Beaches of Rio de Janeiro

Hello all,

When you visit Rio, one activity which will certainly be on your list is a visit to one (or more) of the city’s wonderful beaches.

The beach most frequented by tourists is Copacabana Beach. Copa was evidently selected a few years ago by the city government to be the focal point of tourism for the city, as it has been more developed than other areas in recent years. It has a good infrastructure now, including many more public toilets – an important amenity after drinking a few beers on a hot afternoon! You’ll also find kiosks, outdoor restaurants, vendors of all sorts, wandering samba groups, beach volleyball pits, etc. And there is lots of lovely scenery, including the two-legged variety!

Ipanema and Leblon beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema and Leblon beaches

The second-most frequented beach within the city limits would be Ipanema. If you want to see the “beautiful people” of Rio, then you will want to visit Ipanema Beach, especially on a weekend. I’d say Sunday afternoon is probably the high point of most weeks. Head for Posto 9. (Posto = “post” = life guard post.) It’s marked by a big #9, so it’s kind of hard to miss. Here you’ll see the best bodies. Also, here you can watch that most Brazilian of games, futvolei (foot volley), which is beach volleyball played without hands or arms, if you can imagine such a thing. Only the best players play at Posto 9.

Adjacent to Copacabana (really the same stretch of beach) is Leme. It’s a nice beach, less crowded and less touristy than Copa Beach. However, the waves and undertow can be strong, especially close to Pedra do Leme (Leme Rock); look for warning flags before entering the water. Leme is a nice little beach. I like the kiosks there at the end, at the foot of the hill. You can also pay a small entrance fee (last I knew it was 4 reals, less than $1.50US) and walk the road up to the old Leme Fort, which offers wonderful views of the length of the Leme/Copacabana strand.

And contiguous with Ipanema Beach is Leblon Beach. Leblon is the most expensive bairro (city district) in Rio, so it’s not surprisingly that on Leblon Beach you’ll find a pretty upscale crowd – and in Brazil, wealth typically equates with beauty. Leblon is always less crowded than Ipanema Beach, which I find appealing. This is a great beach if you really just want to relax and read a good book or simply do nothing at all.

Arpoador Beach in Rio de Janeiro

Arpoador Beach from Arpoador Rock

A lesser-known beach which is situated between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches is Arpoador. Some snobs shun it, considering it a beach for residents of the favelas, and many favela residents do go there. But I think it’s safe, certainly during the daytime. Arpoador is a good beach if you are into activity. There is an outdoor gym. You’ll almost always find folks playing frescoball (paddleball). Young surfistas ride the waves which are funneled in by the rocks. And locals and visitors alike flock to Arpoador Rock in the evenings to watch the sunset.

These are beaches at hand in the tourist district. But Rio has many others, some of which are little visited by tourists.

Likely you’ll visit Sugarloaf Mountain while in Rio. It’s certainly one of Rio’s greatest tourist attractions, and busloads of tourists spill out into its parking lots daily. Few, however, visit or even know about Praia Vermelha (Red Beach), which sits just beyond the parking lot. This is a sedate little beach, a lovely place to escape the nearby crowds.

Outside of Zona Sul, in Rio’s west zone, you can find nice stretches of beach in Barra de Tijuca – called by locals simply “Barra” and pronounced “BAH hah”. While Rio doesn’t have stellar surfing, you can find some decent waves (and surfing schools) in Barra. The crowd is upscale overall, and the beaches rarely super crowded, as can happen in Zona Sul on summer weekends and holidays. Buses and taxis can get you to Barra.

Update: The surf bus is back! This is a cheap way to get to beaches such as Barra and Prainha, and it’s set up to carry boards. For more info, check out:

Continuing on past Barra perhaps 30 minutes lies Prainha, literally, “Little Beach”. This beach is off the beaten path, but a favorite with locals who want to spend the day away from the crowds. If you would like to experience a day away from the urban beaches, try Prainha. It’s easily reached by car, and I believe that the surfer bus is again running there. Check at your hotel or hostel.

Praia do Forte in Cabo Frio, north of Rio de Janeiro

Praia do Forte in Cabo Frio, north of Rio de Janeiro

There are some lovely beaches north of Rio. Heading up the coast (actually heading more east than north because of the way the coast juts out) you’ll come in about two hours to Cabo Frio. Praia do Forte (Fort Beach) is one of my favorite beaches in Brazil. Wide and long, the local government keeps it very clean. Cabo Frio actually is one of the favorite getaway spots for residents of Rio. But note: As the name Cabo Frio (which means “Cold Cape”) indicates, the waters can be chilly, due to the currents.

Continuing north past Cabo Frio is the chic little town of Buzios, which sits on an irregularly shaped peninsula. There are between 21 and 26 beaches on the peninsula, depending on whose count you believe. Each has its own personality.

To learn more about beaches in Rio, you can read this article in The Rio Times.

Going to the beach in Brazil is quite a bit different from going to the beach in the U.S. In a future post, I’ll teach you a bit about the beach culture and etiquette so that you don’t look quite so much like a gringo. (First tip: Ditch those tennis shoes in favor of some flip flops!)

Até mais, guys!


Down in Rio Grande do Sul, which unfortunately has Brazil’s crappiest beaches

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2 responses to “Beaches of Rio de Janeiro”

  1. Phil says:

    John, with all of the news on the Zika virus, bad water for the Olympics have also heard most of the Rio beaches are not safe and very unsanitary. What’s your view as one living there?

  2. JohnInBrazil says:

    Hi Phil,

    Actually, I moved from Rio almost a year and a half ago. I’m not a big-city guy. The truth is that you do have to be careful of mosquito-borne illnesses in parts of Rio (the areas nearest the ocean are safer, as the mosquitoes don’t like the breezes and don’t breed in salt water), although for most I think dengue is a greater issue. Zika’s symptoms are milder. But if you are a woman of child-bearing age, zika has to be a big concern, even though the suspected link to microcephaly hasn’t been proven yet.

    The water quality in Rio, though, is a known problem. Guanabara Bay has gotten lots of bad press recently, and deservedly so. But the waters off Ipanema and Leblon are unclean many days as well. Imagine: Leblon is among the most expensive areas in all of Brazil, but many days the water is dirty. As a general rule in Rio, avoid going in the ocean for at least 24 hours after heavy rains, due to noxious run-off. Sad but true.

    The water off Barra are generally cleaner I believe.

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