A Day as a Tourist in Afghanistan


When I started planning my trip across Central Asia, I always had the idea that it would be fascinating to visit one of the most talked about places on the planet.  A place where tourists really don’t get.  In 12th century Spice Route Afghanistan was an important stop to visit the shrine of Ali, even Genghis Khan felt it was worth a visit or a razing.  If you think about it, Afghanistan hasn’t been as safe as it is now, for the past decade, and even before that it may have been since the 50’s that it was a place that outsiders could visit.  After getting all my visas for the variety of places I was going I got in a good conversation with my traveling partner about the possibility of visiting the city of Mazar-e Sharif.  I had a friend on Facebook who I connected with over the past couple of years and have been asking him all about life in Afghanistan.  Zaki, my good facebook friend said he’d be willing to show me around his town.  It really came together and Zaki fulfilled his promises.  Not only that, he ended up spending a couple of extra hours waiting at the border for us to get through.  After getting through security and walking across the bridge at Termez going through Uzbekistan and Afghanistan security we finally made it and what an adventure it was.

Strolling in a Burka in the Park

Is there really anything to see in Afghanistan?  Oh Yes!!

Shrine of Ali and Blue Mosque Afghanistan

Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue MosqueThe Shrine of Hazrat Ali, also known as the Blue Mosque, is a mosque located in the heart of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. It is one of the reputed burial places of Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in law of Prophet Muhammad. The site includes a series of five separate buildings, with the Shrine of Hazrat Ali being in the center and the mosque at the western end. The site is surrounded by gardens and paths including an area with white pigeons.  You can see more of them in my pics in this post. Read more about the Ali shrine on Wikipedia

Our Afghan Driver

Our driver, the head of security in Mazar-e Sharif, and the uncle of our friend Zaki.

Driving in Afghanistan

We all piled into Zaki’s uncles taxi and headed out from the border for the city.  We decided we didn’t have enough time to make it to Balkh, but we were anxious to see the Blue Mosque and Shrine of Ali.

Afghan House

On the drive to Mazar-e Sharif, about an hour from the border, we drove by a number of homes build by mud bricks and natural elements.

Desert Sands of Afghanistan

The sands of the desert working their way to the road.  It won’t be long before the sands need to be handled.

 

Peace in Afghanistan

Peace to Afghanistan!

Blue Mosque Begging

This little guy was persistent.  He didn’t speak a word of English and I don’t know what he was saying, but he was carying a can of hot ashes and mumbling something in a persistent manner.  He wouldn’t let go of my clothes.  I’m sure he was very poor and hoping for assistance, but not sure what I could do to help.

Do you want Gum

These young boys were a joy to talk to.  While language wasn’t our forte, I had some real moments where we exchanged smiles and introduced ourselves.

Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif

My friend and I with our Afghan Friends Zaki and Hamid in front of the Shrine and Blue Mosque of Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan IT University

IT University.  Talking with Ahmad professor at the technical college in Mazar-e Sharif.

 

Full Burka with kids

Mother in Burka with her sons…

Full Burka with hand holes

Burka with Arm holes and lady with Hijab

Burka Peek

Burkas

One of the differences between Afghanistan and all of neighbors to the north is the Burka.  In terms of cultural differences I found it to be the most start contrast.  I’ve been around a lot of Hijabs (head scarves) in a variety of places, and even ran into a lot of Saudis in black full burkas in Kuala Lumpur, and Dubai.  I haven’t gotten use to it.  It’s really a fascinating thing.  The women cover up when they go out.  It not only keeps the sun off their faces, but keeps them from being attractive to men outside the home.  The thing that really surprised me was seeing women that would pull up the burka to interact with their kids at the park.  I wasn’t expecting that.  Based on what I’d heard and gathered on TV I was really worried they were going to get in trouble.  In this far north town in Afghanistan, there were plenty of women in the city that both wore and didn’t wear the burkas.  It did seem like most that didn’t wear the full burka would wear the hijab.

I grew out my beard for months in planning on my visit across Central Asia and “the Stans” coming to Afghanistan hoping to blend in, but ended up not noticing too many beards.  I did see some good beards, but for the most part the young men in their twenties would shave, and the older men involved in business seemed to shave into mustaches.

Afghanistan Beard

I wore an Uzbekistan hat and a shirt I also got in Uzbekistan a couple days earlier.  I’m sure it confused the locals, but at the time I wasn’t going for American, even though I’m sure I came across as traveler or tourist which may not necessarily be a be a best practice.

The locals were a mix of stand offish, and quite a bit curious.  I only had a couple of stares that came across as mean ones.  I ended up in a line at the mosque and park to visit the toilet, or what was really just a line of Turkish style toilets or better said, hole in the ground.  First time I’ve waited nearly 5 minutes in a toilet line for a squat style toilet.  The conditions weren’t great.  A few more public toilets would be a good thing when they decide to open up the town as a tourist attraction.

Why did I decide to come to Afghanistan?

I have been told that I’m crazy for wanting to visit a country at war.  In reality, I found a people very in need of outside love.  They are ready for outside investments, education, access to more.  I’m sure there are many challenges to getting the right kinds of services in.  The youth are very anxious to better understand the world, and connect.  I’ve had a number of facebook messages since my visit.  There’s so much hope.  I pray for my friends Zaki and Hamid, and the Admad at the technical school.  Be anxiously engaged in a good cause.  Hamid wants to be involved in security, and Zaki wants to be successul in consulting and IT.  Personally, I’m very anxious for this area to blossom.

This far north the risk wasn’t as great.  It really is tightly controlled.  We saw the drone balloon, and there were reminders that we were being watched.  Even crossing the border we went though a couple of check points, and got some strange looks, but overall, it wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be getting in and out.

Getting the visa for Afghanistan took less than a week, the easiest of the visas on our Central Asia tour.

I felt like we timed this right.  We spent an afternoon, I wish we could have seen Balkh which was another hour and has so much more history, but based on our plan of get in and out while seeing what we could in daylight, we did pretty well.  I have no regrets really.  I have been blessed in my life to live where I do and I hope the time I spent in this part of the world has helped me and my perspectives and outlooks on life, and I hope that the time I spent with my new Afghani friends helps spread peace and inspires them in their righteous pursuits.

Peace Tree Afghanistan

These pigeons look like doves.  They bring peace and happiness to the people.  They make people smile and laugh.

So do I recommend Afghanistan?

I think for those who are real travelers, yes. Mazar-e Sharif has a lot to offer as does Balkh based on my research.  At this point, our strategy of in and out, worked quite well.  We weren’t there long enough to cause a stir, which I find has been a great strategy for us. Whenever we feel like we might be going to an area involving any kind of risk, we play it safe and not spend too much time in any one area, and we don’t back track.  We’re always moving.  That’s been a great strategy for us.  We try to be unpredictable, so no one could plan anything.  I don’t have a death wish, it really was a fairly safe and calculated risk.  On my pursuits to see and connect with folks in every country in the world, this was an important one for me.  I still have strong feelings for the people I met.  It really makes this place very real to me now.  I think that’s really important.  When there’s a war on the other side of the world in an unknown place that’s being fought in a way that’s unimaginable, it’s easy for ignorant people to say, just bomb the place.  I have friends there, and it means something to me.  The only way to find peace is to find empathy and understanding.  Travel has helped provide a mechanism for that.  I’ve never met a military person who would want to go back to Afghanistan to visit, but I would.  I have friends there that are great people who are making a difference for life in there town.

I admit I am a bit of a travel junkie, and I believe that there are good people everywhere as do many of those that visit every country in the world… a pursuit of mine.

You can read about some of my extreme travels to Iraq (Kurdistan), Tunisia, Venezuela, Egypt

Touring Iraq – Travel Adventures in Kurdistan

Iraq travel

Middle East Peace Talks - Iraq

Everyone I know who have ever visited Iraq were there for military reasons.  When I told a local in Iraq I was a tourist, they said… “Tourist?” What’s that? Tourism is really a foreign word, but no longer.  The Kurdistan region of Iraq is open.  Visa restrictions in Iraqi Kurdistan aren’t bad for many western countries.  For Americans you can currently get a 15 day visa on arrival!  I was impressed how easy it would be to get into such an incredible place.  The cradle of civilization.  Abraham himself is said to have traveled to this area.  Chaldeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, there is a serious history to this region of the two rivers.  I stayed in the Kurdistan region my entire stay, but traveled through a number of check points going both ways between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.  We ultimately took two routes between the two cities by cab.  One went on the highway and through check points.  We were worried there might be problem with driving between the cities, but the road itself was controlled by Kurdish forces.  So while we did get our passports checked a couple of times.  We did avoid entering Kirkuk and we avoided Mosul.  I really wanted to go to Nineveh and the tombs of the prophets, but instead stuck with our plans to spend time exclusively in the cities.

Iraq road map

Our route through the Iraqi-Kurdistan region.  Syria just on the other side of Mosul and the hills of Iran on the other side of Suliamaniyah.  Yep those hills!  While we were in Erbil (Arbil/Irbil) we met a man in the square who was a Syrian refugee.

Erbil, Iraqi-Kurdistan

Citadel fountain

I started my visit with the best, the ancient Citadel.  At 6000 or 7000 years old this citadel is the one of the longest continuously inhabited cities.

Erbil Iraq Clock Tower

The fountain and clock tower attract vendors and families coming to the beautiful square to shop and take pictures.

Old pictures of Erbil show the Citadel and the Minaret.  Over 500 years ago the city of Erbil was only what was on the hill protected by the city walls, and the minaret.

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We walked nearly all the way around the citadel hill.  “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” I have to wonder if this old saying came from this city.  As we walked I saw a group of old men.  I needed to find a restroom.  I just had to go and decided to ask them.  We found this tea house was actually a game center.  The men were drinking tea and playing some high volume game of dominoes involving slamming tiles.  Even though they spoke little english and we spoke little to no Kurdish or Arabic we were able to build trust enough after playing a couple of games and getting tips from our new friends.  In travel I have found there are moments to really dive in.  It’s not all about going to tourist destinations.  It’s about learning to understand people and visit new people and cultures.

Playing Dominoes game in Iraq

Most people if you told them you were going to Iraq to visit.  They would say avoid crowds.  Well, in a local market in Erbil we seem to have met the real masses.

Iraq Crowd in the market

The faces on the people do seem to be hard, but I can attest that the Kurds are some of the kindest people you will meet.  They have sacrificed much.  It has not been an easy life.

Cotton Candy Kids

Life goes on… Kids on their way to school

Chaldean Christian Church in Iraq

Our last night in Erbil we went to the Christian part of town.  This Chaldean church was in service.  My friend Michael and I enjoy visiting cathedrals, mosques, temples, and find that you can learn more about it’s people by understanding their passions, their worries and their faith in God.  We stayed for the entire service.  The prayer for the Filipinos was so strong it brought tears to my eyes.  The group of minority Christians in this vast land of Muslims with their faith prayed for those suffering in the Philippines.  It was so touching to see them turn their thoughts.  They have not had an easy life here in Iraq, but many came here to provide a better life for their families back home.  They saw this as a land of opportunity.  One of the people at the church had lost 30 members of their family in the Philippines.  It made the disaster personal talking with this group and hearing them pour out their hearts.

(This picture above and a couple of the others were taken by Michael Noel travel blogger at http://travelingtheglobe.com, my good friend and my traveling companion on this and may of my trips.)

Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi-Kurdistan

When we first planned to come to Iraqi-Kurdistan we tried to find connections in our technology.  You can read more about the visit to the University and our technology sessions with the Computer Science students and faculty of University of Human Development (UHD) in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan.  Those who wonder how I travel the world best understand it is my passion to visit the world and connect with people of all cultures and people.  How I do it is through my connections and relationships. I sacrifice my time and money as well to visit places around the world like this, and not only are the people changed through our encounters but I am changed.  Hearing stories from the students blows my mind making Iraq real and the horror stories of Saddam’s rule.  One of the assistant professors told me about his 3 brothers being killed and how he barely escaped and just recently came back from spending many years in the UK. Amazing personal stories.  I feel for these people.  Over night I became friends on Facebook and LinkedIn with over 15-20 of the students in the room.  I hope I can help them in the future in their pursuits.

Iraq University Students

So after a couple of nights in Erbil, the next morning we left for Sulaymaniyah by cab.  We arranged for a driver to take us on the road through the hills through the Kurdistan region.  On the way back we were feeling more confident and drove back through the highway faster route through Kirkuk.

When we first arrived I did a quick search and came across the Amna Suraka Museum known as red prison or Red Intelligence Museum. This prison was the former Ba’ath intelligence headquarters and prison.  Just as some death camps and concentration camps have been preserved, this captures the essence of torture and death in the treatment of Kurds.  In my travels I have found it fascintating to visit places in the world where minorities have been treated poorly.  I see a lot of parallels in how the Armenians were treated by the Ottomans as the Kurds were by Saddam’s regime.

Amna Suraka torture

Turned into a museum at the behest of First Lady of Iraq, Hero Talabani, in 2000, the façade still bears the bullet holes evidencing the scars of its past.

Iraqi sorrow

Our cab driver shared his person experience having been there only 11 years prior.  His wife and 3 of his family were killed.

women and children suffering

You really could feel the emotion of the place. The prison was haunting with

hall of mirrors iraq

Hall of mirrors… represent those that were killed in the mass genocide

Unmarked graves

There are other reminders of mass death in this region.  So many unmarked graves, and these that are marked with simple rocks that dot the hillside.

sheep balls menu

Interesting food choices!

tower

Hope is strong in this region.  They are ready to bring in the New…  The tower in the background which looks like it’s from Dubai is made by the same architect.

iraqi gondola and ferris wheel

It still isn’t Disneyland, but would you believe that there is an amusement park and gondola?  The construction going on is also quite impressive.  There is a lot going on here.  Change is coming.  The people are ready to see change.

gold mosque

Their faith will carry them.

cable tower

On our final departure we saw this wild tower piece of metal near the airport.  It took at least 4 scans to work our way from the street to the gate at the airport.  They are very serious about security.  I felt safe while in Kurdistan.  Speaking of God, I felt like he was watching out for me on this trip.  The faith of so many in this region is very strong, and the people of this land itself has had a strong connection Abraham’s God for thousands of years.

One of my most fascinating trips.  I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.  It isn’t for everyone, but I do see reason for investment.  I see passion and interest in the people.  People are ready for change.  As well, the Kurds are great people, a great heritage that has suffered greatly, and will rise from the dust.  I made some great friendships that will last though the years.

Angel Falls Venezuela – World’s Tallest Waterfall

Angel Falls - World's Tallest Waterfall

One of the biggest adventures in my life included a recent trip to Angel Falls.  Angel Falls is very deep in Venezuela.  First there was getting to Venezuela.  The cheapest way we found was to go through Curacao.  With a friend we arranged an overnight van transport from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar airport, and from there we flew on a small plane to Canaima, the absolute edge of any sort of civilization.  The area we flew into is a crossways of a number of Amerindian tribes where the river is the road.  From that point we met up with our native guides.  At the local market, call it arrivals and departures where I saw a native wearing a loin cloth.  We were really out there.  After jumping on an army transport vehicle we went up stream past a big waterfall to get in our hollowed out canoe.

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I had heard we were up for a four hour canoe ride, what I didn’t know was that it was going to be four hours of white water on a hollowed out canoe with a motor!  This wasn’t a motor boat.  This was a native boat turned into a motor boat.  We stuffed all of our stuff for 2 days plus our group of 10 and our two native guides.  The first wave, I thought we were going over.  I think the canoe was even more rocky than you’re average canoe.  We were literally in a log that as hollowed out.  It didn’t feel very steady.  Our guides knew it.  If we put our hands on the side of the canoe it was enough to throw off the equilibrium.  Ask anyone who rode in our canoe, during the first couple of hours they had to yell at us every few minutes to make sure we kept a low center of gravity.  Getting bashed by cold waves over and over did much to make us listen to every warning from our guides.

Land of the Lost

Land of the lost… A view of Angel Falls from the other side of the river where we were camping… we woke up to this.

There wasn’t anything on our cold soaked bodies that was dry.  I had prune hands and feet by the time we reached our destination 4 hours up the river.  I later learned the conditions were right for us to make such good time.  The river was high due to lots of rain.  What I missed out on mentioning was the fact that as we sped up the river getting drenched with whitewater, we saw some of the most incredible views of waterfalls coming down from high plateaus rising up from the plains.  The terrain changed from sparse forest to thick dense jungle.

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Our guides informed us that the peninsula we saw was over 700 Sq Km at the top and rises over 3000 meters from the ground to the top.  The terrain itself is a thing of stories.  From the stories of a land where dinosaurs still live to a place where an old man flies his house on balloons.  It was also part of the stories of El Dorado in search of the cities of gold.  This place is so inaccessible, it is the place of stories.

Angel Falls Venezuela

Angel Falls Venezuela Mirador Salto Angel

The reveal of the world’s tallest waterfall was scintillating.  When I realized what it was and had it confirmed by our guides, our boat was a flutter with video, cameras and phones clicking snapping as we all hoped the waves would stay at bay while we got shots of a lifetime.  Within minutes the boat stopped, and we started a hike across streams and small rivers up the mountain toward a vantage point to see the best of Angel Falls.  A five mile hike with wet feet and wet clothes.  My friend Michael did the hike barefoot as his flip flops broke early on.  I was wearing knock off crocks that I bought for about the equivalent of $5 back in the camp.  It worked out for me.  The hike was pretty wild.  I was looking for jaguars and monkeys, but ultimately I missed seeing any significant wild life.  On the way down, the trail got darker and darker.  Most of the group had head lamps.  Despite the new batteries I put in it, they were dead when I found it at the bottom of my bag and the light was switched to on.  I wouldn’t find out until our guide brought down the last group that he saw a 3 meter (10 feet) long boa constrictor!

That night we slept on a dozen hammocks slung up next to each other displayed in what looked like a wedding chapel.  Swinging just a little, you’d bump into you’re neighbor and we were a cozy bunch… That is until the next morning when I found out that I slept like a log when I laid down.  Apparently I was snoring (I hadn’t really slept in two days) and made it a bit of a challenge for a few of my new friends… which made it a bit uncomfortable over the next couple of days.  I guess the snoring was a bit of a joke in camp.  It kind of felt like a summer camp after 3 days with these folks.

I’d like to share more of our experience on this trip, but I don’t want to detract from the falls… What an amazing falls.  After we got back down closer to canaima we had the opportunity to do some smaller hikes including one behind a HUGE waterfall. That as well was truly incredible.  Another night on hammocks with the option of a room or bed… I think I got bit by something even though I was sleeping in a mosquito net.  Strange.

The final day we had the option of taking a little flight up around the falls.  Doing the fuzzy math with the cheaper exchange rate, it came to around $50 to go fly in a 6 seat plane around Angel Falls.  I convinced my friends we should do it.  Another amazing add-on and this was the best $50 spent in a really long time.  It was incredible.

After we got up we had some amazing views of the falls.  With four passes, twice each window and a rainbow, and a different view each time… we got some amazing shots!

1231230_10151940569408783_461482637_o flying over Auyantepui

Flying over Auyantepui and the great Cataract – Angel Falls, named for a pilot from Missouri who crash landed his plane on top of Auyantepui

Overall I really loved the little plane flight.  It gave me a real appreciation for how high up we were and provided the chance to really gain another vantage point otherwise impossible.  It made me think about the history and discovery of this area of the world from the European perspective.  There is some fascinating stories about the history and discovery with Jimmy Angel and his search for Gold and Diamonds… Can you believe that they didn’t believe him when he told the stories of a fall that fell 1KM

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More stories to tell… but I really want to get these amazing pictures shared… We walked behind this falls!

More later…

Meet the Fijian Hindustanis – The Other Side of Fiji


Fiji is a multi racial and multi ethnic place. In my previous post on Fiji I wrote about the native Fijians and my experience connecting with the locals.  The majority of Fijians are native Melanesians.  43% of the population are Indo-Fijians or Hindustanis. Indian indentured laborers were initially brought to Fiji, Indo-Fijian. In the late 1800’s Indians came as indentured laborers to work on the sugar plantations. Most have been here in Fiji for multiple generations.  They even have a fusion language.  After the indentured system ended, many stayed on as farmers and became businessmen.

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Now you have the most amazing fusion.  Hindu temples on an island jungle with culture, language, and society that is culture and tradition rich cultural island nation mixed with the incredible history of India. A little bit of curry goes a long way to spice up a dish.  The colors really light up the place.

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My friend Michael of sharingtheglobe.com is *really* good at travel.  When we put our minds together, we put together incredible adventures.  Michael knew that the hindu holiday of Holi was happening.  So while the first day of our trip, we knew we wanted to venture deep into the island and spend our time in a village.

The adventure began when we woke up on Holi morning.  We knew we wanted to find out where the holi celebration was happening.  We asked around and some mentioned that the Hari Krishna temple was where it was happening.  We tracked it down, and visited it, but while a beautiful building, they weren’t having it there.  They told us to go to a different hindi temple. It was there we saw a small gathering.  It was the super soaker of purple dyes that really made a mess.  We knew as we approached that we were going to get really painted up. 

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Within a couple of minutes, we were soaking with colors of the rainbow.  It was fun, exciting, and we joined in music and food.  The kids were loving it just as much as the adults.

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It was after we left the temple that we we driving a long all painted up when we saw a big truck full of Holi day people.  The truck was like a large military truck with room for tons of people. We waved and they waved back.  They were excited to see follow holi friends and gestured for us to follow them.  We followed them as they drove to a house.  An older lady answered the door, and the music and dancing began and paint started flying.  In western terms it felt like a mix between trick or treating for Halloween, and Christmas caroling, but the colors feel like a mix of easter and a spring water fight.  Amazing.  I hope you can just imagine the joy we were spreading as we were going from house to house, singing and dancing, and letting go of norms.  It was very energizing to let go and connect with these people.  In the end we stopped for a round of Kava.   

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The purple dyes would take over a week to get out, but the feelings lasted even longer.  I gained a huge appreciation for the hindi people in this experience.  The love, the friendship, it was amazing to see the outreach and ability to connect a community.  These traditions should be respected.  When I found out that not 50 miles from where I’m currently living, the hindu temple has an annual gathering and the community gathers to celebrate with the Hindu people.  If you ever get the chance to celebrate holi.  You must.  It will help you gain a huge appreciation for India, Hindus, and the global culture that has brought spice to the world. Happy Holi, and I pray for continued peace on the island of Fiji.  What an amazing place!!!

Plan Your World Cup 2014 Trip to Rio Brazil with 5 Adventures and Tips

Rio is amazing!!

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Rio is world famous.  Even beyond the wild and amazing cultural customs and tradition of Carnival, Rio is an incredible city.  The world will be looking at Rio as FIFA Host city in 2014 World Cup and holding it to a very high standard in 2016 when it hosts the World for the Summer Olympics.  the 2014 FIFA World Cup will be the 20th FIFA World Cup, an international football or soccer tournament that is scheduled to take place here in Brazil from June 12 to July 13 in 2014.  I hope this blog helps you make up your mind.

In my travels, Rio stands out as a big highlight, amazing city.  Some will ask if it’s safe.  Rio, every year as it gets closer to the world cup and the Olympics is worlds of change for the better.  While pick pocketing or mugging out at night on the beach in the dark may have been more common place in the past, this is now no longer happening.  The streets have been cleaned up and crime is getting stamped out and pushed back into dark areas of the flavelas.  Even these have undergone much change over the years.  Brazil and Rio care very much about their reputation and as the world is looking to see if Rio can stand up and be the world destination is it destined to be… it is accomplishing just that.  Yes, you should take care and don’t do anything stupid, and take the advice of your hotels.  Be smart and be cautious of what your plans are at night and you’ll be fine.  I went to some night markets near the beach and made sure to stay in lit areas where people were and was fine.  Those were both tips I got from locals.  The people are extremely friendly and there’s so much to do.  Rio is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  It’s in my top 3 most beautiful cities in the world and may be #1.  You will not be disappointed if you plan your world cup travel to Rio.  It will be amazing.  Planning for the Olympics and on the fence?  Rio will fulfill all your dreams!

Rio is really working on response and planning for these major events.  See Rio Goes High-Tech, With An Eye Toward Olympics, World Cup

Copacabana at night - welcome to rioCopacabana beach

Beaches!

Rio is known for it’s beaches some of the best known are Copacabana and Ipanema, but Botafogo, Praia da Barra da Tijuca, and Praia do Flamengo are also amazing beaches and there’s even more.  There are lists of top ten beaches in Rio.  The beaches are long and have long stretches of sand and boardwalks with varying population, some can get quite crowded.  It’s not hard to get a hotel right across from one of the beaches.  There’s water beyond the beaches as well with places like parque lage

 

Corcovado Parque Lage

New Wonders of the World – Christ Redeemer Statue

Rio has very unique topography.  Huge granite hills, but one of them has the world famous Christ Redeemer statue.  Corcovado, is the destination.  It’s not to miss.  Incredible views, amazing views of pristine beaches.  Some of these stone hills have special access with funicular and others with chair lifts.  You must get up on Sugar Loaf.  Day or night… the views are absolutely incredible.  You can even hike parts of it. There are tours you can take from your hotel, or bus routes to the funicular.

Visit Christ the Redeemer Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio

The views are unlike anywhere else.  You feel like you’re on another planet.  The closest examples I’ve found to the rocks are like haystack rock in Oregon, and Meteora in Greece, and feel like Capetown, but ultimately it’s more than all of these.  Bigger variety and 6 million plus people spread across over a dozen of these huge rock mounts that have been carved out over thousands or millions of years.

Hang gilding and Paragliding

Jump off this mountain as a paraglider or with a hang glider

I’ve jumped off that mountain.  That grassy area is where I landed.  For around $100-150 you can hang glide or paragliding as a student of the art.  You get a special license to do the jump.  The prices vary greatly at different hotels.  Different companies charge different rates. I even found there was some flexibility and was able to carve off a little off the price.

looking down on the worldGliders

Soak in the culture, the music and dancing… Let loose, relax and feel the Carnival spirit…

For the most lucky watch the two weeks of Carnival on the streets, where it all happens.  Then at night settle down to dinner and Samba Music maybe some Brazilian kick boxing.  Find a samba school for the most authentic experience.  Also watch in addition to samba, the choro, and bossa nova music.  Rio is the birthplace of all of these.

Carnival DancersCarnival Costumes Amazing Brazil at Night

 

There are a lot of reasons to visit Rio.  You’ll be sure to experience the relax attitude of the people and learn to enjoy yourself one way or another… either sitting on the beach, enjoying the music or the fresh meats and seafood… amazing food!  My favorite was the beans stew feijoada.  Ask a local for the story.  They have a long history. Don’t miss the Brazilian most famous dish, the feijoada (fay-zho-AH-da), a black bean stew filled with big chunks of meat, like chunks of sausages, pork or beef.  Rio is famous for it’s seafood as well.  The fresh juice bars with fresh coconut are also so fresh and great.  Very refreshing after a good surf or after soaking up the sun sitting out on the beach.  Enjoy a fresh one for me.

 

Looking for more details… visit the wikitravel page for Rio.

 

Estádio do Maracanã - panorama

Picture courtesy wikicommons

The Estádio do Maracanã is incredible.  Huge stadium that has undergone special renovations to make it a top stadium in the world.  Following its 50th anniversary in 2000, the stadium underwent renovations which would increase its full capacity to around 103,000. After years of planning and nine months of closure between 2005 and 2006, the stadium was reopened in January 2007 with an all-seated capacity of 82,238

Planning for the games or not, it is one that the locals would tell you not to miss… You can visit the Maracana, once the largest stadium in the world and currently largest in all of South America will be host of the FIFA 2014 World Cup and final.  Maracana MuseumIt even includes a museum!  The tiny picture to the right from the museum has photo ops.  Yeah, it’s a little silly, but football fans love the shrines to their favorite players and the chance to be part of the action.

As a frequent global traveler, let me share a few tips for a successful trip to Rio, Brazil…

5 Tips to Prepare Your Trip to Rio de Janeiro

1. You may need a visa.  US Citizens NEED a visa.  This is something you need to prepare for around a month in advance.  Hopefully around the time you have your travel plans.  There are express visa options, but don’t delay.  Getting the visa MUST be done in advance and can not be done at the border.  You’ll be looking for the tourist visa. You’ll need at least 2 blank pages in your visa and 2x2in photo.  I recommend the 10 year visa.  The cost difference between the shorter visa doesn’t warrant it.  It will cost you around $200-300 USD to get the visa and could easily take 2-3 weeks to make it all happen.  You will be sending a copy of your passport to get the visa, so make sure you plan accordingly. If this is your first trip, you’ll want to get your passport months in advance.  Even if you’re from Canada, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Japan, or Mexico you NEED a visa.  Citizens of the UK and EU including Turkey are exempt and don’t need a visa.  So check to make sure.

2. Prepare to pay – Brazil isn’t a poor country, despite what you hear in the news.  Food can be quite expensive.  The Brazilian Reals are a strong currency.  You will definitely love the experience.  It’s a tourists dream to go here, but you may have to shop around if you’re coming from a poor country to see the match.

3. Hotels – Prepare way in advance for hotels and hostels.  Do your research. These will fill up fast for the World Cup and Olympics or Carnival.  Consider options like AirBnB and VRBO as alternative to the typical conventional options sometimes these can even be cheaper than hotels.com.  If you don’t mind paying in advance, Expedia and Priceline can save you a lot in some of the major hotel chains, but there are a lot of options, so you’ll need to shop around.

4. Bring your swimming suit and a jacket – while Rio seems like it has the perfect weather.  The nights can be cool, and you may end up in the hills where it’s chilly.  Don’t forget your suit and sun screen.

5. Travel and Money strategies – I spoke in length about how to put money in more than one place such as some in your carry on bag and NOT in your back pocket.  With the events you don’t want to be sorry about having all your money getting swiped in one place.  You should visit my 10 simple tricks for world travel, so you’ll be thinking wholistically about how you pack and what your backup strategy is on money.  The way you pack can make a big difference on your flexibility for a trip to Brazil.

If you’re debating between adding on excursion trips to Sao Paulo or Iguazu Falls.  Iguazu in my opinion is the best waterfall in the world from a tourist perspective, and I’ve seen 4 of the top 5 in the world.  It’s awesome.  Sao Paulo, while a great city to do business in, wasn’t that exciting from a tourist perspective.