The best and only true way to experience the world's largest soccer stadium is to come during a big game. What an experience! Fans arrive at Maracanã, Rua Profesor Eurico Rabelo s/n (tel. 021/2569-4916; www.suderj.rj.gov.br/maracana.asp; Metrô: Maracanã), hours beforehand, literally -- for a 4pm game they arrive at 1pm at the latest -- and the world's biggest party begins. Outside folks drink ice-cold beer. Inside the torcedores (fan club members) bring out the samba drums and pound away for a good half-hour, psyching themselves up before parading in the banners -- huge flags in team colors -- to the wild applause of their fellow fans. Then the other team parades in their flags, and your team boos. Then your side sings a song insulting their team. Then their team sings a song insulting your team. Then they unveil a massive banderão covering half the stadium. Then your side unveils your banderão. Samba drums beat all the while. Eventually after several hours of this silliness a soccer game breaks out. Tickets are quite affordable, ranging from R$10 to R$40.
Unfortunately, Rio's world-famous Maracanã stadium may well be set to close for an extended period of repairs, in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. Exact dates and plans have not yet been announced. Some reports suggest only brief and partial closures; others indicate full closure for a full 2 years, for a thorough-going renovation. In that case, the stadium would reopen only in 2012. In the interval, the big games may be transferred to the new Engenhão stadium, in the Rio suburbs, but again plans have not been finalized. The best places for information are the websites of Rio's four best teams: Flamengo (www.flamengo.com.br), Fluminense (www.fluminense.com.br), Botafogo (www.botafogo.com.br), and Vasco de Gama (www.crvascodagama.com). Any game pitting one of these teams against another is worth seeing. The websites list upcoming games and locations, though in Portuguese only. The sports section of the English-language Web paper The Gringo Times (www.thegringotimes.com) covers Rio's soccer teams.
Tip: While you can sit in the neutral stands in the middle, it's more fun if you choose sides. Violence at Brazilian football never came anywhere close to the problems seen in Europe; since they prohibited beer inside and reduced the stadium seating capacity, it's vanished almost altogether.
Maybe Beware of Organized Soccer Fun -- We've always said that organized trips to the Maracanã are a scam. They charge R$80 to R$100 for a ticket (which costs R$20) and bus transport (to a stadium that's on the Metrô line). Even if you took a cab there and back, you'd still come out ahead. However, if Rio's big games do move to the Engenhão stadium in the Zona Norte, an organized tour with bus transport begins to look like much better value.