Like Copacabana, the fun at Ipanema beach isn’t limited to enjoying the sun, sand and people-watching—there’s always something happening.
A trip to Rio wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the city’s famous beaches. Beach culture is a huge part of life for cariocas, or Rio natives—every afternoon local beaches are packed with people laying out in the sun, playing beach volleyball, barefoot soccer or beach tennis and walking around in barely-there beachwear. Before heading to the beach, it’s useful to note a few tips for navigating the distinct culture of the Brazilian beach lifestyle. You will have to pay an entry fee to get into Rio’s public beaches, and the exact price varies by location and season. There are always vendors wandering the sand, selling everything from beverages to umbrellas. And finally, not all beaches are created equal. The three most famous beaches in Rio—Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon—have distinctly different atmospheres, with varied regulars and neighborhood establishments. Here are some tips and tricks for navigating these sandy havens.
Named after the glamorous Copacabana Palace hotel, the Copacabana beach is a three-mile stretch of white sand and waves. Copacabana is Brazil’s most famous beach, and it is a constantly busy spot filled with locals and tourists alike. The allure of the beach’s seemingly unending stretch of sand and bright blue waters, and the connection with the luxurious hotel nearby, make Copacabana one of Rio’s most notable social scenes. The beach’s most recognizable element is the black-and-white promenade designed in 1970 by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. But there’s more to do than just work on your tan and sip caipirinhas—Copacabana beach is always buzzing with activity. Restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and street vendors line the promenade, ensuring that when you’re ready to head inside there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Be sure to visit some of the local beach bars along the main street facing the beach—these small establishments are great places to enjoy a cold beverage and a snack during your day at the beach. Rio’s most famous beach is also host to a number of special events, including concerts, the city’s annual blowout New Year’s celebration and past FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup tournaments, so if you plan to be in Rio during one of these occasions be sure to plan accordingly.
Ipanema beach is a few blocks away from Copacabana, but feels as if it could be on the other side of the city—the atmosphere is distinctly different. Located in an affluent neighborhood, the beach is surrounded by chic boutiques, hip bars and popular nightclubs. Ipanema is the birthplace of a number of iconic Brazilian swimwear trends: the tanga, a barely-there bikini; the “dental floss” swimsuit; and crocheted g-string thong swimsuits for men. When you’re there you’ll be sure to see the type of women immortalized in the 1960s song “The Girl from Ipanema”—the local women who frequent this beach are tall, tan, young and accompanied by equally good-looking men. Given its history and frequent visitors, it’s no wonder the beach was named “the sexiest beach in the world” by the Travel Channel! Particularly popular at Ipanema beach are Posto 9, the gathering spot for the hipster/alternative crowd, and Farme Beach, the stretch of beach just off of Rua Farme de Amoedo that is a major GLBT hotspot. Like Copacabana, the fun at Ipanema beach isn’t limited to enjoying the sun, sand and people-watching—there’s always something happening. Every Sunday the Hippie Fair sets up a few blocks away from the beach, and vendors have everything on sale from locally made jewelry to soccer souvenirs to paintings. And during Carnival, Ipanema beach hosts many neighborhood celebrations —the community celebrates with its own parades and parties and welcomes anyone who’s interested to join in.
If you’re looking for something quieter and more low-key than Copacabana or Ipanema, Leblon beach is perfect for you. It is separated from Ipanema beach by only a few lifeguard stations (postos), but it has a distinct atmosphere and culture. Many local families spend mornings at Leblon; athletic cariocas venture to the beach later in the day to exercise, play sand and water sports and lay out in the sun. In terms of beach culture, it is worth noting that Leblon is more conservative than Rio’s other sandy hotspots—there are fewer women in itsy-bitsy bikinis parading on the sand and you won’t see any revolutionary fashion trends here—which makes it a great family-friendly location. It also boasts some of the best waves in the city, so if you’re yearning to surf be sure to head to Leblon. The neighborhood surrounding the beach features some of the finest restaurants, bars, shops and hotels in the area, offering the opportunity to enjoy an evening of class and fine dining after a long day in the sun.
Whether you’re looking for a visit to an iconic stretch of sand, a trendsetting hotspot or a family-friendly location, Rio’s beaches have something to offer. Wherever you decide to go, don’t leave the city without visiting at least one beach—it’s a quintessential Brazilian pastime.