The Carioca people of Rio de Janeiro are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches.
Iconic Copacabana and Ipanema each boast boisterous blue waves and perfect lengths of bright white sand set against a dramatic mountain backdrop. As Copacabana has become slightly seedy in recent years, Ipanema has become more glamorous, attracting the most beautiful and wealthy people in Rio, particularly to Posto 9.
These two divas aside, there is no shortage of fine alternatives dotting the coastline such as Prainha, Grumari and Praia Vermelha.
No wonder the beach has become like a second home for the Cariocas. Ever heard of the saying ‘When in Rome…’ ? Well here are ten ways to embrace Brazilian beach culture and make the most of your stay.
1. Get a Brazilian swimsuit
They may be tiny, but if you’re wearing anything other than a super skimpy Brazilian bikini or pair of swim shorts (sunga), then you’ll raise eyebrows. Topless bathing is forbidden here, so micro swimsuits have emerged as a way of maximising the body’s exposure to the sun, and the opposite sex. Head to Ipanema’s Rua Visconde de Piraja for an abundance of boutiques with bikinis in every style and colour. You’ll find the shop staff more than willing to help impart some Brazilian sexiness to an awkward gringo. Don’t have a body like Gisele Bűndchen? Worry not – not all Brazilians are blessed with hard pertness. The larger ladies quite happily let it all hang out without a second thought – follow their lead. It’s a great lesson in self-confidence.
2. Get a Brazilian wax
You’re all kitted up with the tiny swimsuit, so don’t let yourself down by forgetting the details. Stray hairs will be noticed and they will not be well received. After all, this is the birthplace of the Brazilian wax so consider it an important part of the cultural experience to give it a try. Yes, it will hurt, but when was there ever pleasure without a little pain? With the treatment costing a mere R$35, your wallet will certainly be a lot happier. Boys and girls can both get the treatment – waxing parlours are scattered amongst the streets, simply walk in and walk out.
3. Get a tan
Here, the tan is the all-important accessory. Cariocas spend hours baking to a nice, golden glow. It’s not uncommon to see ladies applying tanning oil on the beach with the aid of a paint brush. You’ve shopped and groomed, so now you just need to brown up, but do so safely – the Brazilian sun is hot. Never use less than SPF30, cool off regularly in the ocean and if you feel like you’re getting fried, head for the shade pronto. The key here is not to sweat, peel or turn an unattractive shade of lobster-red. Look gorgeous, stylish and sexually alluring, at all times – just like the Cariocas.
4. Admire the talent
That is what it is there for after all. The beauty of Brazilian beach culture is that people want to be admired, so long as they get to admire you in return – it’s a fair exchange. By exposing your body to the locals in your teeny swimsuit, you have just bought yourself a pass to perv on some of the best-looking people on the planet.
5. Tuck in
Tanning and looking good is hungry work. But it’s unlikely that you’ll want to tear yourself away from your sprawling spot on the beach. Fortunately, a stream of vendors will pour past you throughout the day selling tasty treats – tiny but tasty pies, skewered prawns, chunks of juicy pineapple, pots of superfruit acai. Be sure to have a go at the quejo cualho – a block of creamy white cheese on a stick smothered in herbs and honey that will be chargrilled on a little makeshift BBQ before your hungry eyes.
6. Get sporty
Lying around and eating cheese – it’s the recipe for a few extra pounds. Rio’s beaches offer ample opportunity for exercise. Take a break from bronzing to get active and get involved. Play volleyball or beach football or combine the two in the unique Brazilian sport footvolley, created in 1965 on Rio’s Copacabana beach. Or join the skaters as they roll along the promenade. Prefer a bit of alone time? Then go for a run, or take advantage of the Atlantic Ocean waves with a swim or surf.
7. Keep an eye on your stuff
Many a tired or drunken gringo has made the mistake of falling asleep on the beach, surrounded by easy to grab possessions. Not the best idea in Rio – although one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it’s also one of the most crime-ridden. Despite a recent record reduction in crime overall, street robberies are actually more common now than they were back in 2006. The general gist is that people want your stuff. You will more than likely awake to find everything down to your half-drunk can of Coke gone, so be vigilant.
8. Do some haggling
Need another new bikini, a pair of sunglasses or even earrings to wear out tonight? No need to move from your spot on the sand. Beach vendors with a wild assortment of wares eliminate the need to hit the shops. If you see something that you like, wave and then get set to bargain down the prices. Once you overcome the initial shyness, you may even find that you enjoy it.
9. Knock one back
As the sun starts to set over the Atlantic Ocean, no matter which of Rio’s beaches you are on, you will be wishing you had something cold in your hand. From ice cold beers to passionfruit caipirinhas, you can pretty much get hold of any tipple on a Rio beach. Your personal barman will serve you a chilled Skol beer or mix you a potent cocktail next to your spot on the sand. If there isn’t one to hand, run up to one of the beach bars spread along the length of the beach. Or if you’re not in the mood for boozing, then go for a green coconut, freshly hacked with the aid of a machete, or one of a colourful array of tropical juices.
10. Feel the rhythm
The crisp evening air often fills with the rhythmic pulse of samba drums, particularly during the frantic carnival season. A crowd gathers around the musicians, adding chanting and sometimes some energetic capoeira moves. The beats will probably get you in the mood to carry on the dancing in party district Lapa later that evening – on Friday nights the street party is the place to be, otherwise try Carioca da Gema or the Scenarium. But for now, enjoy the moment.