On our second visit to Rio we stayed in Zona Sul, home to Copacabana and Ipanema beach. We immediately preferred it to Lapa. Our hostel was located just 4 blocks from Copacabana beach and the atmosphere was immensely different. Copacabana stretches for 5 kilometers in an arc across south Rio until it reaches the Copacabana fort and Arpoador, where it continues into Ipanema and Leblon beach for another several kilometers. The weather cooperated great and we headed straight for the beach upon our arrival.
We arrived on a Saturday, so the beach was packed with locals and tourists alike. We found a nice place to lay our towels and settled in for the afternoon. The waves along the beach are enormous, but it’s so hot and humid it doesn’t stop anyone from cooling off in the water. We had to be so vigilant with sunscreen while at the beach, but managed to avoid getting burnt (except for the tops of our feet).
You can’t spend very long at the beach without noticing how many people make their livelihoods from it. There are locals roaming the beach all day selling every kind of product imaginable. The first people you notice are those renting beach chairs. It seems each person manages a different area of the beach and as soon as you enter their section, they try and get you to rent a chair or umbrella from them. Then there are the people selling beach goods, from towels and cover-ups, to sunscreen, bikinis, sunglasses, hats, beach buckets, and even inflatable children’s pools. Finally, there’s the people selling food and drinks. They’re my favourite, you could easily spend the whole day on the beach without having to go in search of food. There are guys selling sandwiches, mozzarella sticks, prawn skewers, chips, ice cream, and our favourite, acai! The second day we went to the beach Emily flagged the acai guy down from halfway up the beach! The last are those selling drinks. I still find it very strange that drinking alcohol in public is legal in Brazil, so there are tons of guys roaming the beach all day with coolers of beer and trays of caipirinhas.
On our first day, we decided to walk up Copacabana Beach to the Arpoador in Ipanema to watch the sunset. The Arpoador is a huge rock that juts out into the ocean between Copacabana and Ipanema. It has a great view of the sunset over the mountains and was packed with people on every inch of the rock on Saturday evening! We found a spot and enjoyed watching surfers ride the waves as the sun dipped behind Ipanema.
It was calling for a cloudless day on Sunday, so we decided to attempt to see Sugarloaf and Christo Redentor in one day. We visited Sugarloaf first; it was pretty early so we had a quick ride to the top without any wait. The cable car first takes you up to Morro da Urca, the smaller of the two mountains, and then a second cable car takes you to the top of the iconic Sugarloaf mountain. The view from the top gives you an amazing 360 degree view of Rio. We could see straight out to the Christ the Redeemer statue, with the beaches on one side and Lapa and Centro on the other. After we snapped a few photos, we discovered a little path going down the back of the mountain that it seems most tourists ignore. You couldn’t see the view there, but you could enjoy the jungle on the back of the mountain instead. We saw some interesting bugs hanging around and watched a group of marmosets jumping from tree to tree.
We messed up the bus stop location after we left Sugarloaf and spent a fair bit of time wondering around, somehow ending up at Botafogo Bay, but we found it eventually and hopped on a bus to Corcovado. We were impressed with our quick ascent up the Sugarloaf, but we paid for it at Corcovado. The later in the day you wait, the longer the lines get. In order to go up to the Christ the Redeemer statue, you have to take an old tram through Tijuca National Park, up the side of the Corcovado, so only so many people can go up at once. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long to get tickets, but our tram ticket was for about an hour and a half after when we purchased it. Things could have been a lot worse though and we just used the extra time to go in search of lunch.
It was a nice ride up to the statue, but I have to admit the tram was a bit dated. It’s a narrow ride up to the top, so there’s only one track and you have to stop 3 or 4 times on the way up at wider sections to wait for the tram coming down to pass. It took about 30 minutes, but we were dying at the end from the heat in the un-air conditioned carriage. The view from the top was worth it though!
If we had to pick, we both agree that the view from the Corcovado was better than the view from the Sugarloaf. However, the crowd was not. It’s a very narrow platform at the top with a lot of people crammed in taking pictures of both the statue and the view. It made me almost thankful for the bottleneck at the bottom, which at least slowed down the flow of people. We stayed for a little while to take our pictures and admire the view, but it was a bit too crowded for us. You can’t help but admire the statue though!
Up until now, our schedule has been pretty packed with activities, so on Monday we finally had a nice relaxing day at the beach. We slept in and then made our way down to Copacabana Beach. Our strategy was to spend an hour or so in one spot and then pack up and move a little further down the beach, eventually making our way to the end of Ipanema Beach. It was extremely hot, so we spent a fair bit of time cooling down in the waves. It was definitely a nice relaxing day and was less crowded since it was a week day. We finished off with some shopping in Ipanema and took a break from Brazilian food and shared a huge plate of nachos on the beach for supper.
We’re in Ilha Grande now for the last leg of our vacation. It looks like our good luck with weather has finally run out and it’s calling for rain the next few days. But we’re going to try and make the best of it and hopefully we’ll still get to enjoy Ilha Grande’s premier beaches!