By coincidence, I bought my ticket to Rio de Janeiro on the same day, last April, that the Brazilian senate voted to impeach embattled President Dilma Rousseff. In the months leading up to my move, I witnessed the image of the country turn from one of partying, tiny bikinis, caipirinhas, and samba to one of political coups, violence, mosquito-borne diseases, and economic collapse. Since arriving in Rio, I’ve been flooded with questions from American friends asking if things are “crazy” down here, which seems ironic to me, given the gun violence and political circus sweeping my home country at the moment. So are things “crazy” in Rio? Sure, but if we’re being honest, Brazil has had more than its fair share of crazy in recent decades, and its current reputation of violence and turmoil is no more representative of Brazil’s reality than partying and bikinis are. Certainly, the problems Rio is facing are very real, but cariocas, as Rio’s locals are known, haven’t allowed that to stop them from living.
Since I set foot in Brazil, I haven’t seen a single person douse herself in bug spray, but you can’t go far without seeing or hearing the words “Fora Temer” — that’s the adopted chant of those against Michel Temer, Brazil’s acting president. In Copacabana, a major tourist destination and Olympic site, the security presence has been amped up in the weeks leading up to the games, with tanks and machine-gun-toting police hanging around the metro stops. But the city’s many beaches are still crowded with tourists and locals sipping coconuts and playing futevôlei (a local hybrid of soccer and volleyball), just like always.
If you’re thinking about coming to Rio, put down the hysterical news articles and buy your ticket. As the first South American city to ever host the Olympics, Rio will inevitably have a major year. But no matter what goes down during the games, or what political and economic problems lie ahead, no one can accuse the people of Cidade Maravilhosa of not knowing how to have a good time. And just where should you go in Rio to find that good time? Read on to find out.