Rio de Janeiro has some of the best and most famous beaches in the world, along with a strict beach culture that Cariocas say should be followed if you want to fit in.
The best day in my opinion to see the beaches in Rio is on a Sunday. Any day with sun is a nice day to go to the beaches, but on Sunday I felt they really came to life. Half of the street along the beaches are closed, giving people extra room to bike, run, and walk. It seemed like every Carioca was at the beach on Sunday afternoon.
Each beach has a section with a posto (lifeguard tower) with a corresponding number. Supposedly each posto attracts a certain crowd – beautiful people, gays, athletes, older people, etc. I didn’t see much of a difference between people at the postos during my stay in Rio, and I didn’t let that stop me from visiting any beach sections.
Apparently, it’s not cool to take a towel to the beach. Women are expected to wear a sarong and spread it out to sit on the sand. Men are expected to be active. Again, I saw plenty of people with towels, but there are also plenty of chairs available to rent. I also saw plenty of men laying on the beach and plenty of women playing football or volleyball.
You’ll see lots of surfers, bodyboarders, and bodysurfers, but you’ll also see lots of people on stand-up paddle boards. These are very popular and you can find them for rent.
A lot of little food stands line the promenade along Copacabana beach. Don’t eat at them. The food is terrible. They’re great to grab a drink, but the food is not worth the trouble.
Safety on the beaches should be taken seriously. Do not take any valuables to the beach whatsoever. Take enough money for the day to rent a chair, eat, have a drink or snack, etc. Also, do not go to the beach after dark when they are deserted. You run a much higher risk of being mugged after dark.
Two beaches in particular are not popular and not worth visiting. They are Botafogo and Flamengo. Both are polluted and not safe for swimming. However, Botafogo has some of the best views of Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) and a local said people like to play football and volleyball at these beaches.