For those of us who grew up inland, the beach has always drawn us to its waves. The allure of sun, sand, and ocean elicits an automatic smile and immediately brings happy memories of family trips to mind. Although Americans have access to a number of amazing beaches from to coast (I see you Miami, Honolulu, and San Diego), there are no beaches in the world quite like those found on the southeastern coast of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
Equipped with more miles of beach than anyone knows what to do with, Rio de Janeiro locals, or cariocas, have access to every kind of beach imaginable. From the hustle and bustle of Copacabana and Ipanema to the relative seclusion of Prainha Beach, there truly is sand for everyone in this beautiful city by the sea.
As an American on vacation, though, you might be struck by any number of things you see at the beach in Rio. The beaches are bustling with activity (especially on the weekends) and at times it can be easy to get lost in what’s happening directly in front of you. So prepare yourselves, and let’s talk about some realizations Americans have on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
1. Your swim trunks look like pants comparatively…
Sungas, the slightly larger versions of speedos popular amongst male cariocas of all ages, are everywhere on the beaches of Rio and leave little to the imagination. Although shorter swim trunks are making a comeback in the U.S. for men, they’re like JNCOs compared to what the Brazilians wear when strutting around the beaches. Could an American dude opt for a sunga and try to look the part of a local? Sure, but he’s gotta remember to lather up those upper thighs a bit, since it’s probably been awhile since they’ve seen that kind of sun.
2. …and so will your bikini bottoms.
Do you remember Sisqo’s seminal 1999 classic that introduced an entire generation of Americans to that staple of Brazilian beachgoers? I know I do, and when stepping foot onto Ipanema Beach, it’s almost as if you can hear Sisqo yelping out the chorus as the waves collide with the beach. Much like the aforementioned male cariocas, Brazilian women are known the world over for proudly wearing some of the most minimal bikinis imaginable. No matter what the age of the wearer, thongs are everywhere on the beaches in Rio and the sooner you can acclimate your puritanical American mind to this, the happier everyone will be. Ladies, try it out if you dare!
3. When sitting on the beach, nothing tastes better than a caipirinha.
The caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, is truly a thing of beauty. So simple, yet so delectable, the caipirinha is the perfect drink to enjoy as you take in the exquisite sights and sounds surrounding you on the beaches of Rio. Even better, to acquire a caipirinha (or a second or third) you don’t even have to leave your chair or canga: Depending on where you find yourself on the beach, you’ll either have one of the hundreds of beach bars’ servers at your beck and call, or you can flag down one of the many wandering caipirinha men to quench your thirst and further your buzz from the comfort of your sandy seat.
4. Cheese on a stick is a beautiful thing.
The beaches of Rio are swarming with vendors selling all sorts of food, from açai to various meat pies to skewered shrimp, but nothing pairs better with the sunshine and waves (and caipirinhas) than queijo coalho. It’s a popular mild, firm, grilled cheese which is grilled, dusted with oregano, and served on a stick. It has a texture that’s somewhere between tofu and mozzarella, is the perfect snack between body surfing and sunbathing sessions. You might think sharing is caring, but when it comes to queijo coalho, make sure there’s enough cheese to go around by ordering many. Fighting over beach cheese is definitely not the carioca way.
5. Every Brazilian kid is better at soccer than you are.
In Brazil, there’s soccer (or futebol) and then everything else. Brazilians are obsessive, diehard fans and just about everyone plays, especially at the beach. Even for the Americans who grew up playing soccer, your skills are no match for the footwork and volleying on display at the beach in Rio. Everywhere you look there will be groups of (mostly) guys, standing around in circles and volleying soccer balls with complete ease. Even the younger groups are able to pass the airborne ball back and forth, using every part of their bodies from their heads to their shoulders to their knees, like its nothing, which for them it truly is. Sure, grab a ball and give it a shot, but at some point some eight-year-old will politely show you how it’s done and then it might be time to take a seat and admire the sunset (or your fellow beachgoers). And order another caipirinha.
Max Bonem is an Austin,TX-based writer and eater with a love of noodles and sipping ginger ale at 10,000 feet. He enjoys being wowed by the world around him, which he attempts to document here.