The beaches of Rio are the city's wondrous and carefree backyard. It's where cariocas (Rio residents) from all walks of life – rich and poor, young and old, black and white, svelte thin and beer-bellied – come to play and socialize against a backdrop of crashing waves and the ever-present green peaks towering over the city.
The Perfect Crowd
Although the mix is incredibly democratic, postos subdivide the beach into different sections, with each subculture drawn to its particular posto, whether that be favela kids, volleyballers, well-heeled families or the beauty crowd.
Sports are a big seaside draw, and entail surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, jogging, cycling and skating the beachside path, football, volleyball and futevôlei – that uniquely Brazilian combination of volleyball played with football-style rules (no hands allowed!). There's also frescobol, a simple game where two players with wooden rackets stand 10m apart and pound a rubber ball back and forth.
Sit Back & Relax
Many beachgoers, however, would rather just relax and enjoy the scene. For sun lovers, there’s much to take in: the sand, the sea, the food and drink vendors, the passing parade of people…
- Leave valuables at your hotel. Take only the cash you need for the beach.
- Don't use a towel on the beach – instead, sit on a chair or a kanga (sarong); Brazilian men stand or sit on the sand.
- Choose your spot, then find a barraca (stall) you like and hire chairs and sunshades from it.
- Don't bother bringing food or drink to the beach; support the local vendors.
By night, the energy on Rio’s streets is electric. All-night street parties in Lapa, old-school samba gafieiras (dance halls), impromptu jam sessions at outdoor bars, riotous dance floors presided over by celebrated DJs – Rio's nightlife is all this and much more. The only thing you have to do is show up.
Epicenter of Rio's samba scene, this atmospheric neighborhood on the edge of Centro always has something afoot. At weekends the party takes over and the streets are closed to traffic.
A much-loved institution in Rio, the boteco is a casual open-sided bar where cariocas (Rio residents) gather over ice-cold chopes (draft beer) and snacks. Eating is an essential part of Rio's drinking culture.
The pretty lagoon behind Ipanema and Leblon is a favorite spot for couples at night. Lakeside kiosks serve up cocktails and live music (as well as food) in tranquil open-air settings.
Blessed with tropical rainforest, towering peaks and sparkling seaside, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) offers some captivating ways to spend a sun-drenched afternoon. You can go hang gliding, surfing, biking, hiking, running and rock climbing amid spectacular scenery without leaving the city limits.
Although it will cost you a fair bit, hang gliding off Pedra Bonita is an unforgettable experience: just the pilot and you, soaring high over treetops and landing near the sea.
Sure, you can take the aerial tram to the top of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), but for an adrenaline rush and mesmerizing scenery, sign up for a rock-climbing trip to the top. The view will be all the sweeter.
There are superb waves all around Rio. For a quick fix, you can join the locals off Arpoador. More serious surfers should get a ride on the surf bus and head west to Macumba or Prainha.
Rio's tropical rainforest makes a fine setting for a hike. Head to the Floresta da Tijuca for hikes through lush forest followed by a dip in a waterfall.
The beachside bike path is great any time for cyclists, and you can plot a route from Leblon up through Flamengo, riding waterside for most of the journey. You can also take a scenic spin around Lagoa.
No matter where you are in the city, you won't have to travel far to get a dose of nature. Rio has abundant parks and green spaces, some quite small and manicured (Parque do Catete), and others veritable wildernesses (Floresta da Tijuca).
Parque do Flamengo
The landfill-turned-green-space is best on Sunday, when through streets close to traffic, and runners and cyclists claim the long, curving paths skirting the bay.
These stately botanic gardens make for a fine break from the beach. Here you can take in rare orchids, see massive Vitória Régia lilies and other Amazonian flora, and admire the palms planted when the Portuguese royals ruled from Rio.
Parque do Catete
Behind the former presidential palace, this small but elegant park is complete with a swan-filled pond and a gallery (and cinema) adjoining the green space.
Sítio Burle Marx
Far west of town, but worth the trip, the gardens of Rio's famous landscape architect bloom with thousands of plant species. The lush estate is full of history, which you'll discover on a guided tour.
Floresta da Tijuca
Rio's wide, rainforest-covered expanse is teeming with plant and animal life. You can take scenic or challenging walks, including rewarding scrambles up its 900m-high peaks.
- Make sure you have your Brazilian visa if you need one.
- Purchase travel insurance (or ensure that your home policy covers you in Brazil).
- Make arrangements to be able to use your mobile phone upon arrival.
- Download essential smartphone apps, including WhatsApp (used by nearly everyone in Brazil, including tour operators, guesthouse owners and some restaurants).
What to Take
- Good walking shoes
- Lightweight rain jacket (for those unexpected tropical downpours)
- Brazilian electrical adapter
- Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses
- A sarong (handy for the beach and as an extra towel)
- Language phrasebook, or useful translation apps on your phone
What to Wear
The dress code is very casual in Rio, but it's a good idea to bring along some dressy clothes for a night out (a dress or skirt-and-top ensemble for women, pants and a collared shirt for men). Given the heat and humidity, lightweight, natural, breathable fabrics are best.
On the beach, women generally wear tiny bikinis, and men wear tight swim trunks. Everyone flaunts it all, regardless of body shape and size.