This article was written by Graham Vincent
‘O cidade maravilhosa’ The marvellous city – as Rio de Janeiro is affectionately known – is justified by many things. No more so than its beaches.
The main, and famous, city beaches are a hive of activity day and night. Copacabana is known worldwide, but just west lies the most exclusive beach neighbourhoods of Latin America; Ipanema and Leblon.
This is where the beautiful people hang out. Indeed, The Travel Channel voted Ipanema Beach as the sexiest beach in the world.
This is where a caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) in a trendy bar can cost more than in London, and this is where most visitors to Brazil for the World Cup 2014 will want to spend most of their time.
Immortalised by the Bossa Nova song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ in the 1960’s, Ipanema is more than a beach – it’s a way of life.
Cariocas – as residents of Rio Janeiro are colloquially known – hit the surf, while gringos soak up the rays and sample the wares of the multitude of beach vendors; cerveja (remember this one, meaning beer!), sarongs, juices, wristbands. The beach is split into ‘postos’ – posts – which represent different factions of Brazilian society; from artists to the young and beautiful to even a posto for gay people.
Groups of men play footvolley and beach volleyball, favela kids sit around and the female cariocas sun themselves and show off another Brazilian beach tradition; the micro-bikini.
The further outside the city proper Rio de Janeiro you go, the more pristine and wild the beaches become.
Venture east, on the Ponte President Costa e Silva (commonly known as the Rio-Niteroi bridge) across Guanabara Bay, through Niteroi and Icaraí, and you will discover some magnificent alternatives to the beaches of the Zona Sul (South Zone of Rio).
Some Portuguese language skills may be needed, as few tourists come this way, but that is part of the fun.
First, you will come to Itaipu, a small fishermen’s colony, where you can sit outside a beachside shack with a few beers and one of the tremendous seafood moqueca’s on offer.
Then going further east, Piratininga and Camboinhas, from where – on a clear day – you can make out the high rises of the Zona Sul, Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar) and the Morro Dois Irmaos (Two Sisters Hill), at the western end of Leblon beach.
And finally, worth the wait; Itacoatiara.
Itacoatiara is one of Rio de Janeiro states’ most beautiful beaches. It is considered a surfers’ paradise (it holds part of a surfers’ world circuit competition). The view from the summit of the peak overlooking the beach is breathtaking.
The best thing about Itacoatiara is on a weekday it is almost deserted (although perhaps not during the World Cup!).
West of the Zona Sul is the ‘Miami of Brazil’ – Barra da Tijuca. Many of the venues for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 will be here, and it is an affluent neighbourhood, exemplifying the inequitable wealth distribution so prevalent in Brazil.
Favelas – the Portuguese word for slums – are ubiquitous nearby, and Latin America’s largest slum, Rocinha, is just five miles away.
Gated communities line the 11 mile long beach – the largest in Rio de Janeiro – which is a haven for volleyball, surfing, and many other water sports.
If the beaches of Rio don’t charm you, the carioca hospitality will. According to a survey published in American Scientist Magazine, the cariocas of Rio de Janeiro exhibited great friendliness and tend to offer to help in various situations.
A quote from the article states: “There is an important word in Brazil: ‘simpático’ (or ‘carismático’). It refers to a range of desirable social qualities – to be friendly, nice, agreeable, and good-natured. A person who is fun to be with and pleasant to deal with…Brazilians, especially the Cariocas of Rio, want very much to be seen as ‘simpático’. And going out of one’s way to assist strangers is part of this image.”
Regardless of how enamoured you become by Rio’s beaches, nightlife, music, culture or women, expect to be driven mad by ‘Hora Inglesa’.
Strict punctuality is thought to be an English custom in Brazil, and is thus called ‘hora inglesa’ – English time. It can be common to arrange to meet at 8pm and still be waiting at 10! Brazilian culture – social life in particular – is less time-bound, and more relaxed, than English life.
It’s no wonder, then, that the beach is so synonymous with Brazil and that Brazilians like to spend so much time there!