The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are almost here, and in addition to providing the chance to see Usain Bolt win another pile of gold medals, the Games are also an opportunity to explore the best of Brazil. August is technically winter in the southern hemisphere, but Brazil’s weather is mild and dry—making it a great time to add some nature to your Rio city stay.
Here is a savvy selection of places to see and things to do beyond the Olympic events. They are recommended by one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Brazil, Martin Frankenburg of Matueté. Martin is based in Sao Paolo, has an office in Rio, and wrote our Insider’s Guide to the Amazon.
Rio de Janeiro
With the Olympic events in Rio spread out across four hubs, traffic in the city will be a nightmare—which is one reason to book your tickets through Martin, as those tickets will get you access to the V.I.P. shuttle vans operating throughout the city in their own lane. “One hub, Deo Doro, is in serious suburbs,” Martin explains. “Unless you’re a die-hard equestrian fan, think hard. It could take one and a half to two and a half hours to get there, depending on traffic.” Martin also mentions that Deo Doro is a dodgy area after dark and therefore isn’t a great place to go wandering around. That said, he emphasizes that Rio is a safer city than people think; still, it is a city. “You just have to be smart,” he says. “Don’t leave your camera sticking out, don’t wear jewelry…..Use common sense..”
As part of the Olympics, a lot of new stuff is being built in Rio, and not all of it is specifically for the Games. Martin recommends the stunning Museum of Tomorrow, designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava, and the Museum of Image and Sound in Copacabana.
The Amazon starts its dry season in August, which means river levels are lower and beaches are exposed. “People are often shocked by the beauty of the white-sand beaches that form here,” says Martin, “making a trip here unique from the experiences one can have in Ecuador or Peru’s swaths of the same river system. In fact, I know of few other places in the world where you can have a different beach entirely to yourself each evening at sunset.” Don’t expect to see wildlife here, though. If you want that, try…
August is an ideal time to check out the Pantanal, the biggest hot spot for wildlife in the Americas—jaguars, alligators, capybaras, and thousands of birds and fish. If you are looking for a safari-like experience, this is the place.
In contrast to Rio’s urban crush, Paraty is a scenic small coastal town set along the Costa Verde against a backdrop of mountains. It’s a charming beach escape with colonial buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, only a three-hour drive from Rio.
“Also within driving distance of Rio, this area has incredible lodges,” says Martin. “One of my favorites is the Reserva do Ibitipoca. It’s a farm estate with amazing waterfalls, horses, beautiful country scenery.” The property is on a preserve covering 4,000 hectares of natural wilderness and is part of an effort to not only protect the current environment but to make sure that all growth here is sustainable.