The information was literally filling me with fear of leaving my hotel room. Everyone has an opinion (maybe hearsay), but in hindsight, I should have asked the question to anyone giving advice “have you been yourself?” Probably NOT! This trip made me realize how much people generally like giving you their thoughts and advice; it’s just useless when it’s from a game of Chinese Whispers.
No matter what, we had to go as Courtney was racing in the Rio Olympic Games Triathlon test event, attempting to be the first Australian Triathlete to go to 3 consecutive Olympics! No kids this time; I wanted to scope the place out, answer all my doubts and find places to stay for next years 2016 Olympics.
OK, Courtney did initially assure me that the stories were exaggerated. In context, he had raced in Rio already twice in the past decade. But even he admits being caught a little anxious before this trip. I’m partly to blame stressing with my secondhand stories. Coupled with over the top internal warnings in team communication. His words;
“I’ve swam in the same water, ran on the same beaches, walked the same streets but they’re making this out to be a different place because the 5 rings are coming to town?”
I figure there are others out there thinking of heading to the Olympic Games to support their spouses, child or friends next August…maybe asking similar questions to mine. This is my experience.
So, how happy was I when my doubts were put at ease on my first morning as I looked out from the hotel breakfast window. A steady flow of walkers, runners many single women alone on the beachfront at sunrise, and YES iPhones in their hand!
We decided to stay in Ipanema, one of the *safest places in Rio. Our hotel, Caesar Park, overlooked the beautiful Ipanema Beach and was on the same block as the Australian athlete ‘satellite apartments’. These apartments are for athletes competing at venues at a distance away from the Olympic Athlete Village.
The hotel was great! It had a newly renovated lobby and is in the process of updating all rooms, restaurants, and the pool. It’s within walking distance to shops, restaurants, Copacabana Beach, and multiple Olympic venues: triathlon, beach volleyball, rowing, kayaking and open water swimming. Unfortunately, there’s only a small handful of hotels along the beachfront at Ipanema. Alternatively, there’s Copacabana which has a wider range of hotels. My favorites were the Sofitel Copacabana and Windsor, although I’m a little bit scared to see their pricing. Leblon is also a very beautiful area situated in the same cove as Ipanema. Safe place with great restaurants and shopping but a 5km walk along the esplanade to Copacabana. The Sheraton Hotel located at the far side of Leblon looked very nice but further away from Copacabana again.
The Question will be how accessible are these prime hotels for Rio Olympics 2016?
After answering my first few questions, my confidence grew, and I was getting ready to explore. First stop was the hotel’s concierge to find out the ‘MUST DO’s OF RIO‘ and to check whether I was ok to go out on my own?! Obviously, initially I was a little bit reluctant, but the concierge assured me that if I avoided wearing jewellery including wedding rings, I’d be less likely to draw attention, and therefore avoid trouble. To be honest Ipanema’s streets and the beach felt no different to home.
I felt even more at ease when I saw police in cars at street corners and out on patrol along major tourist routes. Their presence was even more noticeable on the weekend and directly around the triathlon event area. I think it’s safe to assume this would increase again at the time of the Olympics.
On race day I ventured out on my own and walked along the beach from my hotel in Ipanema to Copacabana (2.5 km). I was among other tourists and many locals either running and cycling. Copacabana was a little more chaotic in comparison but still very beautiful. The concierge had warned me to avoid heading a few streets back from Copacabana’s esplanade. He also advised against venturing there and the City of Rio at night.
We didn’t have our kids with us on this trip, but if we did we wouldn’t take our eyes off them especially around the roads. It’s quite common to see a bus at very high-speed come flying past or go straight through a red light.
Next on the agenda was some tours! Obviously, the Favela’s are an interest point particular to Brazil. You can read about my Favela Jeep Tour experience in my Favela blog. Also worth seeing and a must while in Rio, is the “Christ the Redeemer”. We bought tickets from a booth at Praça do Lido in Copacabana. The company provides a private bus that takes you directly from Copacabana beach to the base of the statue. There was a 10 min wait to leave but compared to the other options I saw this as by far the least complicated and fastest. Taxis can’t get that far up the mountain, so the alternative is to catch a tram. If you have the time, this does look like fun.