No Beach Towels! Beach Etiquette in Rio de Janeiro

Culture/History, Rio de Janeiro — By NileGuide staff on April 14, 2009 at 10:15 am

Rio de Janeiro is famous for its beautiful beaches (and the beautiful Brazilian girls and boys that populate them), and it would be a strange traveler indeed that would visit the cidade marivilhosa (‘wonderful city’) without paying a visit to Copacabana and Ipanema.

What many tourists don’t realize, however, is that cariocas (Rio natives) have developed a complex set of unwritten rules when it comes to beach etiquette. For starters, where you head to on the beaches of Rio says a lot about your social status and lifestyle.

Considered the less chic of the two legendary beaches, Copacabana attracts vast numbers of tourists, making the beach a favorite hangout for beach vendors hawking everything from sarongs and beach chairs to grilled cheese and ice cold beer. Heading up the beach towards Ipanema, you’ll arrive first at Arpoador, a quiet spot popular with Brazilian surfers and dominated by a giant rock that juts out into the crashing waves – a beautiful spot for catching the spectacular sunset over Rio.

Further along the beach, you’ll reach Ipanema. Holidaymakers looking for their own girl from Ipanema (or boy from Ipanema!) will find the most beautiful Brazilian girls and their male counterparts at Posto 9, the hippest of the hangouts on Rio’s beaches. The gay area of the beach is marked by a giant rainbow flag, just in front of Rua Farme do Amoeda.

Beautiful Brazilians

Wherever you choose to lay your sarong (and it must never be a beach towel, Brazilians don’t do beach towels!), you’ll need to observe certain rules of etiquette if you want to fit in with the locals and not stand out as a gringo tourist! Firstly, the swimwear. The Brazilian ‘dental floss’ bikini is legendary, but not as common as popular belief would have it. Sadly for male visitors, the teeniest of bikinis are actually more popular with ladies of a certain age than with tanned and toned Brazilian beauties. That said, bikinis are very small. Busty Brazilian girls pay little regard to finding the ‘correct’ size and as a result are often popping out all over the place, much to male beachgoers’ delight! Note that, however teeny weeny the bikini, sunbathing topless is prohibited on Rio’s beaches. The beaches of Rio are a democratic space, and all manner of shapes and sizes can be spotted here, so no one need obsessively hit the gym before squeezing themselves into a Brazilian bikini. Likewise, Carioca men like to showcase their physiques in tiny Speed-style trunks. Interestingly, it’s a bit of a social no-no for guys to lie down on the beach – hence they can be found jumping in the waves, playing beach sports, or simply standing, hand on hips, as though admiring the view.

Beach towels are a major social faux pas – women should bring along a sarong (these can double as dresses or skirts for those staying close to the beach). Sadly, pickpockets are all too present on Rio beaches, so don’t bring along more money than you need, leave cash cards at home, and keep cameras out of sight. Above all, don’t leave your bag unattended while you take a dip – it’s unlikely to still be there when you wake up!

Photos courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Tags: beach etiquette, beaches, Copacabana, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro


  • Tyler says:

    These are really great tips! I would have been lying on my towel, on the beach, with my camera, credit cards, and cash and had NO idea I was breaking every rule in the book! Nice post Lucy!

  • Lisa says:

    Oh for a gloriously sunny beach and someone hawking me ice cold beer…not the bikini though. The sight of my pasty white bum wont do much for international relations 😉

    Good article, will bear it in mind if I ever convince the other half to venture out of Suffolk!

  • Tundé says:

    Love your writing style, Lucy. The beach etiquettes are definitely very useful, especially, for those likely to make an otario of themselves.

  • cheap travel tips says:

    Great advice. I haven’t seen this written anywhere before. Also avoid the beaches at night where roving gangs of armed kids rob tourists.

  • Lauren says:

    Nice article Lucy! I would also add not to use one of those Brazilian flag sarongs on the beaches there too. Buy one by all means, take it home and drape it over your sofa so that everyone will know you have been to the COOLEST country in the world, but don’t flash it around in Rio unless you want to be easily identified as a gringo.

  • Holiday Ideas says:

    No chance of not being id’d as a Gringo as my flourescent white body will attest – beach towel or not!

  • Shawana Harrold says:

    Interessantes Thema. Ich bin zwar nicht ganz deiner Meinung, aber das ist ja auch kein Forum hier. Bleib am Ball.

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