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To visit Rio de Janeiro any time of the year is great but there are a few special times during the year for which the locals (Cariocas) really let their hair down and party. One of these events is New Year’s Eve where Rio and Copacabana Beach are famous for the amazing celebration and fireworks display. ( The other is surely the Brazilian Carnaval) In Brazil and South America , New Year’s Eve comes during the heart of the summer. This is also during the extended summer holidays when kids are off school.
Traditionally, New Year’s is a time of renewal. A time to put the problems of the past behind and look forward to the future and the new year. In Brazil , many people do this symbolically by wearing all white and even newly purchased/never worn clothing. Other local traditions include cleansing oneself in the ocean waters as well as throwing flowers and small mementos into the surf with the belief that if they do not come back, your wish or prayer will be granted.
In Rio , the big event is on Copacabana beach. This is the primary event, although there are other smaller festivities/gatherings in other locations such as on Ipanema beach and more recenty Barra and Flamengo beach. Copacabana beach is the site of a massive fireworks display at midnight which is famous all over the world. In fact, one aspect of the display which used to add to it's uniqueness was that the fireworks were actually launched from the beach at various points and the fireworks would explode overhead of all of the revelers. However, this is no longer the case as the fireworks are now launched from various barges in the ocean (due to an accident a few years ago).
Above, Copacabana Fireworks on New Years
So how can visitors best take part in the festivities? This depends on how you prefer to pass midnight and, of course, your budget. It is necessary to keep in mind that there will be several million people on the beach so it will be a bit complicated/chaotic that night. To witness the event you have several options.
The first option is just to go there and stand out on the beach, amongst the masses, and enjoy the show. It will be warm/hot, possibly rainy, and you will have little to no personal space. Being out on the beach also presents a question about security. It's not life threatening or anything but there are plenty of pickpockets around as there are lots of tourists in town. If you stay out on the beach, it is highly advisable to go with little or nothing in your pockets, no jewelry, no purses and with a bit of back-up cash for the ride home in your shoe. Small vendors with coolers sell drinks (beer, water, soft drinks) all over the beach so no need to take your own. However, it is best to stick with cans of beer and not to purchase liquor. The liquor available on the beach (such as whiskey) will be watered down and not worth the money.
A second option would be to get a room with an ocean view at one of the beach front hotels and watch from your window/balcony in the comfort of your room. Order a little special room service dinner, etc. and you are good to go. It may also be possible (if organized well in advance) to rent an apartment with an ocean view on Copacabana, or Ipanema. However, the apartments for rent during this period (peak of high season) go for quite high rates during this period, if you do not nook in advance.A third option would be to get a room at a beach front hotel which is also hosting special events/parties for New Year’s Eve. A number of these hotels with the events offer packages including room and tickets to a party. Generally, these also have an observation area so you can stay at the party but also enjoy the midnight fireworks display comfortably above and away from the masses. A few hotels that offer this type of event are the Copacabana Palace, Sofitel, Hotel Pestana, and possibly the Marriott, which is brand new hotel. In this case, one could go for a room without the ocean view since you will have a view at the party. To find out more information about this option, it is advisable to call the hotels directly.
The last option is to go to one of these hotel parties but not stay in that hotel. As they don't require a hotel stay to go to one of the parties, anyone can go. However, you do need a reservation and it is absolutely necessary to do this well in advance. It will also be necessary to pay in advance to reserve the space. The cost of the parties ranges from about R$600 per person to as much as R$1800 per person. It will be necessary to call the hotel direct to find out more and make a reservation. These parties are a great way to celebrate the event and are worth the extra expense. Some of the hotels actually have several different parties for different tastes and budgets. The Copacabana Palace also offers three different parties, two of them very formal. Some of the hotels also allow for party guests to go out on the beach for the midnight show and then back to the hotel afterwards.
Below, another wonderful shot of Rio´s New Year eve:
With the various options in mind, it is also necessary to consider transportation. As there will be millions of people in Copacabana, transportation trying to get out of there is absolutely a mess until about 4 am or later. City buses are full to the brim with extremely long lines of people waiting for them. Taxis are also practically impossible to flag off the street as there are many people to fight with for them. Generally, there are also fewer taxis working on the night as many drivers find it too much hassle to bother with. Additionally, most call/radio taxis either do not answer the phone or quote waiting times of more than an hour or so. One option to avoid the post midnight hassle is to organize a taxi or car to wait for you at a particular location and time. Visitors can try to organize this with the help of the hotel. However, expect to spend around R$100 to make it worth someone’s time. Of course, one easy way to avoid the hassle is to stay in a hotel in Copacabana or within walking distance.
Copacabana Palace: All of the following events have access to a special balcony from which to view the fireworks at a comfortable distance from the masses below. Tel: (55) 21 2548 7070
Sofitel Hotel Rio: One of the best located hotel to see the show at the end of Copacabana beach. (55) 21 2525 1232