If you have never been to a beach in Rio de Janeiro, or anywhere in Brazil, you are missing some out on some of the best views of natural wonders to be found on the planet. The city is ringed by majestic granite mountains off in the distance that provide a view unlike any in the world.
In one direction, you can get a view of Sugar Loaf Mountain with its iconic cable car traversing to the top. Up over head, Christ the Redeemer looks down on the city. To the west of Copacabana and Ipanema are the “Two Brothers” which rise out of the forest overlooking the beaches halfway to Barra de Tijuca where many of the events for the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held.
Then there are the other natural wonders on the beach and for that, you will just have to go and see because there really is no appropriate way to describe it. Let’s just say that Brazilians are very comfortable with their bodies, but trust me, that is not always a good thing. The male and female skimpy bikinis are not just on the tanned and toned people.
So if you are looking for places to go in Brazil for fun and sun, here are a few suggestions to get you started. First off, a little beach etiquette.
Beach Life in Rio
When you go to a beach in the USA, you are probably used to taking your own chair, umbrella and drinks and just about everything else you could possibly need for a few hours in the sun.
In Rio, and in most of Brazil, it is a much different. Brazilians typically rent or buy anything they need on the beach. There are various vendors spaced along every major beach. Each one has a license to work in a specified area, so they provide chairs, umbrellas and drinks, for a
Also, there are walking vendors that sell just about everything you could possibly imagine, up and down the beach. And I have to hand it to some of these men and women; they work hard for whatever little money they make. I have seen them carry large coolers, hammocks, bikinis on umbrellas and really anything you can imagine.
Part of this is culture and part is practicality for Brazilians. Many of them do not live near the beach, nor own cars, so they take a bus or ride the metro near, and walk the few blocks to the beach. Obviously you cannot take a lot of beach paraphernalia on metro trains and buses.
So keep that in mind if you are visiting Rio. The only thing you really need to take with you to the beach is a towel, but someone will even have one of those walking by eventually.
The one thing that I do not recommend you buying from a beach vendor is sunblock. They have a tendency to stretch the contents a bit, pouring out half and adding water sometimes. I wouldn’t trust any of it. In fact, bring lots of sunblock with you from the USA because it is incredibly expensive in Brazil, as much as 4 times the cost as the US
Having said all of that, I must confess, I take my own beach chair to the beach with me for a couple of reasons. First, I live about 100 feet from the beach, and I go at least twice a day, once early in the morning to watch the sunrise, and usually around 2 in the afternoon. But I never stay more than an hour, so it just does not make financial sense to pay $R5 each time (about $2.30) I rent a chair.
But as a tourist, you just need to remember that everything you need will be provided at any major beach by vendors, so just concentrate on getting out there.
Since my apartment is located on Copacabana Beach, let’s start there.
Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro
This beach stretch is officially 2.5 miles; however, the end near Sugar Loaf is actually called Leme Beach. But most tourists think of it as the same stretch of sand and surf.
This beach has the most gringos, so if you are looking for that, or looking to avoid that, use that information to make your plans.
However, locals will still make up at least 90% of the people on any given stretch.
Up and down the beach, there are various activities going on such as volley ball games, surfing and people working out on equipment spaced along the stretch.
Once of my favorite things to play, and watch, is a unique form of badminton on the beach. It is more of a cross between tennis and badminton. They play with a net, but there is no shuttlecock. They use a real tennis ball and whack it pretty hard back and forth. It is fun to watch.
I also like to play something I call paddle ball. I really don’t know what else to call it. They use wooden paddles and racket balls and hit it back and forth without it hitting the ground. The better players can really smack it around. It is pretty amazing to watch because it takes a lot of hand/eye coordination.
There is plenty of scenary on this beach with views of Sugar Loaf to the left and the old fort with a gigantic cannon on a small peninsula on the right.
Rio actually has a major port destination and you can sit and watch ship after ship line up for their turn through the narrow straight between Sugar Loaf and the other side of the water way in Niteroi.
Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Copacabana, Rio - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The world famous Copacabana Palace is also located midway along the beach. This hotel has a lot of history and it is worth a photo or two. You can even walk inside the lobby area and side pool without any hassle.
I have ridden along this beach on the bike paths next to Avenue Atlantica so many times, that I could probably map the entire stretch in my mind. If you ever get to Rio, be sure to rent a bike to experience this iconic beach, along with its neighbor, Ipanema Beach.
If there is one beach you have probably heard of, it is Ipanema beach because of the famous song that bears its name. The Girl from Ipanema has been translated into just about every language imaginable.
Ipanema beach is actually defined as three beaches by the locals although it looks like one long stretch.
It is flanked by the rocks at Arpoador, a small peninsula that juts out into the ocean, and Leblon Beach, at the other end, one of the more exclusive areas in Rio to live.
Arpaodor Beach is the home of a lot of surfers in Rio so if you want to do that, or simply watch, this is the place to be because the peninsula creates a lot of breaking waves in the general area.
Behind Leblon are majestic cliffs which give yet another great panoramic view. You can actually see Christ the Redeemer high atop Corcovado Mountain from this area as opposed to Copacabana.
Everything you find on Copacabana Beach can be found on Ipanema Beach, although you will see fewer tourists.
Ipanema Beach is probably one of the best looking beaches in the world, and I don’t mean the sand or the ocean. You will see more attractive people per square foot on this beach than most others in Rio.
And the sunsets are glorious, whether taking them in from Arpoador, or simply sitting on the beach as it goes over the mountains behind you.
If you are curious, the inspiration behind the famous song is located 2 blocks in from the beach at a restaurant that has been named appropriately, Garota de Ipanema, or Girl from Ipanema. This is the location where the songwriter came up with the lyrics for the song as he sat and had his morning coffee every day.
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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Sao Conrado Beach
Traveling further west past Leblon and the mountains is a beach called Sao Conrado nestled about halfway between Leblon and the mega suburban coastline city of Barra de Tijuca.
Again, this beach as fantastic views of nearby mountains such as Gavea and “The Two Brothers”. Here you can also have a front row seat to the hang gliders coming off the mountain nearby or paragliders out in the ocean since the current and winds are particular strong in this area.
Where is Sao Conrado?
SÃ£o Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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Praia Vermelha - Urca Beach
Going back toward Copacabana Beach and just over the mountain at the end, is Urca Beach nestled between that mountain and Sugar Loaf Mountain. This beach is not very big, but it is 100% local and offers great views of the cable cars going up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, as well as the rock climbers going up the sheer cliffs on the other side.
The sunsets in this area are beautiful, not because you can actually see the sun, but because of the hue it creates off the granite mountains that surround the beach. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as Vermelha Beach, or Red Beach because of the auburn and reddish tones created as the sun goes down.
I often ride my bicycle over to this area and watch the tourists take the ride up the cable car.
Praia da Urca, Brazil
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This one will require a ferry ride across the bay to Niteroi, then a 30 minute cab ride, but it is worth it.
If you want to experience almost total Brazilians, you need to go to one of the out of the way places like Camboinhas.
This place offers stunning views of granite rocks to the left as well as off in the distance in the ocean. It also gives you a different perspective on Sugar Loaf Mountain and the narrow straights.
Getting there is somewhat complicated because there are no in the area near the beach roads, and taxis do not patrol the area since it is not a tourist destination. So if you do not know a local with a car, you will have to arrange a pickup time with a local taxi, perhaps the one that takes you there from the ferry terminal.
Again, everything you need from beach chairs to umbrellas, and food and drink will be on the beach, or at beach restaurants in the area, so just grab your towel and sunblock and head out.
It is a stunning area with beautiful views of the ocean and sheer cliffs so it is definitely worth a day trip.
Where is Camboinhas Beach?
Camboinhas Beach in Rio de Janiero is a challenge to see for tourists because of the lack of bus or taxi service, but it is worth a visit if you can arrange a ride and pickup. The best method would be to arrange to go with a local or make a deal with a taxi driver to come and pick you up at a certain time of day, or when you call them.
Praia de CamboÃnhas, Brazil
Copacabana Beach Sunrise
There are so many more I did not list, but these are some of the best choices for tourists staying in the general area of the main hotels in Rio.
Along every beach are kiosk restaurants where you can grab a beer or a bite to eat. They have standardized these kiosks in recent years, so they are much nicer offering shade and a great vantage point to take in the beach action as well as the many people walking down the iconic sidewalk between Avenue Atlantica and the beach.
And if you are wondering, nudity is not allowed on beaches in Rio, although they do have one or two out of the way places where clothing is optional.
A friend of mine came down a couple of years ago and as we sat on the beach in Copacabana, he marveled at how great it was, seeing all of the grand vistas around us and off the coast.
Beaches in Rio and all of Brazil offer great views and I regret that I will probably never see a quarter of them. However, I have learned to take in what I can, when I can so I will continue to explore the area. I strongly recommend you learn a little Portuguese and plan a vacation to the South American giant at some point in your life.