The closing ceremony at Olympic Stadium in London gave viewers a preview of Rio de Janeiro, the next city to host the Summer Games, in 2016. If you want to see more of Rio or plan a trip to just about anywhere in the world, this month's updates from Google Maps and Instagram offer new tools for travel planning.
Brazil was one of the first countries to be covered by Google Maps' Street View in 2008. Google has added about 20 new cities, bringing the total to 71. Coverage for Rio de Janeiro has expanded well beyond the city limits to reach the interior capital city of Sao Paulo and north and south along the coastline. You can preview the area around your hotel as well as nearby shopping malls, historic monuments and restaurants.
To get started, type in Rio de Janeiro in the Google Maps search box. Once your map loads, zoom in so that you are close enough to see major roads. Click on the drop-down box under "Traffic" to select photos and videos. You may be interested in the area around the Maracana, Rio's stadium that will be the centerpiece for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Currently closed for renovations, it is expected to reopen early next year. Drag the man icon to the map to access Street View to explore the area around the stadium. Use "Search Nearby" to find hotels, restaurants and other points of interest. You can save your favorites to "My Places" as you build your itinerary.
Google continues to add more photos to its street views for many cities around the world. Just last week, it added post-Katrina photos to New Orleans, including a view of an improved Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park that mayor Mitch Landrieu refers to as the birthplace of jazz. And, if you're an Android smartphone owner, you can use the Google Maps app to find your way around 17 Smithsonian museums, as well as the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Google plans to soon add indoor maps for SFMOMA, The Phillips Collection, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
While Google Maps images are certainly practical, you'll find more interesting photos from people who have explored the area by using Instagram, the free photo sharing and picture-taking app that's available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.
With the recent update to Instagram 3.0, each user's photos appear on a map if they've enabled the new feature. Once you've downloaded the update, you'll be prompted to add your photos to your own Photo Map.
Instagram has used the existing geolocation data to organize your photos, which may not be all that accurate. If you find photos that have been included in a location grouping that's incorrect, tap to uncheck them. Tap "Done" and stacks of your photos will appear on a world map. You can zoom all the way into a block-by-block neighborhood view. While this may raise a privacy concern, keep in mind that users can keep any photos they'd like off the map. If you didn't use Instagram's geo-tagging feature when you took your pictures, you won't be able to add your photos to the map without going back to each one and assigning a location.
Photo maps lets you view your friends' photos in the same way. When you visit a friend's photo page, you'll see the Photo Map option has been added to the grid and single photo views.
You can also use the new Photo Map feature to discover new locations that other Instagram users have visited. Unlike Facebook, you don't have to be "friends" with someone to view their Instagram photos. Instagram is home to many professional and amateur photographers around the world who can be great sources for travel information.
Start by tapping the new compass icon. Type in a tag such as #rio or #riodejaneiro. (Remember that unlike a Google search, using hashtags means one word only, though you can usually run words together for good results. This applies to Twitter as well.)
Scroll through the photos and tap to go to the photographer's page. Tap Photo Map to see their photos displayed in stacks on the map. Tap a stack to zoom in on a location. As you get closer, the stacks spread across the map like a blackjack dealer's cards. One of my favorites was Antonio Lacerda with 400 photos taken in the area. Find him at lacerda4. When you find work that you like, follow the photographer and future photos will appear in your Instagram stream.
When you find a place you'd like to visit, return to Google Maps to continue your research. Bon voyage!
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