A Walk Through Ipanema,
Rio de Janeiro
A Walk Through Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Published December 20, 2020
Ipanema is Rio’s hottest beach in every sense of the word. Not only is it considered the most fashionable place in the city to be seen, but it’s also warmer than the city’s other beaches since there are very few shade trees and the sun shines down unobstructed until dusk. If beaches are your primary motivation for visiting Rio, Ipanema is one of the two major ones (the other being Copacabana).
Since visitors to Rio are likely to spend a lot of time in and around Ipanema, I’m writing this post as a guide and as a source of inspiration. Beaches are obviously pretty self-explanatory, but the adjacent neighborhood has a lot to see and do as well. This post will introduce the area, highlight some of my favorite things about the beach, and offer some tips and suggestions.
General Layout of Ipanema
As you can see from the map below, the neighborhood of Ipanema is a strip of land nestled between the Atlantic Ocean to the south and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to the north (Lagoa is worth exploring if you have time, this will be covered in a future blog post). To the west is an area called Leblon, and to the northeast is the equally famous waterfront neighborhood of Copacabana.
The beach in this part of Rio begins at Pedra do Arpoador in the east and ends at the far side of Leblon in the west. In total, it’s 4.0 kilometers. I’ve walked from one end to the other and back countless times, but I usually am ready to be off my feet and out of the sun by the time I’m finished.
If you’re looking for a place to eat, drink, or have coffee, head over to this area. There are lots of casual options mixed in with some higher-end restaurants that I’ll be discussing in my upcoming restaurant guide to Rio post. Stay tuned! Leblon is also home to a lot of upscale dining and bars.
About the Beach
There are five things about Praia de Ipanema that make it such a unique urban beach. Check out my list below!
1. A Mountain With Two Peaks
Upon arrival, first-timers will find themselves captivated by the view of Two Brothers Mountain (Morro Dois Irmãos), which towers over the beach to the west. This rocky mountain is so distinctive because it’s got not one but two peaks, as the name implies. Although it looks pretty different when viewed from other vantage points in the city, it appears from Ipanema as if the mountain splits off into two pieces, almost like dorsal fins on a fish or shark. This makes it a very popular backdrop for photos taken on the beach.
If you’re at the far eastern end of Ipanema (Arpoador), you can even see a bit of the Pedra da Gávea, an even taller mountain peeking out from behind the Two Brothers peak. This stunning, almost otherworldly geography is my favorite thing about Rio. It’s what sets it apart from other great beach destinations around the world. I can’t think of another coastal city that has mountain views quite like this!
2. A Boardwalk Unlike Any Other
The other iconic thing about Ipanema is its boardwalk (calçadão). Running along the entire length of the beach, this unforgettable, mesmerizing pattern of black and white square tile appears to morph from a checkerboard style in the foreground to converging stripes at the vanishing point on the horizon.
Ipanema’s character and vibe are heavily influenced by the boardwalk, which is totally different from the wavy pattern that can be found on the much wider calçadão in neighboring Copacabana.
3. I Spy with My Little Eye... A Game of Futevôlei
This unique, challenging sport combines elements of football (soccer) and volleyball as the name suggests. It was actually invented in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s. The concept is similar to beach volleyball and it’s played with a net, although you can’t use your arms or hands to get the ball over, and you can’t let the ball fall to the ground! Because that only leaves your head, feet, and chest to keep the ball in motion, futevôlei requires a lot of coordination and practice.
Cariocas (people from Rio) take the sport seriously, and if you see four people on the sand around a net in Ipanema, chances are that they’re playing futevôlei, not beach volleyball. You can watch matches in both Ipanema and Copacabana, and you’ll probably see a lot of beginners doing drills with coaches. But if you’re interested in really watching the game and seeing how it’s played, keep an eye out for experienced players who can keep the ball in play for multiple minutes.
4. Leblon Lookout (Mirante do Leblon)
This little lookout is technically farther than the edge of the beach, but it’s only about a two or three minute walk on the pedestrian path connecting them. It’ll allow you to see all the way down the beach on a clear day and offers a unique view of the Ipanema skyline.
5. Arpoador, Especially for Sunset
At the other end of the beach opposite Leblon is Arpoador. This massive rock formation sticking out of the water has a bit of a garden and pathway snaking through the bushes and cacti growing on it, but it’s not really handicap accessible. In certain places, it’s a bit steep. If you’re able to make it out to the far end, Arpoador offers a 360-degree view of the beach, Morro Dois Irmãos, the open ocean, and even Christ the Redeemer if there’s no cloud cover.
Arpoador is also one of the best places in Rio to watch the sunset. At least for the time of year I’ve lived here (September to January), the sun sets either behind Two Brothers or over the ocean. Whenever the weather is good, people come to sit on the rocks for a bit and watch the sun go down.
As promised, here are some tips for a perfect visit to Ipanema! Click or tap a question below to skip down to it!
1. How should I explore Ipanema on foot?
There are countless ways to walk Ipanema, and the most obvious would be to stroll up and down the beach. If you love to walk, I highly recommend exploring from one end of the beach to the other on foot. If you’d rather not retrace your steps, you can go back along the main street (Rua Visconde de Pirajá), especially if you want to browse for food and drink options on the way.
2. What is the easiest way to get to Ipanema from other parts of Rio?
Ipanema is very easy to get to via Rio’s metro system. Two stops serve Ipanema proper (General Osório and Nossa Senhora da Paz), and two are on opposite ends of Leblon (Jardim de Alah and Antero de Quental). The underground train system is safe, convenient, and easy to understand, with only one single line in this part of the city connecting Copacabana, Ipanema, and a couple smaller beaches further southwest.
3. I’m looking for a panoramic view from above. Any suggestions?
If you can find a place that offers a panoramic view of Ipanema from above, don’t miss it! One good option is Espaço 7zero6, a restaurant on the top floor of the Praia Ipanema Hotel. They have a pretty fancy menu in a casual space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, so the view of the beach is amazing. You can also see Lagoa to the north.
The only odd thing about the lunch I had here was that the employees asked me not use my camera in the restaurant (which is by no means a big one with a huge lens, tripod, any other bulky accessories). The dining room was also almost completely empty, so it’s not like I was disrupting anyone’s meal. The other funny thing was that they told me this after I had very obviously taken dozens of photos with the camera, but just be aware of this before coming here.
4. Is Ipanema safe? What about at night?
As a touristy area, Ipanema is quite safe. This is not a beach where you need to worry about violent crime, and there is always a visible police presence throughout the day. As in most parts of Rio, the biggest risk by far is pickpocketing, so keep a close eye on your belongings.
Although I don’t consider Ipanema to be dangerous at night, people don’t tend to walk here after dark. In contrast, many more people seem to take their evening stroll in Copacabana. If you’re desperate to stretch your legs, this is where I recommend going. Copacabana is also better lit at night, and the beach bars tend to stay open later.
5. Where should I stay?
As a safe, relatively central neighborhood, Ipanema is where many visitors to Rio choose to book an accommodation. The other option for lodging I recommend is Copacabana (where I’ve lived the past three months). Both are beautiful, safe neighborhoods that are well connected to the rest of the city via the metro.
Both Ipanema and Copacabana offer great choices for any budget, although I’d imagine that Ipanema might be just a bit more expensive overall.
Are you ready for a walk?
I’ll admit that exploring Ipanema doesn’t require a ton of research beforehand. As a safe, upscale area and one of the most famous beaches in the world, it’s not too hard to figure out. However, I do hope this post provides some helpful insights and inspires some travelers to add Rio de Janeiro to their South America wish lists!
Do you have any remaining questions? Have you been to Ipanema before? Let me know by leaving a comment below! And if you’re curious about Copacabana, be sure to check out my comprehensive guide to that beach as well! Thanks for visiting Caffeinated Excursions!
This post was published on Dec 20, 2020