Like the famously tanned and toned beachgoers who frequent them, Rio de Janeiro beaches are dramatically beautiful, with white sands flanked by mountains and swaying coconut palms.
Rio’s most famous city beaches can be found in the tourist heartland known as the Zona Sul (the jawdroppingly photogenic South Zone), while more elbow room can be found in more isolated spots to the West of Ipanema and Leblon.
Exercise stations line the beaches, allowing locals – and visitors – to work out for free while simultaneously working on their tans, and there are (paid) bathrooms at the lifeguard posts that are strategically located on the beachfront from Copacabana right out to Barra da Tijuca in the West.
Some visitors may be surprised (and perhaps disappointed) to learn that topless sunbathing is in fact banned at almost all public beaches in Rio (with the exception of one nudist beach located in the far west of the city), but those looking for an almost all-over tan can rest assured that a couple of postage stamp-sized swathes of material are considered sufficient to cover ladies´upper modesty while female backsides are rarely troubled by anything more substantial than a thin triangle of cloth that perches atop the buttocks. Meanwhile, male sunseekers strut proudly in the smallest and tightest trunks imaginable.
If you´ve been partied hard during your Rio vacation and need a little R&R in more tranquil surrounds, the Costa Verde (Green Coast)of Rio de Janeiro State has you covered.
This glorious stretch of coastline takes in almost countless beaches and islands. The Costa Verde town of Angra dos Reis alone is surrounded by 365 islands.
The largest of these is the vast nature reserve of Ilha Grande, a tropical island beauty whose history as a prison for dangerous criminals and, before that, a leper colony, has not stopped visitors from flocking here. The car-free paradise today offers wonderfully isolated beaches, excellent hiking, swimming and sunbathing, and a good range of guesthouses in every price range.
Recommended for Beaches because: The Green Coast of Rio de Janeiro State is home to spectacular unspoiled beaches and verdant islands.
Lucy’s expert tip: Official ferries leave for Ilha Grande once a day from the seaside town of Angra dos Reis, but it’s faster to get a fishing boat from nearby Conceicao de Jacarei, which can be reached by coach or group transfer from Rio.
Sao Conrado is one of the most chi-chi neighborhoods in Rio, and the sporty youth of the area like to strut their tanned and toned stuff at Sao Conrado beach. Alongside hang gliders resting between flights, you´ll find yourself surrounded by surfers making good use of the decent waves here, and there are fewer tourists than on Copacabana and Ipanema.
Taking a tandem hang gliding trip over Rio de Janeiro is one of the best ways to take in the out-of-this-world cityscape, and those who do choose to take a running jump off a jungle hilltop will make a soft landing at this scenic beach to the west of Ipanema.
Recommended for Beaches because: Sao Conrado is less touristy than its neighbors, and a great place to watch surfers and hang gliders at play.
Lucy’s expert tip: The metro extension introduced ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics has made this beach more accessible to non-hang gliding visitors to Rio!
Some 30 kilometers west of Rio, Grumari is a wonderfully unspoiled beach surrounded by dense jungle and accessible only by car or by taking a very long, arduous hike (there are no bus routes out here).
The beach is as sedate and tranquil as Copacabana is frenetic and people-packed, and the number of vehicles allowed access to the beach is limited at weekends and holidays, meaning that it never gets too busy. Grumari beach is located in an area of environmental protection, meaning that there is little danger of high rise hotels spoiling the tranquility any time soon. As such, so this is a top spot for nature-loving sunseekers.
Recommended for Beaches because: Unspoiled, isolated Grumari is popular with surfers and sunbathers keen to escape the crowds.
Lucy’s expert tip: Surfers can take special ‘Surf Buses’ out here, with optional lessons for all abilities. Hotels and hostels should be able to provide information on local tour operators.
Ipanema and Copacabana may be Rio´s most famous beaches, but its longest stretch of sand is actually the less famous Praia da Barra da Tijuca, to be found in a wealthy suburb some 30-40 minutes´ bus or cab ride from central Rio.
This pristine curve of white sand stretches for some 15 kilometers and is blissfully quiet during the working week. Even on sun-soaked weekends, when beachgoers are packed like sardines onto Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, there´s plenty of room for tanning and socializing at Barra (pronounced baa-ha).
The beach is frequented largely by young and lovely residents of this exclusive neighborhood, and surfing and watersports are popular pursuits.
Recommended for Beaches because: Barra da Tijuca stretches for around eight miles, making it easily the city’s longest beach.
Lucy’s expert tip: Barra da Tijuca was the site for Rio’s 2016 Olympic Village and gained a long-awaited metro station just in time for the games. Shoppers will find it worth the metro ride for the mega-malls that line the wide avenues.
At Copacabana´s farthest point from Ipanema, the famous beach becomes known as Leme, and this part of the beach is generally a few degrees more tranquil than elsewhere on this most celebrated of sands.
Shaded by jungle-clad hills and attracting local families as well as plenty of tourists, Leme offers plenty of opportunity for refreshments at the many beach kiosks that line the waterfront.
Leme is not considered by locals to be the most glamorous spot in Rio for sunbathing, but sunbathing spots flit in and out of fashion in Rio, so donÂ´t be surprised if it suddenly becomes a by-word for beach cool.
Recommended for Beaches because: Leme is the calmer, quieter side of Copacabana, and popular with families.
Lucy’s expert tip: Hotel options are less abundant here than elsewhere, but it´s less raucous at night too, making Leme a better bet than Copacabana for anyone who intends to get a little sleep in Rio.
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Located between the world famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, Arpoador is not a beach whose name trips off the tongue as easily as those of its more famous neighbors, but this curve of sand is well worth your beach time.
Really an extension of Ipanema beach, Arpoador is most notable for the giant rock that juts out from the shore into the crashing waves. This rock is lined with walking trails, which afford some fantastic views over Rio de Janeiro´s stunning coastline. It´s a favorite spot with romantic couples, too, and the sunset views from here are guaranteed to set even the hardest heart a-flutter.
Recommended for Beaches because: Arpoador Beach is perfectly placed between Copacabana and Ipanema, and less crowded than its famous neighbors.
Lucy’s expert tip: Surfers and body boarders can catch good waves at Praia do Diabo (Devil´s Beach), a little spit of sand next to Arpoador Rock.
Surprisingly overlooked by many visitors to Rio, Praia Vermelha is a small curve of coarse sand right at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain. The mountain and ocean backdrop is stunning, and the calm waters are occasionally clean enough for swimming. Once the sun starts to dip, dust the sand from your swimwear and follow the trail that leads around the base of Sugar Loaf itself – it´s a scenic 20-minute stroll that’s made all the more enjoyable by the sight of monkeys playing in the trees overhead. At the other end of the beach, a bar-restaurant offers decent food and superb views.
Recommended for Beaches because: Praia Vermelha is a scenic, sheltered beach that is less crowded than Copacabana and Ipanema.
Lucy’s expert tip: This sheltered cove is a popular spot with local families, and a military base right next to the beach means that incidences of petty theft are rare (be sure to keep an eye on your belongings at all times, however – this is still Rio!).
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Copacabana was once synonymous with glitz and glamor in Rio, and while it’s now somewhat overshadowed in the chic stakes by neighboring Ipanema, it’s still gloriously beautiful. The soft curve of white sand stretches for some five kilometers, framed by the magnificent figure of Sugar Loaf mountain in the background.
Vendors stroll the sands selling everything from kangas (sarongs) and bikinis to sandwiches and ice cream, while the beach kiosks along the beachfront are relaxed places for sandy-footed drinking and dining.
Copacabana beach is also the location for one of the world´s greatest New Year´s parties, with the sands packed each December 31 for a night of live music, revelry, and spectacular fireworks.
Recommended for Beaches because: Copacabana is one of the most famous beaches in the world, and this ravishing beach beauty offers a dramatic mountain backdrop an unlimited people-watching possibilities.
Lucy’s expert tip: The farthest end from Ipanema, known as Leme, is the quietest, most family-friendly spot to sunbathe, and can offer a little elbow room even when the rest of the beach is packed out.
Some 40-minutes bus or cab ride away from Ipanema and Copacabana, this scenic beach is a popular hangout for surfers and body boarders. Although packed at weekends and on public holidays, it is usually blissfully quiet during the week.
The ambiance is a world away from the touristic rush and crush of Rio´s more famous beaches, and the jungle-fringed setting is nothing short of spectacular. Nearby, informal bar-restaurants offer a chance to refuel, and the atmosphere here is a whole lot more laid back and less hectic than that of central Rio. Although not far from the rush and crush of the city, it feels like a whole world away.
Recommended for Beaches because: This slightly off-the-beaten-track beach is one of the most beautiful in Rio.
Lucy’s expert tip: Although busy at weekends and holidays, Praia do Recreio is wonderfully quiet during the working week.
While Copacabana wins out as the most picture-perfect city beach in Rio, Ipanema is another dazzling beach beauty and considered the more chic of the two neighboring strands.
With fewer high rise hotels than Copacabana, Ipanema is the ideal place to while away the hours just working on that tan and watching the beautiful people glide by. There are scores of kiosks selling tempting food and drink, too.
The towering twin peaks of the Dois Irmaos (two brothers) mountains frame the beach scene in spectacular fashion, and sunseekers can stroll along the sands to surf-friendly Arpoador beach at the eastern end, and chic Leblon at the Western end.
Recommended for Beaches because: Considered chicer than neighboring Copacabana, mountain-flanked Ipanema is the hangout of choice for Rio’s young and beautiful.
Lucy’s expert tip: Want to arrange to meet someone at the beach? Tell them which ‘posto’ – lifeguard post – you will be close to. These numbered posts informally divide the beach into spaces for the young and hip, for families, for sporty types…In Ipanema, the most famous is Posto Nove (lifeguard post 9), hangout of choice for a young, flirty crowd.