Our first day in Brasil, of course we went to the beach. We are staying in the middle of Copacabana in a studio just several blocks to the beach. Apparently Copacabana was popular and in its height during the 90s, the hip area is now a 20 minute walk away, in Ipanema and further, Leblon. Well, we couldn't afford to stay in those areas and Copa is fine. Apparently, Leblon has some of the most expensive real estate in all of South America! Fernando recalls Leblon from his childhood playing Brazilian Monopoly, where Leblon is equivalent to Boardwalk or Park Place. We just learned of an even more exclusive and affluent area, called Barra da Tijuca, somewhat the “suburban area” of Rio which is more modern, rich, planned and self-contained.
I was most excited for the beach culture and beach life in Brasil, as I got a taste of it in Ubatuba (in São Paulo state) and from Fernando's stories as a kid. You don't have to bring anything to the beach, as it is all there for you. It is a bit different in Rio though.
We arrive on the sand in Copacapana beach just a few blocks from our apartment, and there are youngish dudes that will bring you 2 chairs and an umbrella for R$10, or $5. Not bad, but after 2 weeks we might spend $50 USD (we ended up buying our own cheapy umbrella later at a store for R$20 or $10). It was a weekday, so it was calm. Not windy or too hot, just really nice. The sand was gorgeous, beige and pretty white, fine like granulated sugar. The water wasn't that clear or warm, but was nice.
The beach vendors come around, but they don't hassel you like they do in Barcelona. They are mostly men, and carry everything on their shoulders. Here is what you can get on the beach (directly on the sand) thus far from my observations:
- Bikinis – the vendors are quite impressive, with the colorful selection of bikin tops hanging all around a beach umbrella and sarongs on their arm (I'm tempted to shop the umbrella)
- Drinks: Cervesa, sodas,
- Agua de Coco (fresh green coconut with a straw)
- Grilled cheese on a stick
- Sarongs, beach cover-ups for women, t-shirts
- Sandwiches Natural (“healthy sandwiches”) – usually sold by women
- Brazilian-Arabic snacks: Kibes and Esfiha (meat treats)
- Pastels (Brazilian fried empanadas with meat)
- Ice Tea and Lemonade (sold in tin kegs with a dispenser, with ice swishing around inside, one on each shoulder – they look heavy)
- Açaí na tigela (bowl of açaí topped with granola)
- Local Biscuits, Potato Chips
- Shrimps on a stick (large whole shrimps with shell)
- Jewelry – necklaces, earrings, bracelets,
You could just stay on the beach all day and be relatively comfortable!
Since we are on a budget and it is our first day, we resisted going wild with the purchases. We just got an agua de coco (R$8 / $4) and a cervesa (R$5 / $2.50) with 2 plastic cups from our guys that brought the chairs and umbrella. Unless you want to spend a lot of cash at the beach and eat only junk food, you will be hungry when you see all the food, so it is best to bring your own food. Fernando went to hunt for some food on the boardwalk, and found a sandwich and fries for R$10 ($5). Not too bad, not amazing either.
The second time we went to the beach, this time in Ipanema, we brought a homemade ham and cheese sandwich, the local mini bananas (which are the perfect size and I love), and two left over pastels with shrimp.
Of course, the beach is much more crowded with locals on the weekend, but you can still find a spot. I really can't imagine how confortable the beach would be during Carnival, the World Cup, or the Olympics when the beach is “a sea of humanity.” Ack! As I get older, I am more adverse to crowds and feel more anxiety in overly crowded places. We much prefer to travel during low season – when the weather is comfortable, prices are lower, and there is plenty of space for all on the sand.