You will be identified as a tourist, but to lessen the sting, here
are a few tips: Buy one of the cheap wraps sold on the sidewalks and
use it to sit on rather than a towel (which nobody uses outside
their homes). Or rent a chair and umbrella beachside—it's about $3
for the day, and the vendors will bring over cold drinks or snacks.
Leave your baggy board shorts or one-piece at home—you'll find the
best beachwear in the world here, so pick something up. Guys, those
tiny elastic shorts are de rigueur, no matter your build. Topless
bathing is strictly a no-no—and actually illegal. Lastly, you'll
find that anything sold in stores can also be bought on the beach:
drinks, food, jewelry, sunglasses, sunblock, bikinis. Everything's
of good quality and fairly priced. When it's really hot out, nothing
quenches a thirst (or helps a hangover) like a coco gelada—a chilled
green coconut with a straw, available at sidewalk stands.
Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are the most popular beaches,
separated from the high-priced real estate by a four-lane road and
those famous patterned sidewalks. In the hundred yards of sand
between the road and sea you'll find a universe of commerce, sports
playing, flirting, and tanning—the Carioca lifestyle at its best.
Each portion of the beach has its own "address": Look for the
changing stations/bathrooms, which have the number on them. Posto 3,
in front of the Copacabana Palace, is where you'll find the greatest
cluster of tourists. The hotel staff will look out for you, but be
aware that petty thieves hang here, so watch your possessions.
Walking southwest along the beach, near Posto 6, you'll encounter a
rock jetty that sticks into the ocean: This area is Arpoador, which
is popular with surfers. The next beach is Ipanema, where you'll
find both the hopping gay section, identified by the rainbow flag,
and Posto 9, famous for being the hangout of the young, beautiful,
and tragically cool. (Even if you're none of those things, be sure
to take a look.) A ten-minute walk down the beach will bring you to
Leblon: This is excellent middle ground—mostly locals, but rarely
overpacked. Note: On Sundays the main street along the three beaches
closes to traffic and locals come out to stroll, ride bikes, and
hang with friends.
Farther afield are São Conrado, where hang gliders who've taken off
from Pedra Bonita land quite spectacularly, and many more miles of
good sand along the nouveau riche neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca.
Two of Rio's best beaches, though, are secrets, and you'll need to
rent a car, convince a local to take you (not that hard), or make an
arrangement with a taxi to pick you back up. Prainha and Grumari are
40 minutes west of Zona Sul and are protected—there are no permanent
buildings out here, and the hills behind the beaches are covered
with lush green rain forest. Prainha, which means "little beach,"
has lots of surfers, but both places are wonderful for getting away
from the crowds and feeling like you're on a (mostly) deserted isle,
especially during weekdays.
Warning: The currents on all of these beaches can be quite strong,
and even though there are lifeguards, be cautious. Also, stay off
the beach after dark; it can be dangerous.
Special thanks to TripAdvisor
and its authors.