by Doug Gray, The Telegraph, January 22, 2019
Lined with golden sand along its southern and eastern extremities, Rio’s glorious beaches inform its leisure, fashion and social make-up. A constant stream of vendors hauls everything from barrels of iced tea and barbecued cheese to trays of cocktails, keeping the buzz very much alive. Swimming, surfing, beach volleyball, jogging and an awful lot of lounging are all de rigeur, as are skimpy trunks and bikinis, so hire a deck chair and parasol and kick back for one of the best lazy afternoons imaginable.
Praia de Copacabana
Copacabana beach is one of the most famous on the planet: the iconic, waved boardwalk design, tiny bikinis and striking landscape make for the classic Rio beach experience. Its middle section, from postos (lifeguard towers) three to six, is where the sand is widest but the waves are at their wildest. Dotted with kiosks every few hundred metres, there is no shortage of places to grab a beer or snack, and the tireless beach hawkers do their bit to keep everyone refreshed, too. Pitch up near posto six, where the waters are calmer and more conducive to swimming or paddleboarding.
Getting there: Metrô Cantagalo
Praia de Ipanema
As Copacabana beach became crowded, so upmarket Ipanema became the retreat for the fashionably alternative carioca youth. The postos define the tribes that grace the sands. Around posto eight, families play in the pools formed at low tide, while between postos eight and nine, the rainbow flags clearly demarcate the LGBTQ+ friendly barracas (tents) that hire out everything from deckchairs and parasols to massages. Posto nine became the cool local hotspot in the Eighties before more recently migrating up towards the famous Coqueirão, the big palm tree where today students and stoners mix with young professionals and preening, bronzed bodies.
Getting there: Metrô General Osório
Praia do Arpoador
Standing on Arpoador rocks with several hundred people all applauding the sun as it sets into the ocean can either sound like a life-affirmingly beautiful event or hippy nonsense, but summer’s annual collective celebration has an undeniable magic. When the swell is up at Arpoador, the waters off the beach offer the best surfing break in the city, with swimming forced further down towards Ipanema. First-timers with a board should expect a less than welcoming reception from the locals. On hot days, it is here that the best of the evening beach action is to be found.
Getting there: Metrô General Osório
Any visit to Sugarloaf Mountain should factor in a few precious moments on Praia Vermelha, the most dramatic and downright jurassic of all Rio’s beaches. Fishermen perch on the smooth sloping rock while Sugarloaf towers overhead. The beautiful colonial architecture of the few visible buildings adds to the odd sense of antiquity. The angle of the beach to the open sea means that the water quality can be changeable, but swimming is mostly fine and the sand is the texture of brown sugar. Round off a trip with a walk along Claudio Coutinho trail at the foot of Sugarloaf itself.
Getting there: Bus 512 to Urca; or taxi (around R$15/£3 from Copacabana)
Praia do Leme
Leme is one of the city’s smaller neighbourhoods, and its beach is almost the same size as its residential area. The wide sands are perfect for a range of activities, be it slacklining between the palm trees by posto um (lifeguard tower one), volleyball on the courts by the roadside or bodyboarding on the break that whips off the rocks at its eastern extremity. In the summer, head to those same rocks at sunset for caipirinhas, live music and DJs. When a full moon rises behind Leme's rocks, it really is a sight to behold.
Getting there: Metrô Cardeal Arcoverde and connecting bus 590
Praia do Leblon
A canal running from the Lagoa neighbourhood separates Ipanema and Leblon's beaches, at the mouth of which the water can be dirty after heavy rains, so most people hang out around lifeguard towers 11 and 12. In a neighbourhood with some of the continent’s most expensive real estate, the beach is suitably calm and family friendly. Ex-footballers and TV stars kick back, Skol beer is guzzled like water and it is impossible not to be drawn into the wonderfully relaxed nature of it all. A kids' play area by tower 12 gives parents a little breathing space.
Getting there: Metrô Antero de Quental
Praia do São Conrado
The hills of São Conrado are filled not just with luxurious homes of the well-to-do, but also one of the biggest favelas in Latin America, Rocinha, providing a dramatic backdrop to a beach somewhat cut off from Zona Sul. Amateur and semi-pro surfers from the favela invariably occupy the water at the rougher eastern end of the beach, while at the other, clear blue water makes for excellent swimming. Though perhaps not worth the trip for anyone yet to experience Ipanema or Copacabana, the unique sight of local hang-gliders and paragliders soaring down to the sand is quite something.
Getting there: Metrô São Conrado
Praia da Barra
It might have a bad reputation as Rio’s home of the faceless mall and endless condominiums, but Barra also has a beach to die for. All 18km (11 miles) of it. Stick to the area along Avenida Pepe and look on as kite-surfers rule the roost when the winds get up, creating an impressive backdrop of speeding canopies and flying boards. Heading further west, the sunbathers become more and more spread out and the rolling waves bring traditional surfers to the water. The consistent break can cause some strong currents so bathers should never stray too far from the shore.
Getting there: Metrô Jardim Oceânico
When the high-rises of Barra peter out in the distance, a short climb up and over the headland brings the rustic surf haven of Prainha into view. The cove makes for excellent surfing conditions but currents can make swimming extremely dangerous. The threat of development hangs over the area, but for now the lack of any buildings in sight beyond the occasional wooden fish restaurant is almost as refreshing as the ice-cold coconut water. For those without a car, the Surf Bus ( surfbus.com.br ) is a convenient, inexpensive alternative, but be sure to check return times.
Getting there: Surf Bus; or taxi (around R$160/£33 from Copacabana)
Praia do Flamengo
The water might be on the murky side in Flamengo, but that doesn’t stop the locals cooling off and splashing around. Word to the wise, however: the Guanabara Bay beaches are never officially given the green light as suitable for swimming in terms of clean waters. Instead, stretch out on the sand and take in the action and landscape all around. From futvolei (football combined with volleyball) to paddle-boarding, there is constant movement to go with all the sunbathing, while on public holidays a real family atmosphere descends with picnics spread out and music filling the air.
Getting there: Metrô Flamengo