Rio: City of Beaches

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Rio: City of Beaches
With their dramatic views and vibrant culture, Rio de Janeiro’s beaches draw travelers seeking sun, scenery, and a taste of the Carioca lifestyle.
Photo by Gonzalo Azumendi/age fotostock
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    Find Your Perfect Beach Scene
    Each of Rio’s famous beaches has a unique vibe, but you’ll feel welcome on every shore. It’s all about which crowd suits your taste for people-watching. Ipanema’s famous Posto 9 is where the young, wealthy, and tanned go to see and be seen. Leblon is popular with families, and surfers flock to Arpoador. Its rocky crags are home to fishermen hoping for a catch and couples hoping for a kiss. On the sands of Copacabana you can watch the rich and famous, or at least the very wealthy, traipse in and out of the famous Belmond Copacabana Palace hotel.
    Photo by Gonzalo Azumendi/age fotostock
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    The World’s Prettiest Gym
    The sparkling sea serves as a backdrop for what can only be described as the world’s prettiest gym. Rio’s athletes tend to hang out on the shores of Ipanema. This is the best spot to watch (or join) a pick-up football game. Pull up a chair, and you’ll quickly understand why this country has the greatest number of World Cup victories under its belt. Even the amateur football players are amazing. Keep an eye out for games of futevôlei, volleyball played with the feet instead of the hands, and frescobal, similar to paddle ball. Rio’s beaches are also popular with runners and power walkers, who cut through the sand in bathing suits and bare feet.
    Photo by Helen Anne Travis
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    Family Time on the Beach
    Spending family time on the beach is an important tradition in Rio. All along the sand, nets a few feet high are made for child-sized games of volleyball or futevôlei, volleyball played with the feet instead of the hands. The international language of childhood allows visiting kids to easily join in on a pick-up game with local little ones. Leblon beach’s Baixo Bebê is a kids' paradise, complete with a large enclosed playground and inflatable kiddie pools, a tamer alternative to the ocean’s strong surf. You’ll know you’re there when you see a line of strollers on the black-and-white-tiled beach sidewalk.
    Photo by Laurent Guerinaud/age fotostock
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    The Beach as Work of Art
    Stroll along the beachfront sidewalks and you’re likely to run into Edgar Allan Poe, the Pope, and even Santa Claus. Or at least their sandy twins. Talented sand sculptors frequent Rio’s shores, creating celebrity lookalikes, sleeping dragons, and miniature versions of the city’s famous landmarks out of sand. Delicate castle spires tower four feet above the ground. The sandy arms of Christ the Redeemer float without any visible support over a miniature Corcovado mountain. The most impressive work can be seen on Copacabana beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a sand artist in action.
    Photo by John Banagan/age fotostock
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    What to Pack for a Day at the Beach
    What should you pack for a day at Rio’s beaches? Nothing. Do like the locals do and get whatever you need from the vendors who sell everything from beer and hot sandwiches to inflatable kiddie pools and coloring books. As they patrol the shores, vendors twirl umbrellas weighed down with bathing suit tops, juggle inflatable balls, and shake castanets while declaring their wares. None are overly aggressive, and they’re quick to call another hawker over if they don’t have the exact sarong pattern or hat shape you are after. Have fun, and bargain a little. You’re likely to save a few reals with little effort.
    Photo by Gonzalo Azumendi/age fotostock
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    Car-Free Sundays
    On Sundays, the roads next to Rio’s beaches are closed to traffic until the early evening. Pedestrians, bikers, and rollerbladers take over. Rent a bike, and enjoy having roads normally clogged with cars all to yourself. You’ll pass dance parties, street musicians, and vendors selling beer and coconuts. Pay a few reals to see how your skills compare to the tightrope walkers prancing across slack lines strung between the palm trees on Copacabana beach. The traffic-free days are popular with families, and you’ll see several generations cruising the city together on two wheels.
    Photo by Ian Trower/age fotostock
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    Surf with the Locals
    Whether you want to join the fun or just watch it, you’ll find plenty of surf spots in and around Rio. The swells of Arpoador beach are the most popular in the city. Get there early to avoid the crowds. (Or get there late to watch the crowds.) Surfers will also find fairly consistent breaks near Leblon and Ipanema. Just outside Rio, Macumba and Prainha beaches are well known to wave riders. If you’re new to surfing, join a local school like Rio Surf n Stay. They will give you gear, a few lessons, and simple overnight accommodation so you can hit the beach first thing the next morning.
    Photo by John Banagan/age fotostock
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    Enjoy the Beach without Getting Wet
    Sun worshipers who don’t want to get wet or overly sandy can take refuge at the small kiosks that line Rio’s city beaches. Here, you grab a chair, a bite, and a beer, and work on your tan while taking in the jagged coastline and shimmering sea. The kiosks, which range from funky shacks to modern steel-and-glass structures, are perfect for a quick lunch of crepes, sandwiches, or fish patties covered in a mysterious but delicious spicy sauce. While the beaches are normally deserted after dark, you’ll find a good crowd gathered at these well-lit sidewalk stands in the evenings. Copacabana's Deck Zero Nove kiosk is popular with travelers.
    Photo by Carrie Logie
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    Escape the Crowds
    Rio’s beaches are famous. Sometimes too famous. For a more tranquil experience, seek out the solitude of Rio’s lesser-known shores. The secluded cove of Prainha Beach offers travelers a bigger patch of sand and clearer waters than Copacabana. At Itacoatiara Beach, the dramatic cliffs and jungle-like greenery will have you feeling like you’re on a different planet. Both beaches are popular with surfers. Buy a hot fish sandwich and watch locals ride the waves into shore. All of Rio’s beaches are more peaceful during the weekdays and in the low season (May through September).
    Photo by Hellokitae