Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous beaches are known for their stunning beauty – as are the cariocas (Rio residents) who strut, tan, and play on them. By far the most famous (and crowded) beaches are Copacabana and Ipanema. Copacabana enjoys 4 km/2.5 miles of white sandy beaches along the ocean shore, crystal blue waves and a lovely patterned-stone promenade. There’s an unofficial and cruisey gay section near the Copacabana Palace. Ipanema lies next to Copacabana and is home to world-class restaurants, shops, cafes, and nightlife. There’s also a burgeoning gay scene in the neighborhood.
The only beach that permits nudity is Abricó, and you’ll have to take a car or taxi to get there. But don’t fret. Beachwear in Rio leaves little to the imagination – most of the men will be wearing speedos or trunks.
There’s no shortage of food and drink available on the beaches and friendly vendors will come right up to you to sell anything from snacks to sunscreen. Try some of the local specialty cold drinks, like mate com limão (iced tea mixed with lemonade) or suco de laranja com cenoura (orange and carrot juice).
The monumental art deco statue “Christ the Redeemer” is one of Brazil’s best-known landmarks, and its sweeping position atop the Corcovado Mountain makes it one of the best places to see the city from. Completed in 1931, the Christ the Redeemer stands 30 meters/98 feet tall, on a sheer cliff 715 meters/2330 feet above sea level. The striking image earned it placement on the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World. There’s a funicular train up the mountain, and elevators and escalators to get you to the top.
The Botanical Gardens are both a beautiful park and a significant scientific laboratory. The lush, extensive collection includes plants from all parts of the world, including those from temperate climates. Listen carefully and keep your eyes peeled and you may even see small monkeys who’ve made the gardens their home, swinging from tree to tree.
The other major mountain site flanking Rio are the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountains). A two-staged funicular will bring you atop the pair of mountains – although you can hike the first half of the route and pick up the funicular mid-way. Watching the sunset from the Sugar Loaf Mountains is one of the most beautiful and romantic experiences you can have in Brazil.
Rio has a wide variety of museums that you can enjoy if the weather is bad. The story of Brazil’s turn from poor colonial outpost to independent empire to emerging global power is illustrated at the Museu Histórico Nacional (National Museum of History). Brazilian artists’ are the centerpieces of the quite successful Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) and the Museu de Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art). For a close look at one of Brazil’s biggest stars, check out the Museu Carmem Miranda (Carmem Miranda Museum), which is dedicated to the 1940s and 50s singer/actress.
Brazil’s most important contributions to music – samba, choro, and bossa nova – were born in Rio and you can experience them live in the bars and clubs of the Lapa district downtown. Lots of schools also offer samba dancing classes, which is a great way to really experience this part of the local culture. Check out Rio Samba Dancer for studios.