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The beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro are among the most well known in the world.

Botafogo and Flamengo are fine and picturesque for an afternoon stroll, but too polluted for swimming. Off by itself in Urca, Praia Vermelha faces the ocean and is often fine. It offers a fabulous view of the Sugarloaf, and next to no tourists. On the other hand, it’s completely lacking in waves.

Map of beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Map of beaches in Rio de Janeiro

The first of the ocean beaches, Copacabana remains a favorite. The wide and beautifully landscaped Avenida Atlântica is a great place for a stroll. (The wavy landscaped sidewalk mosaic is the work of landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx.) When the feet start to tire, pull up a chair at any of the countless beachside kiosks, grab a chilled coconut or a cerveja, and spend some time admiring the picture-perfect view. (The new kiosks also offer modern, clean bathroom facilities. The far end of the beach near the Forte de Copacabana is where fishermen beach their small craft; it’s a good place to find freshly grilled shrimp or other seafood. For those with other fish to fry, the area in front of the Copacabana Palace around the Rainbow kiosk is a well-known gay area.

The postos (lifeguard stations) along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are open daily from 8am to 8pm. They offer first aid (free if needed) and changing and toilet facilities. Postos are numbered 1 through 11 starting from Leme and ending in Leblon. Cariocas often use them as reference points.

Ipanema Beach was famous among Brazilians even before Tom Jobim wrote his song about the tall and tan and young and lovely girl he saw and sighed over. Stretching almost 3km (2 miles) from the foot of the Pedra Dois Irmãos to the Ponta Arpoador, the beach at Ipanema is a strand like nowhere else. Part of the attraction does involve observing the self-confident sensuality with which the Ipanema garotas (girls) stroll the sands. (Equal-opportunity purists should note that there’s an equivalent amount of male beefcake on hand — it just doesn’t inspire songs or poetry.) But more than anything, Ipanema is a carnival. Watch the games of volleyball or futvolei (like volleyball, but no hands allowed), beach soccer, surfing, and wakeboarding. Forgot your bikini? Wait a moment and a vendor will stop by with one for sale — along with towels, sarongs (called kangas in Brazil), hats, shades, peanuts, beer, cookies, Walkmans, suntan lotion, Styrofoam airplanes, Winnie-the-Pooh books, sticks of grilled shrimp, shelled coconuts, even deep-muscle massages. Claim a piece of sand on Ipanema, and all of life’s essentials will come to you.

The section just around the point from Copacabana — called Praia do Arpoador — is a prime surf spot and a great location for watching the local dudes take to the waves. One of the surf schools also runs lessons for kids from the local favelas. The area around Posto 8 (opposite Rua Farme Amoedo) is Ipanema’s gay section.

Farther down into Leblon (still the same beach, just a different name once you cross the canal) you will find the Baixo Baby. This play area, equipped by corporate sponsors with lots of playground equipment and beach toys, is a popular gathering place for nannies and parents to watch their kids run around and play with sand.

Off on its own surrounded by mountains, São Conrado Beach offers some fine scenery and a (relative) sense of isolation. Its other main claim to fame is as a landing strip for all the hang gliders (asa delta in Portuguese) who leap from nearby peaks.

Farther from the city is the beach at Barra de Tijuca. The main reason to go out here is if you’re a surf-head desperate for a wave. The surfing is said to be the best in Rio, particularly around the Barraca de Pepê (Pepê’s Shack) where surfers like to gather. The only reason to go even farther beyond Barra is to get to Grumari, a lovely small beach set in a nature reserve. Grumari has no high-rises or beachside restaurants, just lush vegetation and a few kiosks by the side of the road. However, don’t expect to get away from the crowds even this far out; on weekends the place is packed.

BeachesTravel Guide and tourism information such as festivals, maps, activities and attractions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Brazil Travel Guide

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