May 13, 2014

Article at Conde Nast Traveller

Rio's best beaches

The best beaches in Rio de Janeiro

The best beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is gearing up for a sporting summer, but the kind of action we like best is found down at the beach. Sarah Gibbons picks out the best beaches in and around the city, whether it's volleyball you seek, samba in the sand, or the grooviest rum shack in Brazil.

COPACABANAThe city beach for fun-loving sun-worshippers

THE VIBE No Rio beach guide is complete without one of the world's most famous stretches of sand: Copacabana. Lying in the shadow of the famed Sugarloaf Mountain, the four-kilometre-long beach is a hub of activity all year round. When the sun is shining, it seems most of the city's bronzedcariocas (locals) head here to play football, toast themselves and party at the innumerable caipirinha kiosks and bars along the back of the beach. The rocky outcrop at the south end is Arpoador, popular with the city's surfing community, and one of the best spots in the city for watching the sunset, caipirinha in hand, as Rio transforms from day to night.

DON'T MISS Soak up the atmosphere by walking the length of the wave-patterned mosaic sidewalk, past the iconic Copacabana Palace Hotel. Just try to resist singing the Barry Manilow song that contributed to its fame.

FIND IT In the Zona Sul, running alongside the neighbourhoods of Copacabana and Arpoador.

STAY Where else but the Gold List-winning, just-keeps-getting-better Copacabana Palace Hotel (00 55 21 2548 7070;

Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro

ILHA GRANDE For a chilled-out, off-the-beaten-track island getaway.

THE VIBE Mountainous jungle, hidden turquoise coves, a mellow island atmosphere… it is not hard to imagine why this remote patch of paradise was once popular with pirates, who lay in wait for the Spanish ships carrying treasure from the Americas. These days Ilha Grande - which remains car-free still - is more popular with laid-back travellers playing out castaway fantasies. Days here are spent lazing in swaying hammocks, strolling one of the many pristine beaches around the island or exploring the miles of jungle trails where you'll likely not see another soul for hours.

DON'T MISS One of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in Brazil, Lopes Mendes, which is only accessible by boat (and a short hike). Azure seas, a glorious crescent of golden sand and blissful silent seclusion.

FIND IT Charter a boat from Rio, or take the ferry to Vila Abraão on Ilha Grande from Mangaratiba or Angra dos Reis, three hours down the coast from Rio de Janeiro. The ferry takes around one hour. And bring cash with you - there are no ATMs on the island.

STAY Sagu Mini Resort, not really a resort at all but a collection of delightful traditional buildings surrounded by tropical forest on Praia Brava (00 55 24 3361 5660;

Búzios Brazil

Búzios, Brazil

BUZIOS St Trop chic, a day trip from Rio de Janeiro.

THE VIBE Ever since a bikini-clad Brigitte Bardot dipped her toes into the turquoise waters off Armação dos Búzios in 1964, this once-small fishing village has garnered quite a reputation amongst the international jet set (there's even a Pacha club here). Búzios is dubbed the 'St Tropez of Brazil' - not just thanks to the Bardot connection, but also to its buzzing Riviera-esque atmosphere, high-spending sunseekers, café-lined streets and hidden stretches of sand, hugged by the area's many rocky coves.

DON'T MISS Take a stroll along Orla Bardot, a picturesque oceanfront promenade, home to several statues by sculptor Christina Motta, including one of Brigitte gazing out to sea.

FIND IT A scenic two-hour drive (drive or hop on a bus from Rio) across the Rio-Niterói Bridge over Guanabara Bay.

STAY Casa Brancas Boutique Hotel & Spa, Orla Bardot (00 55 21 2623 1458;; Pousada Vila do Mar, Centro (00 55 21 2623 1466;

Paraty Brazil

Paraty, Brazil

PARATY For desert-island-hopping and buzzy beach bars.

THE VIBE An enchanting beach hideaway from a bygone era, the entire Portuguese colonial town of Paraty is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historically it was one of the most important cachaça (sugar-cane rum) producers in Brazil, and an important outpost in the 18th-century gold trade; but today the small fishing town is revered for its beautifully preserved architecture, charming cobbled streets and thriving café culture, abuzz with weekenders from both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. But it's what lies beyond the historic centre that really beguiles travellers who venture onto its shores: lush rainforest and picture-perfect beaches, not to mention the 65 idyllic islands dotted around the Bay of Paraty.

DON'T MISS Sail out to some of the many islands - some of the most beautiful beaches can only be reached by boat - and snorkel in the crystal-clear waters.

FIND IT Paraty is west of Rio de Janeiro on the Costa Verde (Green Coast), a three-hour drive from the city along the BR-101 coastal highway.

STAY Maisons des Rêves Paraty, Rua Dona Geralda 25, Paraty, Brazil (+33 1 45 44 09 53;

Cabo Frio Brazil

Cabo Frio, Brazil

CABO FRIO The beach retreat for snorkelling, surfing and seafood. THE VIBE Named after its crystal-clear water, which stays refreshingly cold all year round, Cabo Frio is mostly popular with weekending cariocas, families, surfers, divers and other water-sports enthusiasts. One of the most popular spots is Praia das Conchas, a curving, shell-shaped beach (hence its name) where you can enjoy stunningly clear water - perfect for snorkelling - and some of the best seafood in the area. Or, head to Praia das Dunas to watch the surfers in action. The town, which dates back to the 1600s, hasn't got quite the glamorous reputation of neighbouring Búzios; the upside is that you can expect to spend far less cash here. DON'T MISS The nearby coastal destination of Arraial do Cabo has its own selection of stunning beaches to explore, as well as the famous Blue Grotto cave and its cobalt-blue lake. FIND IT A three-hour drive north of downtown Rio. The easiest way to get to Cabo Frio is by bus, though hiring a car may be the best option in order to explore its numerous beaches.

Ipanema beach Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro

IPANEMA For high-end hedonism and beautiful-people watching.

THE VIBE Another of Rio's neighbourhoods immortalised in song, Ipanema is Copacabana's more upmarket counterpart. The main attraction is the legendary stretch of spotless flour-white beach, overlooked by the Two Brothers Mountain. Different crowds tend to congregate in separate areas of the beach, marked out by lifeguard posts. Ipanema is the home of the skimpy bikini, and many swimwear trends have started life here - this is the place to buy designer swimwear from the countless boutiques. The surrounding area, including neighbouring Leblon, is also packed with chic cocktail bars, restaurants and art galleries and museums.

DON'T MISS The hippie fair (official name: the Handcrafts & Art Fair of Ipanema), held on Sundays.

FIND IT Ipanema is sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of stylish Leblon and Arpoador, in the south of the city.

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