Score a trip to Brazil
Friday's World Cup draw will start a scramble for travel to the 2014 tournament. Fans who want to follow the football will need to be right on the ball, says Simon Calder
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Wednesday 04 December 2013
Four years ago tomorrow, the draw for the last World Cup took place in Cape Town. Armchair football fans studied the group stage (in which England faced the USA, Algeria and Slovenia) from a sporting perspective. However, travelling England supporters were more focused on the venues – how to get from Rustenburg to Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, and where to stay.
Logistically, South Africa was just a warm-up for Brazil, where the draw for the 2014 World Cup takes place on Friday. It will reveal who will play whom, as well as where and when, in the first 48 of the tournament's 64 matches. But air links from Britain to Latin America's largest nation are thinner than to South Africa, and fares are higher. The cheapest London-Rio return arriving just before the tournament opens in Sao Paulo on 12 June, and leaving shortly after it ends on 13 July in Rio, is around £1,300.
Having reached Brazil, your problems are only just beginning. The country is vast – the size of the continental US. Travelling is a challenge. The tourism board, Embratur, said in October that foreign airlines may be invited to supplement the local carriers, TAM and Gol. But we'll find out only when the draw has been made and traffic flows can be predicted.
The bus is the backbone of transport in Brazil. Many services are luxurious, with lie-flat beds and a host on hand supplying refreshments. The other advantage: if you travel by night, you will save on accommodation costs.
Fans will be competing for beds with supporters from adjacent South American nations. Embratur estimates that three million Brazilians travelling around the country during the World Cup will be joined by 600,000 foreigners – most of them South American.
Supporters of neighbouring Uruguay and Argentina are likely simply to drive to Brazil in their tens of thousands, while fans of Chile and Colombia can fly in fairly easily and cheaply.
Nevertheless, the chance to be in Brazil at any time is a joy. The host country can lay claim to being the spiritual home of football. The beautiful game thrives in every city, village and favela (shanty town). Brazil 2014 is the first World Cup to be held in the country since 1950. It will offer the prospect of combining sport with wildlife expeditions, cultural heritage or simply lazing on the beach – with the promise of joining the biggest party on earth after dark.
Whether you are a dedicated England fan or simply looking to combine a South American sojourn with the chance to see a World Cup game, there is merit in setting up a trip in the next 48 hours. Once Friday's draw for the group stage takes place, and the first 48 games are known, spikes in demand for flights, hotels and internal transport will send prices even higher.
I want to follow England, whatever the cost
The team is to be based in Rio –the tournament's premier venue in every sense. But the odds on England playing a group-stage match in the city are roughly 11-1, so it would be a risky strategy to commit before Friday's draw. Rooms in Rio will be at a premium throughout the World Cup. Rates for good hotels are running at £400-£1,000 per room per night, with many accepting only month-long bookings.
To guarantee being in the right place for the first three group games, Thomson Sport has a £6,995 package that includes flights from the UK, two weeks' accommodation (with breakfast) in good hotels in the three host cities and transfers. The firm says "You must secure your own match tickets through the FA", but promises a refund if you cannot get them.
Alternatively, wait to see where England are drawn. Pray that it is not in Group E, which is all over the place, from steamy Manaus deep in the Amazon to chilly Porto Alegre in the south, with corresponding logistical issues.
Many hotels are apparently already full – but don't despair. As with the London Olympics, many rooms have been set aside for officials, organised tours and the media. Some of these will be released for sale, either shortly after Friday's draw or in the months before the tournament. But unlike London 2012, where there were sharp reductions in prices shortly before the opening ceremony, don't expect bargains: demand from South American fans will keep rates high.
I want to be part of the action, but also keep the cost under control
Book now for "Group G" territory. In tourism terms, this is easily the most appealing combination of locations. It includes four fine cities on Brazil's north-east coat – Salvador, Recife, Natal and Fortaleza – plus the capital, Brasilia, and alluring Manaus in the middle of the jungle. Between the host cities, you can find sublime beaches, extreme wildlife and amazing architecture. The first four venues are also easy to travel between, with relatively short distances and high-frequency buses.
We know that Brazil, as hosts, will play their second match in Fortaleza, which means accommodation there is already booked out. So base yourself in Recife or Natal. Recife is strongest for heritage, with a fascinating colonial quarter. But Natal has an excellent range of beachside hotels that offer good rates and an alluring experience. TAP Portugal has the best range of provincial Brazilian destinations; prices to Natal for the second half of June, including the sector from London to Lisbon, are as low as £1,050. These fares will soar as soon as fans from European nations drawn in Natal chase flights.
I want to combine Brazil 2014 with a wider South American journey
Good plan. June is the ideal time to be in Peru at the heart of the Inca Empire. Around midwinter solstice (21 June) is a magical experience in Cusco. Just outside the former Inca capital, you can witness Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun, which takes place on 24 June in the almost gladiatorial Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman.
Within Brazil itself, two of the great wilderness attractions could actually be quieter than usual because many "normal" tourists will be staying away. Consider a trip along the Amazon or through the Pantanal – close to the Bolivian border and full of enthralling wildlife.
The tournament will distort travel patterns between Europe and South America throughout June and July next year, but a good specialist such as Journey Latin America (020 8747 3108; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) will be able to find the best deal. You could, for example, route your outbound trip through the aviation hub of Sao Paulo to coincide with the Group D match there on 19 June.
The trickiest commodities of all. Fifa has already sold some seats; the last lot, of nearly one million, sold out in seven hours. The next tranche goes on sale at fifa.com on Sunday, 8 December, and is likely to go just as quickly. But eight per cent of tickets will be reserved for England fans for each of the team's games. The best channel is the Official England Fans Club (englandfans.thefa.com). The cheapest match tickets are US$90 – just under £60 (locals can pay as little as £8.50). If you fail to get tickets in the scramble after the draw, wait until 26 February when another batch will be made available. At that point, applications for some less-popular fixtures may succeed. For example, if South Korea get drawn against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Manaus or Iran play Honduras in Cuiaba, demand for tickets will be light.
To no-one's surprise, the touts are already heavily engaged: tickets for the opening game on 12 June, when Brazil will play currently unknown opposition in Sao Paulo, are currently trading at £1,000 or more. FIFA warns that tickets bought through unofficial channels will be cancelled, and the original buyers will be fined, but past experience suggests that the threat is unlikely to prove much disincentive.
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