Rio de Janeiro locals are
more likely to say “tenha uma boa praia” (“have a good beach”) than
“have a good day”. They wake up wondering whether rain or clouds will ruin
their time in the sun, and rather than ask what you do for a
living, fun-loving Cariocas (locals) will want to know which
part of the beach you are going to.
With dramatic, iconic
landmarks such as Sugarloaf Mountain towering above,
there is no bad beach on the city's more than 40km-long coastline. But with an
influx of travellers heading to Rio for the World Cup in June 2014 and the
Summer Olympics in August 2016, you will want to know your way around the
shore as well as the locals do.
Rio’s main beaches stretch
across 8.5km of coastline and are divided by 12 postos (numbered lifeguard stations), all of which offer changing
rooms and toilets for a small fee. The stations are useful markers when giving
or taking directions, but more importantly, some postos are known for
attracting particular crowds and offering specific activities.
Postos 1 to 6: Good for sunrises, sports and
views of Sugarloaf
Reaching about 4km from Leme beach to Copacabana beach, postos 1 to 6 stand
across from some of the city's most glamorous hotels, and attract domestic
tourists, older cariocas and business travellers. They are a great place to
watch the sunrise over Sugarloaf Mountain, and tend to be busier than other
beaches in the evening due to the brightly-lit kiosks selling caipirinhas,
Brazil’s national cocktail, made from cachaca
(sugar cane liquor) sugar and lime.
The 4km long Copacabana
beach – postos 2 to 6 – will be one of the official 2016 Olympic venues
for beach volleyball. It is also the setting for a variety of other sports, such
as yoga and boxing. The sport of frescobol,
a type of tennis played with wooden bats, originated at posto 5, while posto 6 is a popular spot for stand-up paddle
boarding. Football games are ubiquitous, but do not expect to join a team
unless you are really good. You might also see people balancing on ropes tied
between palm trees, practicing an increasingly popular sport known as slack
For a charming reminder
that the area around Copacabana beach used to be a fishing village, head to the
Copacabana Fort at posto 6 before 11 am to see fishermen
selling their catch directly from colourful wooden fishing boats. The fort,
built in 1914, now houses the Historical Army Museum, and its cafe is a great spot for
breakfast or lunch while gazing at the sea. The fort will also host the
marathon swimming and triathalon events at the 2016 Olympics.
Posto 7: Good for sunsets, surfers and quiet romance
Wedged between Copacabana and Ipanema is Arpoador, posto 7, a 500m-long beach
that is popular with families and surfers. As such, it tends to be a bit
quieter than the other postos, and at sunset it has a laid-back, romantic vibe.
The beach’s main attraction is the vast, mainly
flat Arpoador Rock, which was named after the harpoon-throwing Portuguese
settlers and Brazilian natives who would hunt whales from there (arpoador means
striker in Portuguese). Take one of the short walking trails up to the top to
watch the sunset silhouette the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) peaks, and join the
crowds cheering when it finally goes down. Known locally as the birthplace
of surfing, floodlights keep the waters lit for after-dark wave riding.
Despite Rio's long shoreline, there are not
many beachside places to stay around Ipanema and Copacabana. The closest you
can get is Arpoador Inn, a comfortable and simple hotel where it is
worth paying for a seaview room. A few metres away is the Philiipe
Starck-designed boutique hotel Fasano, frequented by the well-heeled Rio crowd and
international celebrities. Teenagers are often seen waiting outside with
autograph books and cameras at the ready.
Postos 8 and 9: Good for
rainbow flags and a daytime
Located on Ipanema
beach, postos 8 and 9 are two of Rio’s busiest and most eclectic stretches,
attracting a diverse, younger crowd. Though all of Rio’s beaches are
gay-friendly, rainbow flags mark out a popular section between the two postos near
Rua Farme de Amoedo. Posto 9 is also close to where the
famous bossa nova song The Girl from Ipanema was written, so this is the place
to strut your stuff and pretend to be “the tall and tan and young and lovely
girl” – or the guy watching her. Tom Jobin and Vinicius de Moraes penned the
song at the bar and restaurant Garota de Ipanema a few blocks away.
Postos 10, 11 and 12: Good for
billionaires and celebrities
Cariocas say that Ipanema (posto 10) is for millionaires and that Leblon beach (posto
11) is for billionaires, so you might see some famous faces including
footballers and soap opera stars who live in fancy mansions nearby sunning on
the sand. Leblon is one of the most exclusive and expensive areas of Rio and
also has a busy late night bar and restaurant scene, backdropped
by the impressive Dois Irmãos peaks.
Unfortunately, the water at
these postos is not great for swimming as it polluted by two bordering canals that
drain into the sea. Posto 12 has Baixo Bebe, a sandy play area for children with
beach toys, slides and baby changing facilities.
Sun like a local
Brazilians have a reputation for being beautiful, but do not let that
intimidate you. They are also very tolerant, friendly and come in every shape
and size. You can wear what you want at the beach, but Brazilians tend to leave
their baggy bottoms at home and either don tiny string bikinis or the tight
trunks that you have never dared to wear. Note that for the ladies, going
topless is a no no.
Cariocas will happily
travel to and from the beach and parade down the wavy, black-and-white-mosaic
boardwalk in just their beachwear and Havaiana flip flops. Forget your towel and get yourself a kanga (sarong) to sit on or rent one of
the many beach chairs.
For most locals, the beach
is not just about sunbathing, and you will not see many people reading.
Cariocas come to pose, hang out with friends and get active, whether it is a
strenuous game of beach volleyball or a gentle stroll along the boardwalk. When
swimming, watch out for the red warning flags or ask a lifeguard as the waves
can be harsh. It is the norm to ask your neighbour to watch your belongings (beach
thefts are less common then they used to be, but it is still not wise to leave
your things unattended). Groups of cariocas often sit close to each other so do
not be overly concerned if someone parks up next to you on the beach.
When you are feeling
peckish, hold out for one of the many beach vendors selling the popular sweet
or savoury beach snack of globo (air-puffed
doughnuts made from manioc flour) and matte leao, an
iced tea drink poured straight from a keg on the seller’s back. And do
not leave the beach without sipping fresh coconut juice from one of the agua de coco stands.