If you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro, you’ll definitely be spending a lot of time on the beach. And sure, you could just walk out of your hotel or hostel and plop your towel down in the first spot you see, but wouldn’t you rather explore Rio’s infamous beaches like a local? Most travelers would, but in just a few days it’s hard to know how to do that. That’s where we come in. After spending months in Rio de Janeiro, and a good portion of that under the sun and on the sand, we’ve found all the local spots and discovered just what it takes to beach like a Carioca. Because in Rio, the beach isn’t just a spot to get a tan: it’s a culture in and of itself.
Use this guide as your Rio bible, and soak in the Brazilian sun without looking like another lost gringo. Here are the best beach spots to visit, and everything you need to know to get the full Brazilian beach experience. First up: Fitting in.
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Need to Know: Rio Beach Culture Essentials
When heading to the beach in Rio, remember it’s not just an activity: it’s a Carioca ritual. Know the staples of any Rio beach visit:
Attire: You’ll notice the bathing suits only get smaller and smaller around here. Girls can get away with any type of bikini bottom, from full to thong, but something in the middle is the most common. Guys wear boardshorts or sungas: the boxer brief meets speedo. Your tanlines are about to get a lot more intimate.
Towels: Well, you won’t see any. Leave your fluffy towel at home and buy a kanga– the thin sarong style towels- and avoid sticking out like a sore (foreign) thumb. They are sold all along the beaches in Ipanema and Copacabana.
Food & Drinks: Vendors will walk by you on the sand with everything imaginable. From water, beer, and caipirinhas to fresh acai bowls, grilled cheese and sandwiches, you can come empty-handed and not even have to leave your kanga when you need a refill. When you see or hear something you want, don’t be shy about flagging them down! (I.e., when a guy walks by yelling cerveja, and you want one, you yell back “cerveja!”, and he’ll come to you). You’ll also get to enjoy the many catchy costumes and songs they use to grab your attention, and they’re more than happy to be filmed.
Chairs & Umbrellas: Lining the beach are little stalls (barracas) that will offer you chairs, umbrellas and drinks the minute you step on the sand. Remember that you have to pay for them, so confirm the price before saying yes. Some offer food and drinks, but it’s more limited than the passing vendors (and sometimes more expensive).
Where to Go: Most Popular Local Beach Spots
Zona Sul is the typical tourist area, where most travelers spend their beach days. You’re hardly going off the beaten path here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a local way to do it: You just need to know where to go. There’s an entire underlying code of which parts of the beaches are home to certain types of crowds, so you can find the section that has just what you’re looking for (and outsmart the hordes of other tourists!). Use the numbers on the large lifeguard posts or numbered barracas (vendor stands on the sand) for reference.
Ipanema is the most popular beach in Rio- and the most crowded. But it earns it’s reputation, so don’t let the crowds scare you away!
Post 9: The most popular spot for the young and beautiful, locals and foreigners. On weekends it’s more of a social event than anything else. Check out Barraca do Uruguai (you’ll know by the large flag) for strong caipirinhas and delicious Uruguayan sandwiches.
Arpoador: The large rock at the end of Ipanema (towards Copacabana), it’s the surfer and hippie hangout. If you’re looking to surf, learn to surf, or paddleboard, head to the sand next to the rock. Amazing for watching sunset over Ipanema.
Post 8: The LGBT hub on Ipanema. Known for being a gay-friendly city, this section of the beach is always bustling. Found at the end of the road Farme de Amoede, home to Ipanema’s gay bars.
Between Post 9 and 10: You’ll find Barracas 86-90 here. This has become an extension of Post 9, but with an even younger crowd, only locals, and it’s much more “green” friendly (if you don’t mind the smoke).
Past Post 10: Now you’re in Leblon, and you’ll find fewer people, more space, and much less atmosphere. If your definition of a good beach day is reading and privacy though, this is perfect for you.
Copacabana is the second most popular beach, and also tops most travel bucket lists. It was the iconic beach of Rio back in the day, but has lost speed to it’s more fabulous neighbor Ipanema. You can count on it having a bit more space though, and less of a scene.
Leme: The end furthest from Ipanema, is right next to the rainforest-covered mountains separating it from the Sugarloaf Mountain. Cleaner waters, smaller crowds, and clusters of palm trees make it feel a world away from the crowded middle of the beach.
Forte de Copacabana: At the opposite end of Leme, and is a naval base and cafe that stick out over the water. The beach right next to it is perfect for stand-up paddle-boarding, and has great views over the rest of Copacabana.
3. Praia de Barra
Past Zona Sul, the neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca is a trek: but many agree it’s worth it. Plenty of Brazilians prefer this beach because not all of the tourists know about it (but all of the Brazilians do). Because it stretches for a crazy 18 km, you’ll find cleaner beaches and much more space.
Barraca do Pepe: Right in front of Post 1 at the start of the Barra beach, this is the spot with the most atmosphere, but still more mellow than Ipanema or Copacabana. The staff of the barraca are all friendly and most speak English, and the location is the most convenient if you’re going from Zona Sul.
Anywhere Else: You’ll probably have the beach to yourself! For the ultimate escapists, this is where it’s at.
Enjoy Rio’s best beaches like the locals do!
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