Deals to be had for those getting last-minute Olympic fever
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Most visitors going to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics (Aug. 5-21) have already locked in plans for their trip, but for those catching Olympic fever and considering a last-minute getaway, it’s not too late — especially with some travelers canceling plans due to a variety of concerns, including the mosquito-borne Zika virus and reports of increased crime in Brazil’s most popular seaside city.
A search of several travel websites makes it clear that there are still many lodging options — ranging from hotel rooms to private apartments and homes — available in Rio.
As of late Thursday morning, Booking.com, for example, had about 86 percent of its inventory in the city spoken for during the Olympics, which means some places are still available (with rates as low as $75 a night). The Copacabana district (which is where some of the more popular events, like beach volleyball, will be held) is the most highly booked area, followed by the Centro, Santa Teresa, and Barra da Tijuca districts, according to the online booking site.
"If travelers are willing to stay outside the [more popular areas], there are even more options available at lower price points," said Todd Dunlap, Booking.com's managing director of the Americas. "[Our] inventory includes everything from hotels and resorts to villas and apartments, and there is still availability in the outlying areas surrounding Rio, including key districts such as Botafogo, Flamengo, and Ipanema, that are convenient to event venues. Properties in these areas are not only affordable, but offer top amenities and services."
And with the South American country's economy in rough shape, the Brazilian real-to-US dollar exchange rate is a boon for American visitors.
"You can get great deals, excellent deals here," said Vinicius Lummertz, president of the Brazilian tourism board, Embratur. "With 3.5 reais to the dollar, it's like you're getting a 40 percent discount on everything."
Although travel guru John E. DiScala, of JohnnyJet.com, is a firm believer in planning ahead, he said that this is one situation where waiting until the last minute can be beneficial to travelers.
"Hotel prices were ridiculous, but now they've dropped," he said. "And people who planned their trip to Rio last year paid $160 to get a visa, but that fee has been waived for the Olympic Games, which makes the cost of travel a lot more attractive — especially for a family of four, who can save more than $600 on that alone."
Flights from Boston to Rio can be found for as little as $1,400 round-trip, and some airlines have special Olympic promotions. Copa Airlines, for example, is offering flights from Boston with stopovers in Panama at no additional cost, so travelers can visit two destinations for the price of one.
And not only are there plenty of tickets still available to individual Olympic events, they are cheaper now, too, because organizers have made tickets available through their local website to people outside of Brazil. Visitors can buy tickets at local rates in Brazilian reais (plural of real) — rather than at a higher fixed rate — and there won't be any service fees. Tickets to some events are as low as $25.
"This is a great deal for someone coming to Brazil," Rio ticket director Donovan Ferreti told the Associated Press. "Now the exchange rate is in their favor."
Embratur's Lummertz said that since Rio has hosted major international events — including the Pan American Games in 2007, the Military World Games in 2011, the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013, and the FIFA World Cup in 2014 — its infrastructure has been upgraded to keep up with the influx of tourists.
"The landscape has been modernized, with a new port in downtown, Olympic Park . . . and improved public transportation," Lummertz said. "It used to take more than two hours to get from one side of Rio to the other, but now it takes 30-40 minutes."
When the discussion turned to the Zika virus, Lummertz said it "isn't much of a concern" in Brazil at this time of year. "Study after study has shown that. Maybe it's more of a problem in the Northern Hemisphere, where it's summer, but not here."
Regarding safety, he said that Rio will be "one of the safest cities in the world" during the Olympic Games. "We have 88,000 law enforcement officials, and partnerships with 100 different nations in terms of intelligence and security, because this is an international event held in Brazil, it's not a Brazilian event."
However, DiScala said that even with ramped-up security, it is important for travelers to take precautions.
"Go to the US State Department website [to the "alerts and warnings" tab] to find out about any issues, any scams," he said. "It could save you a lot of time, hassle, and aggravation — and money."
When traveling abroad and visiting any large tourist city, don't wear flashy jewelry, DiScala said. "You might want to leave your wedding rings at home."
Lummertz suggested that visitors in Rio for the Olympics set aside time to see some of the city's popular sites, including the new $60 million science museum called Museum of Tomorrow, famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema, Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue, and even travel outside of the city to places such as Buzios, a popular beachside retreat, and the state of Santa Catarina, just a couple of hours away from Rio.
"Do you remember the movie 'Field of Dreams'?" he asked. "We have built it, now you should come."
For more information visit www.rio2016.com.