Rio's Best BeachesBrazil's Rio de Janeiro may be best known for its beaches, from sexy Ipanema and Copacabana, to more secluded and slightly lesser-known stretches of sand, like Prainha Beach.
When visiting a city so immersed in beach culture, visitors would be well-served to keep in mind a few cultural tips. First, it's called a "Brazilian bikini" for a reason -- everyone, and we mean women, men and children -- will have donned a teeny, tiny 2-piece suit or Speedo. In Rio, less is more, though going topless is a big no-no. Next, remember that nearly all things are possible on Rio's sunny shores; you'll be able to buy from beach vendors anything you might have forgotten, such as sunscreen or a towel, as well as snacks and drinks.
Finally, play it safe. Some of Rio's neighborhoods do have crime, though most beaches are patrolled. Still, be aware of your surroundings at all times, and leave the beach after dark. Some of Rio's beaches can also be plagued with pollution at times; be sure to check with your hotel for any beach closings before heading out.
CopacabanaWe forgive you for humming Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" when visiting Copacabana Beach, Rio's first in a string of Atlantic Ocean-facing beaches. The iconic (and crowded) 2 1/2-mile stretch of sand is flanked by mountains in the background, high-rise hotels in the foreground and a bustling, mosaic-covered promenade, Avenida Atlantica in between perfect for a stroll and people watching. While many beachgoers bake in the sun or swim and surf in the turquoise waters at Copacabana, others opt for land-based action: It's common to find groups playing soccer or having an impromptu dance party -- yes, Brazilians know how to have a very good time.
Numerous kiosks line the beach, so plan to grab a cold drink and watch the revelry unfold. As night falls, do be careful. The neighborhood can be a bit seedy and there is crime in the area, so plan to stay off the sands and stick to the well-lit promenade.
IpanemaJust past Copacabana, you'll reach the decidedly more upscale neighborhood and beach Ipanema, made famous by the catchy tune "The Girl from Ipanema." This famous beach truly seems to be teeming with tan and lovely girls, as well as a slew of well-toned and tanned men. Yes, Ipanema is where you'll want to see and be seen. Meanwhile, countless vendors walk the beach, selling what seems like an endless array of things to buy, like bathing suits, beers, beach towels, books and even coconuts.
The waterfront action barely ceases here. Be prepared to encounter volleyball games, soccer and water sports like surfing and wakeboarding. The most vital thing you'll want to do at Ipanema is to soak it all in: the swath of sands, the 2 mountains towering above the end of the beach, the gorgeous locals, the hustle and bustle of beach action. Make like a local and grab a cold beer while you stretch out on the sand; vendors stroll the beach incessantly proffering the cold stuff.
Barra da Tijuca BeachBarra da Tijuca, Rio's longest beach, stretches a whopping 11 miles, and with its usually excellent waves and water conditions, will be home to many of the Summer Olympics 2016 venues. Not surprisingly, Barra has become a mecca for the athletically inclined, and attracts scores of long and short board surfers, bodyboarders, kite surfers and windsurfers taking advantage of the prime conditions.
Novices can stop by one of the many surf schools along the beach to sign up for a lesson should they be moved to join the throngs, rather than watch from the sandy shores. And should your appetite kick in, don't be alarmed; many kiosks line the beach selling food and coconut water.
Prainha BeachIf you've tired of the see-and-be-seen beaches of Brazil, make your way farther along the coast to Prainha Beach, a blissfully quiet, stunning crescent of sand flanked by rainforest-covered mountains. The sands here are soft and white, and the waves of the bright blue waters attract many surfers, though it's also common to see families enjoying the secluded shore here.
There are a handful of kiosks selling food and drinks. To reach Prainha, it's easiest for tourists to take a taxi from their hotel as it's not easy to reach via public transportation. Have your concierge schedule a taxi in advance with a fixed rate.
Praia VermelhaPraia Vermelha may be one of Rio's smallest beaches, but it really packs a lot in for visitors: Besides the reddish-hued sands and secluded setting, there's also a cable car that takes tourists to the top of 1,300-foot-tall Sugarloaf Mountain (in Portuguese, Pão de Açúcar) as well as a mile-long paved hiking trail along the rocky coastline.
The beach lies in a cove, so the sheltered area sees typically calm water. A small park sits behind the beach. Plan to visit one of the kiosks here for an inexpensive bite to eat, and relax as you overlook the beach and surrounding mountains. Again, the best way to reach Vermelha is via taxi; organize the trip through your hotel.