As I mentioned in my recent post comparing it to São Paulo, Brazil’s economic nucleus, the Cidade Maravihosa of Rio de Janeiro is marvelous primarily because of its positioning between the crystalline turquoise waters of the tropical Atlantic and the mountains and jungles that rise up over the sea.
There is absolutely no shortage of great beaches in Rio de Janeiro — and for some travelers, this is precisely the problem. Where should you go to relax? To see-and-be-seen? For the best scenery? There is no definitive “best” beach in Rio de Janeiro, so focus instead on matching your tastes and preferences to the stretch of coastline that’s best suited to you.
The “Big Three” Rio de Janeiro Beaches
Broadly speaking, you can divide Rio de Janeiro’s beaches into two sections: Copacabana and Ipanema, which sit to the east and west of the Arpaodor rock formation that separates them respectively. Copacabana has been popular since the 60′s and 70′s and is uniformly more crowded, while Ipanema rose to prominence more recently and while also crowded, has tranquil parts.
Specifically, you’re likely to find peace it you stick to Leblon, the western half of Ipanema. I would actually go so far as to say Leblon is the third of what are three main beach areas in Rio de Janeiro, the aforementioned Copacabana and Ipanema being the other too.
Generally speaking, the further east you go (that is to say, Copacabana), the more crowded the beaches become and the less affluent the adjust neighborhoods are. Leblon is therefore extremely upmarket, its beaches sometimes almost deserted, which you could read as either boring or refreshing in a place like Rio de Janeiro. Ipanema is somewhere in-between and provides a nice balance of bougey, calm Leblon and bohemian, chaotic Copacabana.
Rio de Janeiro Beach Post Numbers
Rio de Janeiro beaches are further subdivided by the number of the “post” adjacent to the street, starting at “1″ on the eastern edges of Copacabana near the Sugar Loaf and ending at…well, actually I don’t know how far they go in Leblon! I found Leblon’s beaches boring (although I was staying in Leblon) and always headed east into Ipanema.
In my experience, anything east of Post #10 is going to be a good time, whether you’re looking to enjoy a caipirinha, play beach volleyball or simply watch sunkissed locals doing their thing. Looking for the “gay beach”? You’ll find that between posts “8″ and “9.”
In general, however, beach posts offers less of an indication of what you’ll find on a certain stretch of beach and are instead most useful for setting meeting places with friends.
Navigating Rio’s Beaches
If you stick to either the Copacabana or the Ipanema side, it’s best to simply walk the beach of your choice by foot, even if you want to get from one end all the way to the other. Although you could conceivably take a bus or taxi, you miss out on some of the world’s most beautiful scenery if you do.
Trying to pass between the two sides on foot gets more tricky, although it’s definitely possible. Specifically, you’ll need to cross over the Arpaodor by foot, then walk along the extreme western shores of Copacabana, which may or may not be exposed depending on the time of day and how high or low the tide is.
The easier way is to get a MetroRIO bus to the General Osório/Ipanema station of the Rio de Janeiro metro, then take it to one of the Copacabana stops: Cardeal Arcoverde and Botafogo. Once you exit, Copacabana Beach is just a few minutes’ walk southward.
Rio de Janeiro Beaches at Night
Given Brazilians’ openness toward casual sex, it seems logical that sandy shores from Copacabana all the way to Leblon would be dotted with couples doing the nasty. I can back up this logic with personal experience. You can also find a hotbed of activity, sexual and otherwise, on the Arpaodor at night.
The only potential danger of hitting a Brazilian beach at night is, well, danger. Although touristy areas like Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon enjoy far lower rates of crime than the rest of Rio de Janeiro, spending too much time outdoors anywhere at night in a Brazilian city presents some risk.
Still, no matter which Rio beach you decide is your favorite and when you device to lay out on it, few better beach experiences in the world exist.