One long stretch of sun-drenched sand, Ipanema Beach is demarcated by postos (posts), which mark off subcultures as diverse as the city itself. Posto 9, right off Rua Vinícius de Moraes, is where Rio’s most lithe and tanned bodies migrate. The area is also known as Cemetério dos Elefantes because of the handful of old leftists, hippies and artists who sometimes hang out there. In front of Rua Farme de Amoedo is Praia Farme, the stomping ground for gay society.
Posto 8 further east is mostly the domain of favela kids. Arpoador, between Ipanema and Copacabana, is Rio’s most popular surf spot.
Leblon attracts a broad mix of single cariocas, as well as families from the neighborhood. Posto 10 is for sports lovers, where there are ongoing games of volleyball, soccer and frescobol (beach tennis played with wooden rackets and a rubber ball).
Whatever spot you choose, you'll enjoy cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana. Keep in mind that if you go on a Saturday or Sunday, the sands get crowded. Go early to stake out a spot.
The word ipanema is an indigenous word for ‘bad, dangerous waters’, which is not far off given the strong undertow and often oversized waves that crash onto the shore. Be careful, and swim only where locals do.