As the countdown to Rio 2016 begins, T+L is talking to Olympic athletes about how they travel. Here, American Water Polo captain Tony Azevedo provides a local take on navigating Rio.

By John Scarpinato
July 18, 2016
Olympian Guide to Rio
Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

Tony Azevedo has competed in the Olympics four times in his life, but never have the games hit so close to home. While the water polo captain may have grown up in Long Beach, he was actually born in Rio. “We moved when I was a baby, but we used to visit every summer when I was a kid,” says Azevedo. “My whole family on my father’s side is still there.”

The family’s ties to the country are important to Tony. His father, the man who taught him everything he knows about the sport, used to play for the Brazilian national team and was named Brazil’s “player of the year” twice. “I’ve always dreamed of playing in Brazil,” says Tony.

About three years ago that dream came true, as Tony was asked to play for a club in Sao Paolo. He’s been playing professionally in Brazil ever since—that is, until he’s called upon to sport the red, white, and blue internationally. “I’ve been living my dream,” says Azevedo. “I’m learning Portuguese, going back to my roots, and meeting more cousins than I thought anyone could have. Going into my fifth Olympics at the place where I was born, I mean I don’t think you could ask for more than that.”

We asked the Olympian what advice he had for travelers heading to Rio for the games. Here are his tips:

Rent a Bike

“I think a big fear surrounding the Olympics is traffic. The congestion is already bad, so just imagine how horrible it’s going to be after you add thousands more people. I’d suggest renting a bike to get around. My wife and I love riding around the city with our son. They have racks throughout the city and you can literally pedal your bike all along the beach. It’s an extremely convenient way to get around. You can stop when you want, put the bike back, eat lunch, then grab another and you’re on your way. It may even be a good idea to buy a cheap bike for your stay.”

Catch a Wave in Barra de Tijuca

“I know a few of the Olympic venues are going to be in Barra, and there are two or three beaches there that locals love. Most travelers come to Rio and assume that Ipanema and Cococabana are beaches for surfing. No, no, no. The surfing is best in Barra. The further north you go, the better the waves are and the quieter the beach is.”

Skip the Line at Sugarloaf Mountain

“Everyone visiting Rio has their own list of places to go, and Sugarloaf Mountain is typically at the top. Visiting during an off time is ideal, but during the Olympics, it’s probably going to be pretty crowded everyday. However, most people don’t think to hike up the first section of the mountain. There’s actually a trail. My grandma used to take us on it. It’s about a 30-minute hike, and there are monkeys and a ton of wildlife along the way. You’ll save money and skip the entire first section of the line. Once at the top, purchase a cheap ticket to the very top of the mountain.”

Think Small

“People should hit up the little places and eat like the locals do. There are so many small juice bars and buffets around town. Don’t get turned off by the term buffet, they’re actually quite different from the United States. In Brazil everything is done by weight, so there are typically about 15 high-quality, fresh items out, and you choose what you want and weigh your plate. Brazilians love it. They also love their juice bars. Wake up in the morning and grab a fresh juice and an acai bowl. For me, that’s the most important thing. Explore the neighborhoods and visit the small places you stumble upon.”

To learn more about all Olympic athletes, visit Team USA. The Olympics begin on August 5 on NBC.