Copacabana, Ipanema, and dental floss bikinis...the beaches of Rio and their scantily-clad inhabitants are famous the world over. But while no visitor should miss spending a day’s sunbathing at these famous stretches of sand, there are other, less celebrated, beaches in Rio that are equally deserving of your tanning time.
When the sun shines on Rio, make the most of it and head straight to the beach, as you never know when a tropical downpour might come along to spoil your fun in the sun. First-time visitors to Rio will quite rightly make a beeline for the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. Opinion differs as to which is the better beach, so check out both to make up your own mind.
Copacabana Beach in Rio — Photo courtesy of roger4336Copacabana is considered the less chic of the two, but it is hard not to fall in love with the sweeping curve of white sands that stretches for nearly five kilometers against a dramatic backdrop of jungle clad hills and the unmistakable form of Sugar Loaf mountain. For a little more elbow room than you will find at the center of the beach, head for Leme - the name given to the end of the beach at its furthest point from Ipanema.
Ipanema is held in high esteem by most Rio locals, and is informally divided into social sections according the the postos (lifeguard posts). Posto 9 is the hip, bohemian hangout, while gay beachgoers congregate in the area in front of Rua Farme do Amoeda - look out for the rainbow flag. Ipanema is undeniably beautiful, and the imposing Dois Irmaos (two brothers) mountains frame the beach scene in impressive form.
This is the place to find your own Girl or Boy from Ipanema, and you will be treated to a dazzling array of supernaturally beautiful beach bodies (of both genders) while sunbathing here. (Note that while women are free to work on their tans, men are generally expected to be doing something a little more active, such as running, playing beach football, or any other beach sport.)
At its most western point, Ipanema is cut by a small canal which marks the beginning of Leblon beach. Leblon is a gathering point for Rio’s chic elite, but is less lively and a little more family-oriented.
Between Ipanema and Copacabana sits Arpoador, where a little spit of sand is overshadowed by a vast rock jutting out to sea. Offering stunning sunset views, Arpoador is a favorite spot for romantic couples, while the beach itself is popular with surfers thanks to its challenging waves.
Once you’ve seen the ‘big name’ beaches, it’s time to look a little further afield. Most tourists miss Praia Vermelha - a tiny, family-friendly beach at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain with calm waters; while taking a bus out West will take you to Sao Conrado - whose sands make a soft landing for Rio’s hang-gliders - and onwards to Barra da Tijuca, where the white sands stretch for over 11 kilometers; and out to the hidden beaches of Recreio and Grumari. Although busy during sunny weekends, both these beaches are wonderfully quiet during the week and offer fantastic surf as well as the opportunity to sunbathe in peace without being offered the opportunity to buy a plastic replica Christ or a henna tattoo.