When the Games of the XXXI Olympiad kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this summer, it will be the first time in history that the international sporting event visits South America. The seaside host city, famed for its sandy beaches and joyous spirit, is sure to bring the fun from August 5 to 21—expect one very long,
very athletic party.
If you just want to soak in the atmosphere and aren’t worried about tickets to particular events, three areas in the city will host big-screen TVs for crowds to watch for free: Madureira Park, the seafront in Porto Maravilha and the Miécimo da Silva Sports Centre in Campo Grande.
For accommodations, the pickings are getting slim, but there are hotels, inns, B&Bs, and hostels accepting reservations. Try Booking.com to see what’s available. Airbnb is an official partner of the Games this year, giving visitors more alternatives to traditional lodging.
Don’t have time to get a visa? Don’t worry. The requirement has been waived for U.S., Canadian, Australian, and Japanese citizens from June 1 to September 18. That will save you the regular $160 visa fee.
You’re there to see the Games, of course, but while you’re in Brazil, take some time to see the sights. A good starting point for getting the lay of the land is to head up. The top of Sugarloaf Mountain is particularly popular (a cable car will take you there), as is Corcovado, the mountain where the famous Christ the Redeemer statue stands with arms outstretched (here, it’s most fun to take the train up). If you want to hike, head to Dois Irmãos, where a trail will lead you to breathtaking views. From your spot above the city, you can plan where to go to soak in the Olympics spirit next.
Planning to attend the Olympic Games is best done in advance (a couple of years in advance is optimal), but even if you haven’t made any arrangements yet, it’s still possible to make it to Rio this August. Americans can purchase tickets through CoSport.com. As of press time, there are individual tickets left for track and field, badminton, basketball, boxing, equestrian dressage and eventing, fencing, soccer, golf, handball, judo, tae kwon do, indoor volleyball and weight lifting. CoSport also sells hotel and ticket packages that could get you into some of the more-coveted events, like beach volleyball, swimming and gymnastics—but these do come at a pretty high cost.
Lessons Learned from the Vancouver Olympics
Back in 2010, I attended my first Games in person. It was an exciting, exhilarating—and often tiring—trip, one that I’d definitely repeat again someday. Here’s the advice I gleaned from the experience:
Know that it will be different than viewing at home. There is a trade-off to watching the action in person—while you almost certainly won’t get to see as many events as you would if you were sitting on your couch glued to the TV (as I usually am during Olympics season), the energy and enthusiasm in the air are things that don’t transmit 100 percent through your television.
Research beforehand. Learning what you can about the sports and athletes before attending an event provides for a more meaningful experience. While some events have commentators for the crowds (like alpine skiing), others don’t, and it’s always more fun when you have some idea of what’s going on. Plus, athletes’ backstories are—at least for me—one of the best parts of the Games.
Stay as close as you can to the events. I know people who stayed in towns farther away and they did just fine, but I was thankful every night when I could easily walk back to the centrally located B&B where I was staying. Availability and price definitely dictate your accommodations, but the closer you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the experience. (Everything is spread out at the Summer Games, given the number of events, but aiming for a spot within access of good transportation options will save you some commuting aggravations.)
Embrace the lines. The Games are crowded. On the weekends, extremely crowded. Fortunately, everyone at the Olympics seemed to be in a cheerful mood, and everyone was very friendly. Striking up a conversation with fellow line-standers proved to be informative and an entertaining way to pass the time. You never know whom you might meet!
You can sleep when it’s over. You’re not likely to be well rested during the Games, with so much to see and do at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes this meant sacrificing my beauty sleep when the alarm went off at 3:00 a.m., and while I may have been a little groggy, I’ll remember those once-in-a-lifetime Olympics-related experiences far longer than I’d remember eight hours of sleep.