RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — With the Olympics just a few weeks away, Brazil faces a litany of problems: an economy in freefall, the Zika virus and a political crisis with an impeached president. But for those brave — or foolhardy — enough to make the trip, Rio de Janeiro is a city rich with potential rewards. Broadcasters have already deemed the city’s backdrop for the Summer Games the most telegenic ever. But no matter how good this teeming seaside metropolis — where the urban jungle and the literal jungle meet — looks on TV, footage simply can’t compare with the experience of actually being here.
Here’s a Q&A on tips for visiting Rio, from staying safe to samba parties:
Q: Is Rio safe?
A: With an estimated 85,000 police and soldiers patrolling the streets during the games — twice the security contingent in London in 2012 — Olympic and local officials have insisted Rio will be “the safest city on earth” during the Aug. 5-21 games. Still, violent crime is a fact of life in this city, starkly divided between haves and have nots, so it’s best to keep a low profile.
For Cariocas, as Rio’s 6 million residents are called, low-key dressing is de rigueur for both safety and practicality. Havaianas, the Brazilian flip-flop brand, are Rio’s uncontested footwear of choice. And the city’s golden-sand beaches make board shorts and T-shirts, or hot pants and tank tops, a uniform for rich and poor alike. (While Rio’s Southern Hemisphere winters tend to be mild, thermometers can dip in August into what Cariocas consider the bone-chilling depths of the mid-60s, so pack a sweater or light jacket.)
Watches and jewelry not clearly made from plastic are best avoided, as is using cellphones in public or conspicuously carrying camera equipment. Electronics are extremely expensive in Brazil, and a smartphone can cost several months’ worth of salary for locals, so it’s best to keep them under wraps.
If you do get mugged, don’t react or fight. Hand over your possessions calmly and without hesitation. It’s only money and/or stuff. And no matter how much of a pain the ensuing nightmare of card cancellations proves, it’s not worth getting injured.
Q: Do people speak English?
A: In a word, no. Outside Olympic venues and high-end hotels and restaurants, most Cariocas only speak Portuguese, though they might know a few words of English or Spanish. On the other hand, most people are eager to help foreigners and will resort even to pantomime to get their point across.
Q: What’s for dinner?
A: If you go to one of the myriad “churrascaria” (shoe-hass-car-EE-ya) all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbeque joints, the answer is meat, meat and more meat. Roving waters brandishing spits stacked with cuts of prime beef, lamb chops, pork sausages and even wizened black chicken hearts will insist on refilling your plate till you verge on bursting.
For vegetarians or those recovering from a meat overdose, options are limited. Best bets include corner juice bars offering a cornucopia of freshly squeezed tropical fruit juices, as well as acai (ah-sa-EE) — a deep purple Amazonian palm berry that’s frozen, blended and served slushy.
Q: Is there public transportation?
A: The city’s metro line is being extended to serve the beachfront Leblon neighborhood and reach the far-western Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, where Olympic Park is located. But the project is behind schedule and may not be finished in time for the games. Buses are confusing, packed, dangerous and generally best avoided. Cabs are plentiful and decently reliable — just make sure your cabby turns headlights on after dark. (Many won’t.)