickets to one of the planet’s most anticipated events might be easier than getting a room in any of Rio’s best hotels. There’s only a handful of high-end choices, and they’ve been booked for quite some time.
Still, even with those obstacles, the most rabid fan won’t want to miss all Rio has to offer. Sun, sand, sungas, soccer and samba — there’s no place quite like “Cidade Maravilhosa.”
What To Do
While FIFA Fan Fest will be held at all 12 sites, Rio’s version of the celebration will take place on Copacabana Beach. Both Cariocas (residents of Rio) and tourists initially will come to watch the matches on massive screens, but they’ll undoubtedly stay for the interactive competitions, DJ performances, concerts, food and beverages. It’s a huge party on Rio’s most famous beach.
Wherever you are in the sand, it’s nearly impossible to escape the watchful eye of Christ the Redeemer, the iconic symbol of the city. It would be a shame not to make the trip to the top of Corcovado mountain to see it in all its splendor. Take the cog train, drive a car or walk to the top, but the art deco statue is not to be missed.
Two cable cars will get you to the top of nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. Offering 360-degree views of Rio, Sugarloaf affords looks onto Flamengo, Botafogo, Leme, Copacabana and Leblon beaches, not to mention Christ, downtown Rio, Guanabara Bay and the Santos Dumont Airport. Besides the scenery, there are also restaurants, shops and hiking trails.
Rio has a number of neighborhoods, each with a different personality. Check out the bohemian Santa Teresa, lively Lapa, historic Centro and iconic Ipanema. For a break from the city, visit Tijuca National Park, one of the largest urban rainforests in the world that provides great opportunities for hiking and wildlife spotting. The more adventurous can go hang gliding or parasailing, while the timid can grab a seat and watch.
What To Eat And Drink
It would be a shame to leave Rio without out experiencing a churrascaria, which is essentially a Brazilian steakhouse. Various cuts of beef, chicken, pork and sausage are brought to your table on skewers and sliced directly onto your plate. Leave your card on green for a meat bonanza. Flip it to red when you’ve had enough. With fantastic views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, Porcão is a favorite churrascaria, as is Marius in Copa. Go ahead and upgrade for the Kobe and lobster. It’s worth it.
Invented in Brazil, the traditional caipirinha is a refreshing cocktail made with cachaça that’s derived from sugar cane, and mixed with lime and sugar. You’ll find caipirinhas made with various other fruits, as well as vodka and even sake, too. Be forewarned: Locals make a strong drink. They’re available everywhere, but check out Xexéu in Copa. Most nights you’ll find the owner, Alvaro, behind the bar.
Juices, known as sucos in Brazil, are an obsession. One of the most popular is acai, and for good reason. It’s delicious. Made from a dark Brazilian berry, this thick, purple drink is often served with additional fruit or granola. Watch out, though: It’ll stain anything it touches, including your teeth. Try your luck at popular juice bars such as Polis or Bibi around the city.
Where To Play
Cariocas love to have a good time, whether that’s playing footvolley (a hybrid of soccer and volleyball) on the beach, watching a soccer match at a neighborhood bar or dancing into the early morning hours at a club. Rio is a city known across the globe for its revelry, a reputation well deserved.
Rio Scenarium is located in a colonial-style, 19th-century warehouse in the historic center of Lapa. This is the place to go for live samba music and dancing. Teto Solar is a sophisticated bar in the Botafogo district with a large selection of beers (Brahma Chopp) and great music. Cave, located in Copa, is one of Rio’s newest and most energetic nightclubs.
Bar Urca is near Sugarloaf Mountain and its location affords it some of the best views of Guanabara Bay and Christ. It’s a low-key place filled with locals drinking brews and snacking on pasteis (an egg-based pastry). Palaphita Kitch is an outdoor lounge on the shore of Lagoa. With its Polynesian vibe, it’s an outstanding place to kick back with a drink, watch the sun set over the lagoon and talk about all the soccer action you’ve seen unfold.
Photos Courtesy of Erica Ramalho-Portal da Copa-March 2013 and Riotur