Every child dreams of becoming something incredible, something out of the ordinary.
Being born and raised in South America, my childhood was spent in front of the TV watching futbol (soccer). So it isn’t strange that my childhood dream was to become a professional soccer player and play in the World Cup.
And while years of being a teenager and living the student life at university made sure that I had no chance to achieve that dream, my mind was still set living my dream…at least partially. And that is how I went to the FIFA World Cup.
Going to the World Cup wasn’t cheap. In fact, the 3 weeks I spent in Brazil could have easily paid for 3 months somewhere else. But no regrets, as the one and only purpose was to put a check mark on that bucket-list item. You only live once right?
The costs for attending games were insane (especially if you must get them from scalpers like I did). Also, some hostels charge over $50 for a bed in a dorm (they’ll even put people from opposing teams in the same room), to the price of transportation (bus or plane depending how far the games you go to are played), to the daily beer or caipirinha (yes, daily)….it was expensive. If you choose to go, get the wallet ready as unfortunately costs will be high.
But rather than write about costs and prices, I prefer to write talk about what made this such an awesome experience for me.
These people are INSANE like you don’t understand. I met people who did not go to their sibling’s wedding because they had tickets to a game!!! (I would’ve done the same).
But beyond being football crazed, they are some of the friendliest people in the world. If you ever have the chance to meet someone from Brasil, they will be your friends for life!
I was lucky enough to stay with a friend who I had met 4 years before in Buenos Aires…for 4 hours. We kept in touch and when he knew I was going to the World Cup, he invited me to stay at his place for as long as I needed, we went out with his friends and I was able to enjoy Brasil like a local.
EVERYONE IS A FRIEND…EVEN FANS FROM OPPOSING TEAMS
The only reason everyone comes to a World Cup is to watch and celebrate football…and to drink, and to party, and…I digress. Don’t get me wrong, profanities did fly before, during, and after each game; but the sense of friendship that reigned before each game outside the stadiums was simply awesome. Everyone is your friend, and everyone wants to take a picture with everyone’s flag. During the World Cup, I felt that countries and people had no barriers.
During this trip I met people from all over the world (even from those countries which did not qualify), and many many MANY others who came to follow the best team in the world: ARGENTINA.
WHAT PEOPLE WOULDN’T DO TO WATCH A LIVE GAME!
Couldn’t find a ticket to a game? No problem! There are many ways to get in (some questionable, others less questionable).
Chileans stormed a stadium to watch Chile play Spain (81 arrested), Brazilians bought tickets in the handicapped section and rented wheelchairs to get in (and were miraculously cured when Brasil scored). I even paid obscenely amounts of money to watch some games!!! But no regrets!!! It’s all part of the experience, when you’re at a World Cup you want to be part of it all!
THE AMBIANCE AT THE GAMES…AND IN THE STREETS
I have been to football games before, but the ambiance at World Cup games is something different! Chanting inside the stadium, outside the stadium, in shopping malls, at the beach….you name it!!! I lost my voice for 3 consecutive days after the 2nd game against Iran….WORTH IT!!!
YOU NEVER KNOW WHO YOU WILL MEET
I had the honor of meeting a real football legend, El Pibe Valderrama. It is too bad I was so stargazed that I forgot I had a freaking empanada while I took a picture…but meeting one of football’s greatest was amazing. El Pibe made sure that everyone who wanted had their turn to take a picture with him. I also met other travelers who got to see Diego Maradona and other players.
So, if you have the opportunity to go to a World Cup, here are MY TOP 5 THINGS TO DO AT A FIFA WORLD CUP:
1. Watch a Local Team Game With Locals at Their Favorite Venue
Nothing was more enjoyable than to watch the Brasil opener in Villa Madalena in Sao Paulo. It seemed like the entire city went there to watch the game (maybe they did), the place was packed, booze was flowing, and when Brasil scored the place simply exploded! Every play, every bad referee call, every missed opportunity was an event on its own…an experience definitely not to be missed.
2. Join a “Banderazo”
Assuming that you know what a “Banderazo” is… These are gatherings that take place the day before a specific team’s game, normally organized through Facebook groups or other social media. Imagine the people in attendance at a whole football stadium (about 50,000 people) out on the streets singing and partying all night long. Locals and fans of other teams also join in the madness for hours from the start of the night until morning.
3. Watch a Game at a FIFA Fan Fest
Although these places tend to be overrated depending on the city you’re at and the game that’s being played, watching a game at a FIFA Fan Fest is not a bad option when you cannot get tickets to a game. Even if you’re just passing by a particular city, the ambiance at these is pretty good and you get to chill and celebrate with fans from other countries as they struggle through watching their country play.
4. Live Pre-Game Madness Outside the Stadium
You will see it all…from fans painted with their country’s colors to pre-game-chanting-warm-up on the road to the stadium. You may also see some fans like yours truly trying to score a ticket from a not-so-scrupulous scalper.
5. Harass Players for an Autograph
OK, don’t harass players for an autograph……this might get you arrested. That’s just wrong and dangerous. However if they get out of their hotel and you just happen to be outside….that’s cool right?
While I did not get to do this one as the line-ups to see the Argentina team were HUGE and the security ultra-tight, some of my Mexican friends did get to do this and after spending hours waiting outside, they finally got to see their players up close. The anticipation while you wait, and finally the satisfaction when they’re at an arms-length is unparalleled!!!
WHERE I STAYED
Rio de Janeiro: Kaza Rio – A nice hostel with lots of ambiance. It doesn’t look like much from outside (you may even think you’re at the wrong place), but the inside is a very pleasant surprise. An awesome place to meet other travelers with a nice and clean common area on the rooftop, very close to local restaurants, bars and a subway station.
Belo Horizonte: Hostel 300 – A calm and clean hostel in a residential area of Belo Hoizonte, however a bit far from the city center. A nice breakfast is included with the price.
SO….WAS IT WORTH IT???
I mentioned before that going to the World Cup was a dream come true for me and many others. Would I have liked to see and experience more of the country and its people? For sure! But the ambiance, the parties, the games, the people I met, the stories…all made this an amazing experience. And yes, I am packing my bags and waiting for Russia impatiently!!!!
Were you at the World Cup? Do you have any other tips and experiences to share? Post a reply at the bottom and share your experience with us!