Hey, I was going to “RIO DE JANEIRO, super excited!” but then I made the vital mistake; I told others, and they all had these things to say, “Ohh it’s dangerous there! Don’t pull your iPhone out, watch your bag and wallet, don’t wear any of your jewelry, and defiantly don’t walk the streets alone. Danger! Danger!
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.
Aprazivel is a beautiful tree house restaurant overlooking the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Beautiful place for lunch and even better for sunset dinners! Unfortunately, you pay for the view and ambiance. While there Courtney and I walked (on the directions of concierge) 2km down through the streets of Santa Teresa to Lapa to see the colorful ‘Escadaria Selarón‘ (tiled stairs) of Rio. Wouldn’t have bothered me if I missed the stairs, seeing a picture would have been enough. Although, worthwhile if you want to experience the local suburb feel. Felt safe with Courtney there, I wouldn’t have done it on my own.
Favela Jeep Tour
And lastly, don’t forget to go down to the beach and sit on the comfy hire chairs (not polite to bring your own) and enjoy the relaxing part of your holiday! Take lots of photos and show others the white sand and the clean water! On our last day in Rio, we sat at the local beach hut drinking our fresh-cut coconuts, enjoying Rio’s great entertainment: locals dancing and music! Sunday’s the FUN day from markets to beach-side lane closures, all to allow locals and tourists to stroll the beautiful RIO coastline.
I can’t help to think that if I listened to those naysayers I would have never experiencing yet another unique travel location.
BUT is RIO safe for families with kids?
Yes, Ipanema is definitely a safe and beautiful spot for a family.
But are you going to find accommodation in Ipanema whist Olympics are on? And how will an alternative location affect your time?
Will you be safe to walk that Suburb’s streets?
What will you do to occupy the kids? Is there a park or a pool close by?
Are you happy to be catching taxis forwards and backwards between the beaches, the parks, the restaurants, the race site, etc.? Remember Rio is a city with lots of traffic even in low season? What will it be like at the time of the Olympics?
What will I do come 2016? I know my kids aren’t happy to spend hours in a taxi, they are defiantly not keen sightseers, and they defiantly don’t want to be stuck in a hotel room. Unless I could get accommodation at Ipanema beach or beachside Copacabana can’t see myself going.
One thing is for sure, the Rio Olympics will be spectacular! And we must all remember bad people are in every city, and everywhere, they are in the minority of the location. There’s a real destination story for you to discover for yourself.
FURTHER QUESTIONS FROM READERS
Did Courtney think Rio was any different the second time around?
Do foreigners stand out?
Yes, we definitely dress differently and look different. And we all have cameras 😉
Could we take a scooter for my little girl to ride?
I wouldn’t feel safe having my kids get too far from me. But if you’re next to them I couldn’t see a problem. I feel this would ok at a playground like the one at Corcovado Mountain.