Athletes, officials, and fans from around the globe are descending on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. Over four million tickets have been sold so far—and more tickets are selling every day—so there’s no doubt that the streets of Rio will be crowded, which means public transport will be the most efficient way to hop from the Opening Ceremonies in the Maracaña stadium to the gymnastics stadium to the fencing bouts at the Carioca Arena.
Rio's 32 Olympic venues are spread out across the city, but that's not as daunting as it sounds. Most of them are concentrated in one area, Barra da Tijuca, and the rest are accessible via metro lines, the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), the new LRT (Light Rail Transit), and an extensive rail network.
To make transportation even easier, the city has unveiled an Olympic fare card that can be used on buses, Metro, BRTs and trains. (It is not accepted at ferries, though.) Olympic spectators have three unlimited travel options, depending on how long they expect to use the card: the R$25 1-day pass, the R$70 3-day pass, or the R$160 7-day pass. Time starts ticking as soon as passengers board their first transport, and expires at 1:59 a.m. Cards may be purchased online or from sales points at underground, train and BRT stations, the Novo Rio Coach Station, and airports.
In advance of the Games, Rio has also teamed up with two different apps to help make sure fans make it to venues in time. The Moovit app tells you the fastest, most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. For those who don't speak Portuguese, there's Trafi.
For more info check out the Cidad Olímpica website, which was designed specifically to help visitors navigate the city during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and can help map routes between events. It also offers downloadable maps of public transportation routes.
Other helpful websites: Rio 2016 and Visit.Rio for general tourist information, as well as RioMap360, which has incredibly useful maps of all the major transportation systems as well as a downloadable map of how to reach some of the city’s tourist attractions.
Below, details about how to use the various transit modes:
Rio has a massive commuter train system that shuttles thousands of workers from the city’s sprawling suburbs to the Centro each day, but the only line that visitors need to take is the shiny new Line 4 (Linha 4). This is the best way to get from the beach neighborhoods, like Ipanema, to Barra Olympic Park where most of the events are being held. The new rail line cuts travel between Ipanema and Barra down to 15 minutes, and travel between Barra and the Centro to 34 minutes. The train makes stops at the Olympic Park as well as the new Olympic golf center.
During the Games, service on Line 4 will run from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Sundays and public holidays.
Simply purchase an Olympic fare card and hop aboard.
In preparation for the Games, Rio also set up a new light-rail system known as the VLT. Trains run between Praia Formosa and Santos Dumont from 6 a.m. to midnight, making stops at many of the Olympic arenas. Their website has a very comprehensive map, but it’s in Portuguese. (If you Google Chrome, it will translate it into English.)
To ride, simply purchase an Olympic fare card or a Bilhete Único card (fare is R$3.80) from one of the machines located on the platforms. When you jump on the tram, be sure to validate the card at one of the yellow machines near the tram door (and keep your ticket handy in case of fare inspectors).
Rio has recently introduced a new rapid transit bus system, the BRT Transcarioca, which connects the airports to downtown Rio and to the suburb of Barra da Tijuca, where many of the Olympic events will be held. The buses use designated lanes to race through the city, making this mode of transport significantly faster than the traditional bus route. The brand new Transolímpica BRT expressway will connect two of the major Olympic venues—the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca, and the Deodoro Sports Complex.
The BRT was designed with visitors in mind and is a very convenient and easy-to-use system. The website, which is available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, has a simple trip planner and very clear maps marked with Olympic venues and tourist destinations, including any transfer information.
To catch the BRT from the airport, head to Terminal 1, Gate H or Terminal 2, Gate D. Buy either a ticket or an Olympic fare card before getting on the bus.
The fare is R$ 3.40, and the Olympic fare card can be used. The BRT runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In addition to the new BRT, Rio has bus lines that run down most of the major streets in the city and are one of the easiest ways to travel between the beach neighborhoods of Leblon, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Barra. While each bus has its final destination written on the front, making it easy to figure out which one to flag down, if you prefer to plan your route in advance, the bus website has a trip planner that's easy to use. If you're in a hurry to get from one of the beach neighborhoods to the Centro, flag a bus that says “Via Aterro” in the window, which means it goes express along the waterfront.
Once your route is mapped, head out to the street, but be aware that unlike buses in the U.S., the ones in Rio only stop when flagged, so once you see the bus you want, stick your arm in the air to signal to the bus driver.
Fares on most buses are around R$3.40, and Olympic fare cards can be used on them.
Rio’s Metro system is frequently overlooked by visitors, but it is one of the easiest ways to get around the city and is clean, fast, and air conditioned. Even better, the Metro is now reportedly fully integrated with the city’s new light rail and rapid bus systems, making it even easier to travel around the city, even in a traffic crunch caused by the Olympics.
The metro runs from 5 a.m. until midnight from Monday to Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays and bank holidays.
Rio’s Metro system is simple, because there are only two lines: Line 1 goes north from downtown, running from Ipanema along the Copacabana beach to Maracanã and the Quinta da Boa Vista. Line 2 starts at Central Station and heads south to Ipanema. The Metro routes hit most of the major tourist destinations. Check out this map to help set your route.
To ride, purchase an Olympic fare card at the entrance of the station, either from a machine or from a ticket booth. You can buy a single ride card (R$4.10) or opt for a refillable card.
Rio’s ferry system can take visitors to the islands that dot Rio’s coastline, like Paquetá in the Baia da Guanabara, or Brazilian towns like Niterói and Charitas. The ferry isn't super useful to get to Olympic events, although sailing competitions will be held in Guanabara Bay. In addition to regular ferries, the system also includes hydrofoils (aerobarco), which cost a bit more but dramatically cut travel time.
The ferries depart from Praça XV in the center of Rio. The fare is R$4.50 and Olympic fare cards can not be used. Check the schedule here.