Going to the Olympics? Things to Do and See in and around Rio in August
Congratulations, you are off to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August! No matter what your chosen sport(s), you will probably have some time on your hands between events. Or maybe you are heading to Brazil a little early or staying on after the Olympics to get a taste of the country. Now that is a great idea!
Brazil has so much to offer. We decided to pick some activities that might provide a bit of culture, fun, and maybe, a bit of excitement for your non-Olympic times. Most of these are in and around the Rio area, but we did add a diversion or two outside the densely populated metro-center.
So, besides your Olympic Games Passes/Tickets, your guidebooks, your seasonally appropriate attire, definitely your camera, your phone or other communications devices, what else do you need? Well, how about access to the Internet? Get GPS, location services, Olympic results, and good old Google search ability – and send a photo or two back home! Best way to do that is to bring your own mobile WiFi! With ubiquitous access and signal everywhere, this makes the most sense. For easy access to the local Brazilian providers take a look at Keepgo international data SIM card or mobile hotspot – it may make your time in Rio just a bit simpler.
August is winter in Brazil. However it is still tropical, and there is little fear of snow ruining your time as the average high in Rio is 76°F (24°C) with pleasantly cool nights averaging a low of 64°F (18°C). Given these mild temperatures, you might not want to venture into the water, but the beaches of Rio are a must see.
Copacabana: This place has a tendency to bring out your Barry Manilow. Four kilometers of white sand extend from the bustling hotels and innumerable caipirinha kiosks and bars (caipirinha is Brazil’s national alcoholic drink of lime, sugar, and cachaça – a sugar cane rum). Copacabana is located in the Zona Sul, in the southern part of Rio. Enjoy the football (uh, soccer for Americans), volleyball and the people and fashion watching. Saunter along the serpentine mosaic sidewalk. Proceed to the south end and Arpoador, popular for the city’s surfing scene. The closest Metro Stations to Copacabana are Siqueira Campos and Cardeal Arcoverde.
Ipanema Beach (Praia de Ipanema): Copacabana is more for the locals. If you are looking for the more “trendy”, the 1962 bossa nova classic "Girl from Ipanema", captures the essence of Rio’s best beautiful people watching beach. Try lifeguard post 9 for the best looking of the girls and boys! Unfortunately, the Metro does not reach Ipanema, but there are Yellow Taxis, or, even better, with WiFi access via your Keepgo SIM card or Mobile Hotspot, catch a ride with Uber.
Búzios: If you want to get away and see a bit of the natural beauty of Brazil’s coast, 80 miles east of Rio is Armação de Búzios, a resort town with the feel of a fishing village. This area was made famous in the 1960’s when it became the favorite Brazilian hangout of Brigitte Bardot. Like Rio, this popular outpost has numerous beaches with the centrally located Ossos forming the nucleus.
Sites Worth Seeing
From the Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botânico) to Geologic Formations (Padra do Sal) to quiet parks (Parque Lage), Rio offers a multitude of sites that are worth your time. For the three detailed below, make sure to bring your camera!
Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar): A must do, this is a two-stage cable car ride to the 1,300ft (396m) peak above Rio. Sit on the right side for the best views. The first ride takes you to Morro da Urca at 721ft (220m) where you can see Guanabara Bay (Baía de Guanabara) and the winding coastline; on the ocean side of the mountain is Praia Vermelha. Here there are also souvenir and snack shops. You then change for the ride to the peak. Once there the city unfolds below you, Copacabana is to the south and off in the west is Corcovado and Cristo Redentor. If you are a little more adventurous, you can also hike to the top.
Corcovado - Cristo Redentor: Rising 2,330ft (710m) above Rio is Corcovado, which lies within the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. Atop Corcovado stands Rio’s most iconic insignia: the 1,145ton, 125ft (38m) Cristo Redentor. With his arms outstretched, this statue of Christ seems to embrace the city and all around. To reach the peak take the 20-minute narrow-gauge red train that departs every 30 minutes.
Escadaria Selarón: Selarón’s Staircase is Rio’s famous stairway leading from Rua Joaquím Silva to Rua Pinto Martins, which connects the neighborhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa. It consists of 250 steps and measures 410ft (125m) long. The novelty of the steps is that they are covered with over 2,000 brightly colored tiles from over 60 different countries. Even more interesting is the story behind the Chilean-born artist who created them, Jorge Selarón – but we will leave you to discover that story on your own!
Although July and August are Rio’s driest time of the year, they still average 7-9 rainy days per month. So you might need to look for some indoor activities. Until 1960, Rio was the capital of Brazil. As you would expect, most of the important museums were located there. The capital moved to Brasília, but the museums remained. Depending on who is counting there are between 140 and 150 museums in Rio, most of which are closed on Monday.
Museu da República: Situated in what was, from 1897 to 1960, the “White House” of Brazil, the presidential palace of Catete (where President Vargas committed suicide in 1954) provides significant insight into the history, especially political, of this former Portuguese outpost. The palace and grounds have been carefully restored and can be accessed just opposite the Catete Metro Station.
MAC (Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói): Design by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and relatively new, having opened in 1996, it is already receiving acclaim from around the world. Although the collection is relatively small, the marvelous, 360-degree views you get of Rio and Niterói are worth the trip across the bay. Located in Niterói, Rio’s twin city across the bay, you get there by catching a ferry from Praça Quinze. Take a taxi or bus 47B to the museum (just say Mackeeh).
Museu Nacional De Belas Artes: This museum houses over 18,000 original paintings and sculptures. Some interesting collections include Brazilian landscapes, (offering a snapshot of a lost period of Brazil’s history) and a number of Brazilian classicist painters who were influenced by Europe’s Belle Époque. Also of interest are some prominent historic buildings in the neighborhood, such as the National Library, and the County Theater (Theatro Munnicipal). Located in the heart of Rio, the museum is accessed via the Cinelandia Metro station.
Dining and Night Life
Where do we start – or stop? Rio has so much to offer that your choices are probably only limited by your imagination. OK, you have just finished your fantastic photographic adventure at Escadaria Selarón, and are famished from running up and down the 250 steps! Is there a restaurant nearby? If you have your Keepgo SIM Card or Mobile Hotspot you can easily access the Internet and find out! And you can also find a multitude of diverse venues on TripAdvisor, Fodors, CNTraveller, LonelyPlanet.com, TravelandLeisure, and a host of other travel, food, and entertainment websites.
One to be Careful About!
We mentioned earlier that the national alcoholic drink of Brazil is the caipirinha, a mixture of lime, sugar and unique cane rum called cachaça. This drink can really sneak up on you! This is a warning about the potential effect of its main ingredient, cachaça. We came across the tale of a visiting individual who can attest to this! In Rio, some newly acquainted locals (he was teaching a business class, and they were some of the students) toasted him to an evening at the bars along the Copacabana. The caipirinha flowed freely. The business class the next morning was, let us say, less than instructive…although the teacher had certainly learned a lesson from the night before! The caipirinha hides the cachaça in the wonderfully refreshing lime and simple syrup, usually enhanced by a bit of sparkling water. Cachaça ranges in alcoholic content from 38% to 42%, but the fact that it is derived from sugar cane can give it a much bigger effect! Need we say more?
Enjoy the Olympics, Rio, and Brazil!