When planning a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, you have to plan for beach time. With 31 miles (50 km) of beaches, spending at least one full day at the beach is a must!
1. When to Go:
Brazilians love the beach! So the weekends are when most locals go. I’m talking every square inch of Copacabana Beach covered up with towels. It can be difficult during weekend afternoons to even make your way down to the water. If you have to go on the weekend and are planning on going to Copacabana or Ipanema Beach, go early to claim your space. Otherwise, save a weekday for beach time.
2. Water Safety:
The ocean currents around Rio de Janeiro can change from morning to afternoon, from one day to the next. What can be a good distance from the shore may be too deep a day later. We also found that the water temperature seemed to vary. The friend we were staying with confirmed this. She suggested to always go in slowly to test the current strength and water temperature. There are life guard stations scattered down the coastline, so if you are nervous, swim in front of those areas.
3. Beach Safety:
We went to Copacabana Beach after dark one evening, and it was well lit with lots of people still swimming, playing foot volley (think volleyball with soccer kicks and head butts), and working out on one of the many “gym” stations (Brazilians like to stay in shape).
Even though we felt safe, we were advised to never leave valuables unattended. Our friend who lives close to the beach only takes a little spending money and a beach towel. Since I wanted to have my camera at the beach, we just took turns getting in the water so one person could always be with our things.
The sun in Rio is strong! Be sure to stay hydrated and if you’re a pale white girl like me, wear sunscreen and apply it often. The sun can also really heat up the sand. Your feet will thank you for wearing flip flops!
4. Beach Comforts:
Restrooms and showers can be found by the life guard stations. There is a slight usage fee, but they are fairly clean. At the less popular beaches there are free restrooms.
You don’t need to take any beach chairs, umbrellas, food, or drink to the beach. In fact I heard that it is a bit of an insult to take any of those items. Besides, would you really want to haul all of that stuff around when it’s not necessary? As soon as you walk on the beach, a vendor will ask if you need a beach chair. You don’t need to pay right then. You can start a tab, then add any food or drink that you purchase from your vendor. Just settle up when you’re ready to leave (usually cash only).
There’s also different vendors that will come by hawking their wares. None of them hounded us. When we weren’t interested, we just told them, “No, thank you,” and they went on to the next group. But don’t say “No,” too often. The beach food and drinks are delicious!
5. Beach Attire:
This was main thing I was worried about. Forget safety! How will I dress for the beach? I have the body of a 50 year old because, well, I’m a 50 year old women. Having been to Rio when I was much younger, I was well aware that the swimsuits found on most Brazilians are beyond tiny. Maybe if I had their bronzed Brazilian bodies, I would want to show it off more, too. I ended up wearing a retro type bikini and still felt like I had on a modest swimsuit compared to most others. Bodies of all types were on the beach, so I didn’t feel too out of shape. Men wear speedos and also wear longer board shorts. If you get there and want a change of style, vendors were selling bikinis on the beach, too. We saw plenty of women trying on swimsuits over their own suits, right there on the sand!
Popular Rio Beaches
Starting in the Sugar Loaf Mountain area and going southwest are the majority of Rio’s beaches. North of the Sugar Loaf is the bay used mainly for boating. There are a couple of small beaches around the Sugar Loaf which is convenient if you’re in the area.
Lemme and Copacabana Beaches:
Copacabana Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, and it’s not just because Barry Manilow wrote a popular song about it. From the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain you can see the huge, long curve of light tan-colored sand. Copacabana and Lemme Beach are separated by Av. Princesa Isabel, but if I hadn’t been told it was two separate beaches, I would have never known it.
Once on the beach, the view is spectacular. The beaches are bordered by Forte Duque de Caxias (built in 1779) and Sugar Loaf Mountain on the left and Forte de Copacabana (built in 1914) on the right. The beach runs in a east-west direction for 2.2 miles (4 km). The Lemme end is quieter and geared more towards families. Copacabana is more vibrant and sports oriented.
Tip: Since you are already in the area, you can tour Forte de Copacabana for a small entrance fee. From the end of the fort’s peninsula are gorgeous views of Copacabana and Ipanema Beach. Even though most of the information in the fort museum was in Portuguese, I still found it very interesting. There are also nice cafes by the fort. You must try the pastries at the Colombo Confeitaria!
Arpoador, Ipanema, and Leblon Beaches:
West of Forte de Copacabana is Arpoador, a rock that is a perfect spot for watching the sun set over the mountains. Locals love to bring a picnic at sunset and break out in applause when the sun disappears. I was advised to not hang out too long after dark for safety concerns.
Arpoador Beach is where surfing began in Rio de Janeiro. The waves are big and the current can be strong. At the end of Arpoador Beach there is a small beach called Devil’s Beach (Diabo). The water there is rough!
Ipanema beach is bordered by Arpoador Beach on one end and Leblon Beach on the other end. The Ipanema neighborhood is one of the most expensive places to live in Rio de Janeiro. High end shopping can be found here. If you want to feel unattractive, try comparing yourself to the young Brazilians that flock here to see and be seen. We are talking about some very attractive people here!
Unlike like Copacabana and Lemme Beaches running together, Ipanema and Leblon are separated by a canal that connects the lagoon (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas) to the Atlantic Ocean. Leblon is more family oriented and subdued than Ipanema or Copacabana Beach. The surrounding neighborhood is upper class families, so you will find trendy bars, gourmet restaurants, and boutique shopping close by.
São Conrado Beach:
Considered one of the most scenic beaches in Rio de Janeiro, São Conrado Beach sits east of Barra da Tijuca Beach and west of Leblon Beach. It is frequented by residents of the favelas and the middle class. It is used for windsurfing, surfing, and is used as a landing spot for hang gliders taking off from high above.
Barra de Tijuca and Recreio Beaches
Known as commonly as Barra, at over 11 miles (18 km) Barra de Tijuca is one of the longest beaches in Rio. It is also called the “Miami of Rio”. Although Barra is very popular with locals, during the week there are spots that become quite isolated and quiet. Surfers love Barra for a good reason, the waves can become very big, especially in the morning. If you are a weak swimmer, stay close to the shore. The soft white sand also makes it a popular spot for volleyball players.
Dos Bandeirantes, Macumba, Prainha , and Grumari Beaches
Continuing west, you’ll find even more gorgeous stretches of white sand. These are the city’s most unspoiled beaches. While the water at the eastern more popular beaches is blue, the water here has a greener tint. These Rio beaches are only accessible by car, so during the week the area is pretty deserted. Prainha is small and situated between two big rocky areas which makes for great surfing. I loved watching all of the surfers hitting the waves. Joe can attest to the strong surf. He lost his sunglasses here… Grumari Beach is larger and is more popular with families.
So are you a beach lover? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
Keep up with all of our travel, camping, and cycling tips by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Leave us your email (blue box at the bottom of the post) to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and never miss a post!