Now that the Winter Olympics in Russia are behind us, the world’s attention is moving to Brazil, host of the 2014 World Cup.
While I haven’t been to Brazil (yet), I did have the experience of landing in Paris the same day France beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final.
Marching through the streets amongst so many ecstatic, singing, firecracker-throwing French men and women was an experience I’ll never forget.
For that moment, Paris was the center of the universe, and I was right there in the middle of it.
Will Brazilians have the same opportunity to celebrate a World Cup victory on their home turf in Rio July 13?
For those heading to Brazil’s #1 city to partake in the world’s biggest sporting event this June and July, I have some advice to share, and it applies whether or not you actually plan to attend matches in person.
Soccer fanatics from around the world started planning their trips to Rio years ago, so if you’re just starting to think about it now, you’re playing catch-up.
I recommend arriving in Rio as early as possible for numerous reasons.
First, you’ll be in a better position to pin down decent accommodation at a reasonable rate.
If you’re going months ahead of time, you can try to negotiate a good deal on an apartment, and avoid the double, triple and even quadruple mark-ups on hotels, hostels and short-term apartment rentals.
My friend Gareth arrived in early January, giving him six months to experience the city, and learn his way around before the rest of the world arrives.
Second, you’ll have time to connect with a Rio tour guide who can help acquaint you with the city. There’s more to Rio than the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
A good guide can tailor a tour to suit your interests and curiosities, and many are also multilingual (French readers may want to check out this Guide à Rio).
Third, it gives you a chance to make local friends, which will make watching the Brazilian matches a heck of a lot more fun than if you’re in a bar full of gringos.
Be Patient, Be Flexible
Despite improvements, Rio’s infrastructure is going to be under a lot of stress as people move around the city during the course of the World Cup.
It may lighten up a little as the tournament continues, and teams fail to advance, but with the Final happening there, it’s likely to be crowded until the very end.
In Paris 16 years ago, there were a lot of drivers honking their horns during the day, and some stranger on the street threw a lit firecracker next to me. When it exploded, my ears immediately began to ring, and I wanted to slug the guy.
After a long afternoon of searching for accommodation because we didn’t reserve a room ahead of time, we finally settled for a relatively cheap, mouse-ridden hotel near a northern train station.
It was not our first, or even fifth choice, but with the hostels all booked we were lucky to find anything.
Attending a World Cup event requires a lot of advance planning and money, unless you take the completely opposite approach and arrive last-minute, relying on friends or simply good luck like I did.
However you arrive in Rio for the 2014 World Cup, make the most of your time there, because it’ll truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And if we have any French soccer fans heading over to Rio to cheer on their country’s team, be sure and check out Guide Rio for support.
This post was brought to you by My Rio Travel Guide.