RIO DE JANEIRO (CNN) – In the weeks and months leading up to the Rio Olympics, the world watched Brazil nervously: the city and country seemed unprepared, entangled in political and economic turmoil, struggling with an outbreak of Zika, all while security concerns increased.
But how did it feel to be in Rio, after all of the pre-Games buzz?
How did it go?
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, we took a walk down the famous Copacabana beach and talked to sunbathing locals and tourists about how the city is faring, compared to their expectations.
“It’s been better than I expected… I thought there would be more chaos,” said Soria Assis, from Rio, adding that the Games have been “good” and “well organized.”
The same sentiment — “better than I expected” — was echoed by many locals, tourists, and expats alike.
“There was a lot of negative news before the Olympics,” said Diego Pimentel, who’s visiting Rio from another part of Brazil, adding that he thought “the transportation wouldn’t work, that the stadiums wouldn’t be ready in time. But transportation has been great and everything’s been beautiful.”
“I was expecting there to be a little more confusion and lack of organization,” said Eric Anderson, a Canadian who now lives in Rio. “The metro systems weren’t in place until days before the Olympics started. But I’ve been to all the venues and it’s working really well. I’m very impressed.”
Almost every person we talked to mentioned security — it was never far from the mind, from the news, or out of sight. Security forces carrying big guns — a common sight in touristy parts of Rio, especially, during the Olympics– paced down the boulevard along the beach. On the same day, the latest developments about the American swimmers who reported being robbed was unfolding.
The experiences of those we spoke to were a mixed bag, though.
One tourist said his bike wheels had been stolen from the sidewalk along the beach. Another said his phone was stolen in the early morning hours on the beach, after a night of partying.
“It’s definitely a lot more dangerous than during the World Cup. I felt a lot safer… at the World Cup, you heard very few stories of people getting robbed,” explained Richard O’Carroll, a tourist from Ireland.
But for some locals, the security has been a change in the right direction: Janaina Souza and Daniela Costa told us that they thought the Olympics have been a positive thing for the city because there’s been a much bigger police presence there, and they feel safer.
The caveat, of course, is that Rio is a big and diverse city. The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the Olympic parks where people attend events, are tourist hot spots — they can be representative of an Olympic tourist’s experience, but not of all of Rio. In other parts of the city, crime, poverty and security look very different.
In the first few days of the Olympics — after the Opening Ceremony and the first medals had been awarded, we went to a local hangout spot called Urca and talked to people about the impact of being a host country and their hopes for the legacy of the Games.
The Olympics have been a reason to invest in beautifying and redeveloping the city, but do Brazilians think the investment was worth it? And will the effects be felt in the long term?
“The legacy issue is always a gamble,” said Renato Andrade, from Sao Paolo. “You invest a lot, and don’t know what the legacy will be.”
The real question, according to him, is whether the investment in Rio will continue once the Olympics are done. The Olympics and World Cup were a reason to invest, but what will the next reason be?
“Do we need a reason?” he wondered.