Trendsetting Ipanema, the place made famous by the '60s song to bear its name, has a long tradition of dictating beach chic to the rest of the world. The beach was, after all, a launching pad for the skimpy tanga bikini, the once-popular crocheted G-string for men, and the unforgettable (if only we could forget) dental-floss bikini.
As expected, the two kilometers of white sand -- and the bodies strewn along them -- are the star attractions here. Yet the name Ipanema also refers to the surrounding neighborhood -- a compact, easily navigated mixture of upscale shops, frenetic nighttime hot spots and hip restaurants. First-time visitors will want to stroll down Rua Vincius de Morais -- a strip lined with bars, shops and restaurants, including the famous Garota de Ipanema Bar (originally called the Velloso Bar). It was here that Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Morais penned the lyrics to "The Girl from Ipanema." On Sundays the Hippie Fair offers wares from area craftsmen and artists. And at night, the young and young-at-heart head to Rio's Baixo Farme and Baixo Quiteria, southside streets jammed with bars and cafes.
Nearest domestic airport: The International Antonio Carlos Jobim Airport is about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Ipanema, about a 30-minute drive.
Nearest major international airport: Santos Dumont Domestic Airport, located in the heart of the city, is about 10 minutes by car from Ipanema.
Several taxi services are available to shuttle visitors from both airports. An executive airport bus links the International Airport with the Santos Dumont Airport, or visitors can take a similar bus that serves the main oceanfront hotels in Ipanema.
Rio de Janeiro's climate is tropical. The summer season (December to March) is the warmest, with temperatures ranging from 77 to 95 F (25 to 35 C) and higher. In the winter (June through August), temperatures range from 55 to 64 F (13 to 18 C). New Year's Eve and Carnival (held four days before Ash Wednesday, usually mid- to late-February) are the two busiest times, so book well in advance.
Rio has more than 250 hotels and motels, including 13 five-star, 41 four-star and 60 three-star hotels. The areas best known for budget accommodations are Gloria, Catete and Flamengo. The Rio Visitors and Convention Bureau has a limited list of hotels. For more accommodations, try Ipanema.
The city offers a wide selection of cuisine, but it would be a shame to miss out on Rio's distinct regional cooking and signature dishes. One especially worth trying is Feijoada, a spicy bean-and-pork stew usually served with sides including sliced oranges, stir-fried eggs and manioc flour, thinly sliced kale and white rice. On the sidewalks near the beach, kiosks offer coconut water, corn on the cob, grilled shrimp, baked cheese rolls and other snacks. To wash it down, try "caipirinha" -- a traditional cocktail made with Brazilian sugarcane rum, lemon and sugar.
Unlike the rest of South America, Brazil's language is Portuguese. However, most people in highly trafficked tourist areas understand English. In addition, Rio has established a Tourist Police branch where officers usually speak English and are trained to provide help to visitors.
While you are there
Take the cable car 887 feet up Pao de Acucar, Sugar Loaf, for a spectacular panoramic view of the city.
To fake that you've been there
Talk about hanging out at lifeguard post No. 9 with the neo-hippies.
Linking for a better vacation
The Rio Visitors and Convention Bureau has general and practical information about visiting the city. For hordes of information in a fun and relaxed package, try Ipanema.