24 Hours in Rio de Janeiro: The easiest best beaches

It’s cliche to think of The Girl from Ipanema and feel corny when planning your beach excursions on a 24 hour jaunt to Rio de Janeiro, but the fact of the matter is, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches (they’re adjacent) are the among the best, easiest to access stretches of sand in the town. Located in the Zona Sul, the heart of tourist activity, they’re also the most popular. So what makes these two beaches better than the rest?

Part of it is the view. It’s easy to find sand, a few palm trees and a gentle ocean breeze anywhere between Malibu and Buenos Aires, but the landscape around Rio is what sets it above the rest. The massive, granite peaks that shoot out of the Atlantic Ocean are most breathtaking, and as you gaze south down the coast line you can see Sugarloaf Mountain and the cable cars sleepily ferrying passengers to the summit. Behind you, Christ the Redeemer gazes onward as always from Corcovado.

And part of the beach experience in Rio is, well, the view. Beauty fits into a wider spectrum in Brazil, with the beautiful people more attractive than anywhere in the world and the uglier more horrifying. Naturally this is exacerbated when you’re on the beach and everyone is wearing next to nothing.
But that’s part of the beach culture here. People come to the beach just to loaf around and socialize, and there’s an entire economy dedicated to revelers. Those that forgot a towel or beach chair or umbrella can rent one anywhere on the beach, and food, drink and trinket vendors snake through the crowds hawking their wares. On a busy warm Sunday, it can be hard to find a spot to pitch your umbrella, let alone take a seat.

The sand, weather and views are with the trip are worth it, however, and no good tourist should visit Rio without a trip to the beach. Be forewarned that the surf at both beaches is quite strong. Anyone braving the waters is subject to an extremely strong undercurrent, and those that aren’t carefully can easily be dragged away. At the minimum, due to constant currents you’ll exit the water far from the point that you entered.

24 Hours in Rio De Janeiro: The City Maravilhosa

It’s hard turning your back on a city as amazing as Rio de Janeiro, but circumstances, schedules and work sometimes can’t be avoided and you have to make the best with what little you have. A layover, wedding or funeral might leave one with only a free day in the city, far too brief a period to soak in the beautiful landscape, people and culture, but that’s no excuse to not sneak in for a shred of excitement and a swim in Ipanema.

So grab a day pack, your camera and a bottle of sunscreen – it’s going to be a busy day.

Getting cash and into the city is the first challenge. At Galeão – Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport, ATMs are mostly unmarked and located on the third floor, far above international arrivals. Heading to the end of the hall (as you look inward, to the left,) several international banks have cash machines – just check to see if they subscribe to the VISA or MasterCard before you dip your card, otherwise nothing will work.

The least expensive way to get into the city is via the Real bus, a lumbering, infrequent behemoth that pitches through the suburbs and slowly into the downtown area. It will only cost about $3.50USD ($3.50USD = R$7) and can be found on the international arrivals floor, but it can also take a frustratingly long time to reach the city, so for those on a tight schedule it’s best to take an airport taxi. Grab a yellow cab with a blue stripe and ask for the meter to make sure you get a good rate – it should cost about $25USD to get into Copacabana or Ipanema.
With only one night in the city, it’s important to stay near the activity, so a hostel or hotel in the above beach towns are highly recommended. Ipanema has the reputation of being slightly ritzier, cleaner and more expensive, and one can find a hotel or hostel in the area for $50 and $25 respectively.

After you’ve settled into your lodgings, it’s time to head out into the city. Stay tuned later this week for a tour through some of the best hot spots in Rio de Janeiro.