Ipanema is one of the most glamorous and pretty parts of Rio. It has a magnificent beach and tree-lined streets that are packed with restaurants, bars, and shops. As one of the most expensive and exclusive neighbourhoods, the people who live here are not only wealthy, but also glamorous and beautiful.
The beach has beautiful, soft white sand and is framed at either end by mountains and hills - Ponta do Arpoador at the eastern end and the Morro Dois Irmãos, which makes the setting even more picturesque. The clean blue water is quite rough, and its large waves crash onto the shore – it’s a little turbulent to swim in unless you’re a strong swimmer but good fun for messing around in, or you can surf a bit farther down on Arpoador Beach.
The area has been immortalised in the famous Bossa Nova song, "Girl from Ipanema." Sitting here on the beach now, sipping agua de coco from a green coconut (this really is the best hangover cure!) whilst people-watching, it’s easy to see what the singer was on about. But it’s not just the women in their dental-floss bikinis that catch the eye. Plenty of men stroll along the beach sporting their ultra-tight Speedos and ensuring that everyone can have a good look at what they’ve got to offer. They stroll past, they skate past, they run past – acting as eye candy for girls and boys (Ipanema is also a gay hotspot).
The beach is well catered for, too – not just by the cafés and bars that line its edge, but also by the toilet facilities and showers that are provided at regular intervals along the beach. Be prepared to queue, though – there is only one toilet and people use it for getting changed, so don’t leave it until you’re bursting.
Drums usually start in the afternoon, and there are often small parties along the beach with samba sound systems and dancers and capoeira dancers. As the sun starts to set, the beach setting becomes even more beautiful with the vivid cocktail of reds and oranges peeking from behind the lush hills lighting up the water. Buy a passion-fruit caipirinha from one of the men that sells them along the beach and walk up to the Ponto do Arpoador. The view from this point is absolutely beautiful – the caipirinhas are pretty good too, and pack quite a punch! This is the best way to start off an evening of partying. Either head home to shower and then hit one of the numerous nightspots, or else just hang out here.
In the evening, the beach takes on a new life as the alcohol starts flowing and the beats continue into the night. Around Carnival, you’ll be sure to see some young men dressed up in school-girl outfits and fully made up, creating havoc along the beach – flirting comically with boys who are chilling out with their girlfriends, dancing provocatively, and performing rude gestures with the aid of props they find lying around on the beach, umbrellas, beer bottles, etc. You’d be forgiven for thinking that these boys were gay, but when they see a group of girls, they bound up to them, stroke their hair, call them beautiful, ask to be spanked, and beg for a kiss. How confusing. I can say that being chatted up by a man dressed as a woman is something that has never happened to me apart from in Rio.