Ok, so you want to buy last-minute tickets for the 2016 Summer Olympics?
Here’s your ultimate last-minute guide to help you avoid the hurdles (see what I did there?) of traveling to Rio for the Olympics. It’ll also show you how much it’s going to cost to get tickets to the events, book a flight, find a place to stay, get around, and have a good time as your home team goes for the gold.
The Bad News First
If you haven’t already heard, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil are a little…troubled. As Rio ramps up for the Games, construction delays, local residential displacement, health and safety concerns (a.k.a. Zika), and massive budget shortfalls all mean the Olympic Games in Rio are, at best, a dicey option to consider.
If you think I’m exaggerating, the Acting Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Dornelles, recently said:
I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t at least mention the state of affairs in Rio before telling you to buy a last-minute ticket. So here we go:
The biggest concern is that some of the venues where the games will take place, might not be ready in time. That’s a big red flag.
There have been reports of shady business practices, price fixing etc., and Brazil itself is in the midst of a pretty serious political collapse, but, glass half full, Brazil has dealt with struggles of this level for international sporting events in the recent past, and things worked out…ok. Kind of.
The velodrome for instance, where the cycling takes place, switched contractors at the beginning of June. That means that a huge building that needs to be competition ready switched to a new contractor just weeks before the games start. That’s not awesome.
- Beach Volleyball grandstand
- Tennis stadium
- BMX course
- Pentathlon grandstand
- Whitewater stands
- Hockey stadium
- Gymnastics stadium
- Athlete’s Village
- Deodoro Park (one of the “Olympic Zones”)
This Vox video says it a LOT better than I can here, so check it out for more detailed info.
The Brazilian government has displaced thousands of people to make way for this new (incomplete) construction. This has lead to riots, fires, and general resentment towards tourists, so if you stay at a “new” venue, keep that in mind. Even if you don’t, it’s important to understand the impact the Olympics has had on the people that live in Rio and will continue to live there long after the Olympic torch has moved on.
Rio is broke. The Olympics has cost the city $10 billion dollars, and while it will bring in some revenue, it won’t cover the cost of the games. That shortfall is affecting services that you might take for granted, like police salaries, fire and medical services, as well as local hospitals. Many have had to close their doors due to budget cuts, and police are expected to ration fuel for their vehicles in order to patrol the games.
One group of officers in Rio protested last week with a message for tourists. “We won’t be able to protect you.”
The combination of underfunded police, construction zones, and crumbling government infrastructure means that crime is on the rise. Favelas (poor, less regulated neighborhoods) are prone to tourist violence and theft, so read up about your specific accommodation choice before making a booking.
Ah Zika. The elephant in the room. The possible birth defects that come along with the Zika virus have prompted some athletes, like Lebron James, to abstain from the games this year. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re likely to contract Zika.
Wear long sleeve clothing, protect yourself with DEET mosquito spray, and follow the CDC guidelines to protect yourself from Zika.
Now, the Good News!
You’re going to the Olympics! That’s awesome! Sure, there are some concerns, but you’re reading this article. Millions of tourists are coming to town, just like you, and you’re smarter than most of them. You’re going to be fine. If G.I. Joe has taught me anything, it’s that, “Knowing is half the battle.” So, let’s crunch some numbers and get pumped for the Rio Olympics!
Cost of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics
The Games run from August 5-21, 2016, so let’s assume that you’re there for the whole shebang. You arrive August 4th or 5th and leave August 22nd or 23rd. Here’s what it’ll cost you:
Buying Olympic Tickets
First things first: You need to buy tickets. This year’s Olympics will be made up of 306 different events spread out over 19 days. That’s a lot to watch. Obviously you won’t get tickets to everything, so pick and choose your events before you buy anything else (even your flight)!
Note: It’s too late to have your tickets mailed to your address before you leave, so make sure you set up an appointment or leave time to get them at a designated collection center when you arrive in Rio.
Duh. This is Brazil after all, and the Beach Volleyball games are being held in freaking Ipanema. Surprisingly, tickets for some beach volleyball games are still available.
Probably the most bang for your buck, track and field has tons of events to watch, and runs during almost the entire games. Track is considered by many as the centerpiece for the games.
Fencing has really grown in popularity (in the US at least) thanks to a surge of competitive women’s fencers coming from the US collegiate system. We might even snag a few medals this year…
That’s right. Table.Flipping.Tennis is sold out already. That’s awesome.
Always a big draw, and probably the most events packed together in a short period of time, swimming is the highlight of the first week of the Olympics every year.
The women’s all-around competition is already sold out, but you can watch the drama of the qualifying rounds for one of the cheaper prices of entry, or watch the men duke it out in the finals for a bit more.
Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope…
Now that you know what you’re going to see, you can plan your visit. Obviously the most expensive days to arrive are just before and just after the games, so if you’re only coming for a week in the middle, your flights will be cheaper. However, it’s nice to plan for the worst, so here are some rough flight estimates from my super secret resource *cough* Google Flights *cough.*
As of July 5th, 2016 a last-minute round-trip flight to Rio will cost:
New York City to Rio:
Chicago to Rio:
LA to Rio:
London to Rio:
You’ve chosen your events and bought the flight. Now the tricky part: Where to stay?
The games will take place in 32 locations across Rio (including 5 “host” cities like Brasilia, Manaus, and even Sao Paolo—so check your tickets carefully!) That means you should stay as close to your event as possible, because reading Portuguese street signs is always super fun.
Copacabana: The Famous Beach
You probably want to stay here. You’ve heard of it. You know it’s a beautiful beach, and you’re right. Rooms are still surprisingly affordable even during the Olympics. You can find a place for as low as $30 a night. Seriously.
The problem with staying in Copacabana is that it’s a little far from the events. Most of the action is taking place in the Olympic Village near Barra (pronounced “Ba-ha”) and Jacarepagua located an hour and half drive outside of the city, and nearly 3 hours via public transit from Copacabana.
The Track and Field Stadium (Nilton Santos Stadium) is even farther. It’s located an hour and half northwest of the city in Engenho de Dentro. So, there’s that.
Barra: The Olympic Village
Staying right in the heart of the Olympic village will save you some travel hassles, but it’s gonna cost you—around $300/night. There are still a few places on AirBnB going for $80 but they won’t be around much longer.
- AirBnB: Barra / Private Room / 1-week: $93-$300/night
- Hostelworld: Barra: NOTHING
Ipanema: That Other Famous Beach
This iconic beach destination has inspired songs, millions of tourists, and is similar to Copacabana, but slightly closer to the Olympic action. If you’re into the more grueling events (triathlon, marathon swim, and road cycling) they each start at Fort Copacabana (which is actually in Ipanema). It’s confusing, I know.
What to Pack
With the craziness of navigating the crowded city and packed venues, a light daypack is the way to go for your Olympic adventures. What should be in your daypack?
- Water bottle: Refillable please, help reduce the olympic sized trash that will ensue
- Deet: Seriously. Zika is no joke
- Sunhat: Summer in Rio is hot
- Sunscreen: Skin cancer is not the medal you want to take home
- Clothing: In your national colors
- Flag: Your national flag, and maybe your freak flag too; fly ’em high
- Credit card: The Rio Olympics won’t be cheap, but they’re once in a lifetime
- Smartphone: Loaded with your travel apps and the official Rio Olympics app
The Olympics is chaotic for any host city, but the 2016 Games in Rio will be especially difficult to navigate. Make sure you triple check your flight, event, accommodation, and most importantly travel information to and from the events. If you know where you’re going, you’ll have the time of your life!
- Double check exactly where you event is being held and how to get there on public transit
- There’s an official 2016 Rio Olympics app. Download it.
- Prevention is the best protection from theft, crime, and Zika. Know before you go.
- me is one of the best offline navigatable apps you can get. Download Rio before you go!
- Be safe, travel light, and root for your home team and you’ll be golden!
Image Credit: Agberto Guimares