ESPN FC recently featured an article on the unfair criticism Manaus has received as a host city. While it raises some good points, it misses a crucial one for the traveling fan.
I'm not worried about the heat (average in the 90s) or the soup-like humidity. I'm far more concerned about being mugged in Rio or Recife. I'm planning on embracing the "deadly" local wildlife with a multi-day jungle excursion. (Awesomely, the prices I've been quoted by four different outfits are as cheap as hostel rates in other host cities, and include food and activities.) I'll dutifully get vaccinated for yellow fever and take my malaria pills without too much fuss.
Nope, as a fan, my one and only reservation about Manaus is the airfare. And it's hard to see past. Following the USMNT schedule, a round trip flight to and from Manaus is a cool grand. One-thousand dollars. As of this morning, it costs less to miss the first game and fly from Miami to Manaus than it does to go round trip from the northeast (where the majority of US supporters will be coming from).
Surprisingly, this isn't all far-flung Manaus's fault. England and Honduras both visit the Amazon, and yet can get away with paying under $500 for group stage flights. It helps to visit Manaus first or last - your international flights might be a bit more expensive, but it's still cheaper than having it smack in the middle of the group stage. But the USMNT suffers from the perfect Brazilian travel storm...
The biggest blow to a fan's budget are the northeastern cities. Take, for example, Germany. Germany is sticking mainly to the northeast and yet airfare between Salvador, Fortaleza, and Recife will cost $660. Pretty awful when taking the bus for under half that price might be an option. Colombia covers a similar distance (BH->Brasilia->Cuiaba) at a cost of $255. Or compare Mexico with Belgium - $453 versus $130 for similar mileage.
I imagine there are several factors at play here. Remoteness and lack of infrastructure is one - Fortaleza, Natal, and Recife are a long way from the bulk of Brazil's population in the southern cities. They are not hubs like Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. But perhaps demand is just as important. Over the past six months, I kept seeing the same recommendation again and again on blogs and boards that discussed travel for the World Cup: Stay in the northeast! The three cities are close, so it will be cheap! They have beaches, so it will be fun! I worry that too many people took that advice and the airfare reflects that.
Group G has the possibility to be an incredibly fun and competitive group and should be great for even the impartial fan. Sadly, the price tag might keep even the most rabid fans at home.
( Airfare by TeamCollapse )