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Rio de Janeiro: City of Beaches

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Rio de Janeiro: 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 Ana Schlimovich
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    Between the São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca districts lies the exclusive quarter called Joá—Rio’s answer to Beverly Hills—amid whose mansions hides a secret next to zero visitors know: Joatinga Beach, a shoreline as incredible as it is hard to get to. For instance, there’s only low tide (yes, the beach is that small). And even though it’s officially public—as are all Brazilian beaches—you reach it by finding your way through the labyrinth of a built-up city neighborhood. To top it off, there’s no cell service and barely any internet. But the minute you tread the sand and wade into its turquoise waters, you forget all the rest, which is no easy trick in the middle of the city.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich
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    Forte de Copacabana
    At the end of Rio’s most famous beach rises a fortification from the early twentieth century. Built atop a rock formation, the fort now evinces a triple-attraction: its extraordinary placement, offering unparalleled views of Copacabana’s four-kilometer sand-and-surf strip; the fort itself, with its historical exhibits and military museum circuit; and its two cafés offering breakfast and all-day snacks along a leafy walkway stirred by tropical breezes. Perfect for a post-beach afternoon chill.
    Photo courtesy of Forte de Copacabana
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    Whoever visits Arpoador Rock will never forget it. Right at the start of Ipanema, at posto 7, a boulder juts out from the sea to become a natural amphitheater for anyone looking to enjoy an unforgettable sunset. At the end of the beach, now Leblon, the peaks known as Dois Irmãos rise; their rounded summits stand out against a sky that changes color as the sun disappears behind them. In summer, it goes down over the ocean, expanding dusk’s palette from brilliant blue to fiery orange. That’s when the people of Arpoador applaud in simple tribute. The next day it happens all over again.
    Photo by Diego Berruecos
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    Lagoa On Two Wheels
    One of the joys of Rio’s southern districts—this in a city of mountains and hills—is their flat topography and network of bike paths plus shared bicycles at stations all over the map. It’s as easy as downloading the Bike Rio app, grabbing one of the two-wheelers they call laranjinhas and heading out to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Five hundred meters from Ipanema beach and connected via canal, the lake is an idyllic postcard featuring the Tijuca jungles plus Corcovado in the background. All told, it’s eight kilometers around, with views that change at every curve—plus, don’t forget the city’s spectacular sunsets.
    Photo by Sávio Martins
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    Only in Rio can you happen on to a tropical paradise without leaving city limits. 35 kilometers west of Copacabana lies Prainha. The name calls up a small beach that’s in fact a sand formation in an ecological reserve surrounded by the Atlantic Rainforest’s complete variety of plant and animal life. Known as one of the city’s surfing meccas, it’s a gem for anyone keen on sun and waves. Eat fresh seafood right on the beach, and if you brought your board, there’s a “surf-bus” that connects to the city’s most popular tourist areas.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich
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    Picnicking in Aterro do Flamengo
    A 1965 park stretches the entire coast of Guanabara Bay, through districts like Gloria, Flamengo and Botafogo, and its lands reclaimed from the sea have become an open-air rec center open to all Cariocas. In a more than one-million-square-meter greenspace, the area called Aterro do Flamengo features playing fields, bike trails and, naturally, beaches (whose pollution, sadly, makes them unsuitable for swimming). There’s also lots of parkland for picnicking and, since 2016, the Marina da Glória, a pleasure port with smart bars and restaurants.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich
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    Cachoeiras de Horto
    Rio newcomers have a hard time believing you can swim beneath a jungle waterfall without leaving the city. But it’s a thing, and the ones who love it most are the Cariocas themselves, who know just how, and when, to hit the swimming holes called cachoeiras in Horto, itself a marvelous little neighborhood. Nestled between the Jardím Botânico and the Tijuca woods, a lane whose contours offer glimpses of brightly painted houses leads to a larger road and the Estrada Dona Castorina exit. The first of several falls is there, successively reached as you move deeper into the rainforest. Smart swimmers go at midday; since the area lies in shadow, temperatures are pleasant even in summer.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich
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    Parque Lage
    Perhaps the Jardim Botânico’s perfect go-along is found on the same street at a park that transports visitors to another age. A former sugar mill belonging to an elite family, the property also is home to a diminutive, architecturally eclectic palace from the early-twentieth century that today serves as a fine-arts academy. Its interior features a cloister and pool that are stunningly photogenic, with the jungle in the background and Cristo Redentor high above. You’ll even find a path there that leads to the Corcovado summit, suitable only for the heartiest adventurers. Mere mortals content themselves with a coffee on the patio or a leisurely garden stroll.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich
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    On The Santa Teresa Streetcar
    The sight of the little yellow streetcar rumbling across the Lapa aqueduct’s arches, making its way uphill to the neighborhood known as Santa Teresa, is a city classic. An accident had it shut down for five years and the new bondinho may lack some of its whilom authenticity (there used to be more locals aboard); yet the tropicalized Lisbon flavor of the neighborhood’s streets is still in place. Visitors can access points-of-interest such as the Parque das Ruinas aboard the trolley, then wander the district’s streets on foot till they reach the famed Selaron stairs that go back down to Lapa.
    Photo by Ana Schlimovich