You’ll have plenty of room to relax on Barra da Tijuca’s sprawling beach. (Photo: Alamy)
To the east and west of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches lie little hideaway coves, secret surfer hangouts and nearly deserted stretches of silken sand. It is worth venturing a little farther than the city’s landmark beaches to really understand the carioca, or local, way of life and to make the most of Rio’s natural assets. Here are five beaches to seek out.
Barra da Tijuca
Barra da Tijuca is now remembered as the home of the 2016 Olympic Park, but the neighborhood on Rio’s western flank should be famous for its capacious beach. Measuring close to 12 miles in length with a wide expanse of sand to the shore, Barra is a seaside playground. It easily accommodates everyone from contemplative yogis, sun worshipers and dog walkers to windsurfers, kite surfers, boogie boarders and more. Some of the beach kiosks rent sports equipment and offer lessons, others serve snacks and ice-cold coconuts, cocktails and top-quality food. Many of Brazil’s telenovela stars live nearby and, if you are lucky, can sometimes be spotted relaxing on the sand.
Not far from Rio’s city center is a tight crescent beach with red-tinged sand that flows down to the glittering blue sea. Most visitors only glimpse Praia Vermelha from above when they arrive at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, but few venture down to the shore, which leaves the beach gloriously quiet. As it is protected by Sugar Loaf on one side and craggy cliffs on the other, its calm waters are ideal for leisurely water sports.
Paddleboards and kayaks can be rented from the stall holders on the beach and once aboard, heading out to sea offers dazzling views of Niterói, Rio’s sister city, and the distant hazy hills beyond. Bobbing around in the bay, it is possible to see the narrow opening to Guanabara Bay where the Portuguese first arrived in 1502 and, looking back toward the city, the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city.
For those in the know, Joatinga is the top pick of Rio’s beaches on weekends. Located between the beaches of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca, the road down to this cove is unmarked and manned by security guards who operate a gated entrance to the surrounding condominium. The beach is banked by high cliffs dotted with houses that one dreams of owning. A few steps and a short scramble across the rocks lead down to the water.
Once at sea level, Joatinga is a magical, secluded spot. Rio’s young hipster surfers and their friends occupy the small stretch of sand, trotting in and out of the waves with surfboards or playing football in the glistening shallows. Groups gossip, and the back-and-forth of beach games provides ample people-watching. Beware, however, that in winter tides can be too high to allow access to the beach, and during summer afternoons the sun drops quickly behind the hills, leaving sunbathers in the shadows.
Beyond, at neighboring Grumari, the feeling is of total escape from the hustle and bustle. The beach is shielded from any kind of development and served by only a few rustic kiosks. Green scrubland lies beyond the sand, eventually merging with the Mata Atlantica rainforest, where trails wind into the wilderness behind, leading to other, even more remote beaches.
Further along the coast, though still only about an hour from the city’s center, is a cluster of beaches that fall within an area of protected natural environment. It is where two of Rio’s most abundant and beloved natural features meet — the sea and the jungle. Prainha, or Little Beach, is about 2,000 feet long, and the waves here make it popular with surfers during the week and groups of picnicking families and friends on sunny weekends and holidays. A simple seafood restaurant, Mirante da Prainha, sits on the outcrop that separates this beach from the next. Lunch there need not be anything more than the catch of the day straight off the grill.