Already world-renowned for sun, sand and samba, Rio is gaining deserved fame on the global meetings circuit as well: According to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), the "Marvelous City" is third in the Americas for international gatherings. With the city hosting both the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, groups will benefit from some spanking-new meeting venues in Rio, as it is beefing up its infrastructure, adding 4,000 new hotel rooms, expanding its subway and spending more than $400 million to refurbish its international airport.
ThatThat airport—renamed a few years ago for composer Antonio Carlos Jobim but often referred to by its old name, Galeao—is 13 miles north of the city, about 25 minutes from downtown and 35 minutes from Copacabana. It handles 12 million passengers a year, with direct flights to New York, MiamiMiami, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington DC, as well as London, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities. (Planners should be aware that U.S. and Canadian nationals need visas to enter Brazil. For Americans, the fee is $140; visas are valid for 10 years, for stays of up to 90 days at a time.
Chief among Rio convention venues, Riocentro, located in the trendy Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, is Latin America's largest and most modern, with five pavilions and one million square feet of meeting space. Other large event spaces include Rio Scenarium in the historic Lapa neighborhood (known as the "cradle of samba"), which has a restaurant, live music shows and event space for up to 1,000. Even Pao de Acucar ("Sugarloaf"), Rio's most famous postcard image, offers three different areas with space for up to 2,500.
Hotel venues in Rio offer a tremendous variety of space for groups. The Hotel Santa Teresa (a Relais & Chateaux property), a former coffee plantation in the hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa, has a restaurant for 120, a meeting room for 70, a 320-square-meter lounge for social events—not to mention stunning views of the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city. At the other end of the hotel spectrum size-wise, the Copacabana Palace on Copacabana beach (which has hosted everyone from Rita Hayworth to the Rolling Stones) offers 11 function rooms with space for up to 1,800.
During downtime, attendees can explore Rio's stunning natural scenery. Ipanema and Copacabana may be its best-known places to stretch out on the sand, but they are hardly the only ones; the city has 55 miles of beaches. Those interested in Brazil's tropical flora and fauna can visit Rio's 200-year-old botanical garden or the 8,000-acre Tijuca National Park at the base of the Christ statue—the largest urban forest in the world.
Eager to improve its reputation for crime, Rio has beefed up security and introduced community-policing methods that have had some success. Still, visitors should exercise caution. Stay in groups, avoid deserted areas (especially at night), dress down and don't carry passports (carry a copy but stash the original in the hotel safe).