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Introducing Copacabana & Leme

With the construction of the neoclassical Copacabana Palace Hotel in 1923, Copacabana – and Rio – became South America's most elegant destination, one frequented by international celebrities. Copacabana remained Rio's untarnished gem until the 1970s, when the area fell into decline. Today's Copa is a chaotic mix of discount stores and noisy traffic-filled avenues, with a humming red-light district and slightly edgy streets. While paradise it clearly is not, the beach remains beautiful. Framed by mountains and deep blue sea, the magnificent curve of shoreline stretches more than 4km.

Packing the beach are sun-worshippers of every age and background – from favela kids to aging socialites, to tourists and families from the Zona Norte. Copacabana's democratic mix, old-school botecos, eclectic restaurants and nightclubs, myriad shops and of course the handsome shoreline still entrance many visitors. While the cool kids cling to Ipanema and Leblon, Copacabana seems poised on the edge of a renaissance. Its glassy kiosks have brought class to the neighborhood, while 'Baixo Copa' is becoming a nightlife destination.

The small neighborhood of Leme, just northeast of Copacabana (Av Princesa Isabel divides the two), has a village feel, with its mix of old-timers, upper-middle-class families and favela residents. The lack of major roads through Leme creates a more peaceful vibe, and the oceanfront restaurants make for a more relaxing setting for a drink than the buzzing Copacabana strip.