Backed by rows of palm trees, high-rise apartments and rugged mountains, the world-famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches simply must be enjoyed. What’s more, with beautiful warm weather all the year round, society in Rio revolves around the beach, so they’re a great way to get a feel for the city.

Divided into sections, defined by ‘postos’ (lifeguard towers), each with its own distinct flavour, these beaches are the backyards of Rio’s residents (or Cariocas, as they are known). Walk their lengths and you’ll pass zones where gays, upper class families, alternative/left wing pot smokers, surfers, lithe sporty types or glamorous hotties congregate with their own. As a tourist, you can choose to associate with all, although of course, depending on your character, you’re likely to feel sometimes more and sometimes less at home.

Both beaches offer beautiful clear waters (except after heavy rains), great people watching opportunities, chairs and umbrellas for hire, vendors selling everything you could possibly need and games of football, volleyball and footvolley, a combination of the two, which given the necessity of keeping the ball in the air and putting it over the net can generate some extraordinary feats of athleticism and skill that is great entertainment for spectators.

Copacabana beach with its 4-kilometer long waveform pavement promenade is a pleasure to stroll, and nicely bordered by historic forts at both ends. To the north, where the beach is wider, is the greatest profusion of beach sports, while the middle of the bay is usually best for surfing.

At Ipanema the surf is better, (known in the winter to reach nine feet) with constant swells and breaks that regularly form barrels. Here at posto 8 are the gays, posto 9 the cool alternatives and posto 10 the young and beautiful –decidedly cinematic neighbouring tribes.

The streets behind the beaches are filled with cafes, restaurants and bars and in Sunday’s the Ipanema Hippie Fair showcases the works of the city’s best artists.

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