Copacabana beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world. The word Copacabana itself creates images of hundreds of perfect bodies on a crowded beach, men and women flirting with each other, playing football, working out, or laying out for a tan. In reality, it’s not like that at all except for the crowded part. In fact, it’s so touristy, I wasn’t as impressed by the beach as I thought I would be. Beautiful, yes. Mythical, no.
Copacabana, named after Copacabana in Bolivia, is included in Rio de Janeiro’s UNESCO World Heritage listing. It’s 4km long and features a fort built in 1914 on its southern end, Forte de Copacabana. There’s a promenade running along the length of the beach. It was designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx and features a black and white geometric wave in a Portuguese pavement design.
Walking along the promenade, it’s possible to encounter lots of sand castle artists with very imaginative designs.
There are lots of hotels across the street from the beach, but the one that sticks out the most is the historic Copacabana Palace. The luxury hotel was built in 1923 and has hosted heads of state and celebrities from all over the world. It has 216 rooms and an exclusive swimming pool for VIP guests along with a three story spa and three bars and restaurants.
A couple blocks in from the beach on Sundays is a large market. It’s interesting to see the variety of fruits and vegetables available, along with Cariocas shopping for meats and fish. There are even a few food stands where you can try a pastel (like an empanada) and caldo de cano (sugar cane juice).
A small stretch of beach to the east of Copacabana at Avenida Princes Isabel is Leme. It’s a much quieter beach than Copacabana with little action. Leme means “rudder”, and it’s named for Morro do Leme, a small mountain at the end of the beach that looks like a ship’s rudder. Forte Duque de Caxias is located on top of Morro do Leme.
When I visited Leme, the United Buddy Bears, painted bears from around the world, were on display. That was the most interesting thing about the beach.
It was fun to walk around and see what each country submitted to the exhibition. Some of them played to the country’s stereotype while others made no sense at all.