White sands, crashing waves, swaying palms and bronzed, beautiful bodies clad in the teeniest of swimsuits – the beaches of Rio de Janeiro are a sunseeker’s paradise. When the sun shines, it seems like the whole city heads to the beach, but visitors will have little difficulty finding their own perfect spot in the sun.
Deciding just where to lay your sarong (always a sarong, never a beach towel!) may well be the most challenging decision you have to make during your stay in Rio. Opinion is divided as to which is the ‘best’ beach in the city, and a lot comes down to personal taste. Copacabana and Ipanema need no introduction, of course, and both offer dramatic mountain backdrops and impressive waves that are better for surfing than swimming. While many people consider Ipanema to be the most chic of the two legendary city beaches, it gets exceptionally crowded at weekends and public holidays, and visitors will find much more elbow room at the Leme end of Copacabana.
Those who just can’t choose between Ipanema and Copacabana should check out Arpoador, which sits conveniently between the two. The sands at Arpoador are less crowded than those of its more celebrated neighbours, and the giant rock which juts out into the ocean is a wonderfully romantic spot to take in the sunset over the city.
But while all three of these beaches are stunning, many locals argue that the city’s best beaches lie a little further off the beaten track. One beautiful little spot that is all too often overlooked by tourists is Praia Vermelha, the little spit of sand that sits at the base of Sugar Loaf mountain. The water here is calm and good for swimming (although it can be very dirty after a day of rain), and the military base next door makes this one of the safest spots in the city for sunbathing. Families flock here at weekends, but during the week the beach is refreshingly uncrowded.
To truly escape the tourist hordes, however, it’s well worth taking a bus ride out to the Western limits of the city. The 14-kilometer stretch of golden sands at Barra da Tijuca, for example, attracts many tanned and toned locals, but very few tourists. The sprawling shopping malls and towering apartment complexes of Barra da Tijuca are not to everybody’s taste however, and those looking to feel a little more at one with nature should head to the neighboring beaches of Recreio and Grumari. Wonderfully deserted during the week, these hidden beauty spots are a world away from the packed praias of Rio’s touristy Zona Sul (South Zone). Buses run to Recreio from Centro, Copacabana, Ipanema and all spots in between, but Grumari can only be reached by car or on foot. You’ll need to get here early on weekends and public holidays, as beach space is limited and access is closed off when Grumari starts to get full.
Photo: Praia Vermelha, courtesy of Lucy Bryson