Things To Do In
Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro:
A World-Famous Beach
Things To Do In Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro: A World-Famous Beach
Published December 15, 2020
Rio de Janeiro is synonymous with the beach, and for good reason! This gorgeous city is home to two of the most iconic urban beaches in the world: Copacabana and Ipanema. With a combined length of about 8 kilometers (5 miles), this stretch of coastline and the city streets adjacent to it offer an incredible variety of things to see, do, eat, and drink.
In this post, I’ll be discussing Copacabana (keep an eye out for another one featuring Ipanema soon). I’m writing this partly because I’ve seen some other bloggers complain that Copacabana is grungy and unsafe. Maybe that was true a couple years ago, but that hasn’t been my experience at all in 2020! I want to highlight the beauty of Copacabana and reassure anyone who might be on the fence! If you exercise normal precautions, a visit to Copa, as it’s sometimes abbreviated, is a can’t-miss part of your next trip to Rio!
Praia de Copacabana is long (2.5 miles) and pretty wide. Its southern half boasts views of Pão de Açucar, Rio’s famous waterfront mountain. The most iconic part of Copa is its boardwalk (Calçadão de Copacabana). Made from black and white stones arranged into a mesmerizing wave pattern, this grand pedestrian sidewalk runs along the entire length of the beach.
Interestingly, Ipanema is paved in the same style but with a different pattern, so once you’ve seen both, it’s really easy to tell which neighborhood you’re in! These pavement patterns are defining features of both beaches. The unique mosaic style sets them apart from other top-notches urban beaches around the world like Cancún, South Beach, and Waikiki.
A Convenient "Post" System
Since Copacabana is so large, it’s divided into sections using a series of posts. These posts have a number of functions: they serve not only as landmarks, but also as lifeguard stations and bathrooms. “Posto 1” is on the north end in Leme, while Posto 6 is on the south end of Copa. Posts 7 through 12 continue along Ipanema, and the final one is at the far end of Leblon.
At some point, you might see people refer to general locations using these posts. They are often abbreviated simply as “p5” for Posto 5 or “P2” for Posto 2.
Along the beach are a couple of large pieces of sand art that are maintained by local artists. Just be aware that if you want to take a photo of them, you need to leave a tip in the jars provided.
Most of the buildings across the street from the beach are pretty standard-looking apartments, hotels, and condos. They all have a certain minimalist uniformity to them, although I’m not sure exactly when they were built. You can tell that they’re not new brand new or centuries old.
The most notable landmark along the entire beach is the Belmond Copacabana Palace, a grand eye-catching hotel. Insider are a couple of highly-rated restaurants, which I might mention in a future blog post. If you’re looking for a truly luxurious place to stay in Rio, this is it!
The other main landmarks along the beach are a handful of life-size statues of famous Brazilians. You can find the one pictured below near Mureta do Leme.
Watch a Game of Futevôlei
Copacabana is known for its people watching, but you’ll definitely want to keep your eyes peeled for a game of futevôlei, especially if the players are good. As the name of the sport implies, it’s a mix of football (soccer) and volleyball, leaning more to the latter. Casual observers may actually mistake the sport for beach volleyball since it’s also played with a net on the sand. Watch for a minute and you’ll see the additional rule: using your arms and hands isn’t allowed! The only way to get the ball over the net is to use your head, feet, and chest.
This game is so popular here because it was actually invented in Copacabana in the 1960s. Locals take it seriously and there are lots of “schools” on the beach offering lessons. I would imagine that it’s a pretty difficult sport, but it’s fascinating to watch experienced players compete!
Beach Bars (Kiosks)
Walking along the boardwalk, you’ll pass by dozens of “quiosques” that serve fast food, snacks, and drinks. Some offer live music during dinner or on the weekends. Despite the pandemic, I’ve seen some of them get pretty crowded at night, but at least they’re fully outdoors.
Grabbing lunch or a drink at one of the kiosks is part of the Copacabana experience. With that said, don’t feel obligated to try them all. The food is usually fine but not extraordinary, and the service can be a bit slow if they’re busy. Once you’ve tried one or two, be sure to check out some of the other great restaurants in the area that aren’t on the boardwalk!
Copacabana is home to a lot of excellent places to eat and drink. Don’t just limit yourself to the kiosks if you’re looking for a traditional Brazilian meal! A lot of great choices are actually right across the street, on the opposite side of Avenida Atlântica. Many more are located a few blocks further away from the beach.
I’m planning on writing one or more future blog posts about my favorite restaurants in the city, so keep an eye out for that! I’ll link it here once it’s published.
Forte de Copacabana
The final attraction I’ll mention in Copacabana is this large naval fort situated at the south end of the beach. Check out the bunker area, wander through the attached naval history museum, and watch the changing of the guard ceremony at the front entrance. I’m not sure if entrance is free all the time, but it was when I visited.
Copacabana Fort offers a unique view of the beach since it’s built on a little rocky peninsula away from everything else. You’ll be able to see both the waterfront condos and hotels as well as some of the favelas on the hill further back.
This little stretch of beach to the northeast of Copacabana is technically its own neighborhood. There are a couple of unique things to see here, so schedule a bit of time to wander up this direction! (And if you need to mention the area in conversation, it’s pronounced “LEH-me.”)
Mureta do Leme
This short, concrete path is a popular fishing spot for locals and can be found at the end of the beach. It’s the place to go if you want to see an expansive view of Copacabana from one end to the other. On clear days, Mureta do Leme also offers a little peak at Cristo Redentor.
Forte Duque de Caxias
Copacabana is bookended by two military forts: Forte de Copacabana mentioned above, and Forte Duque de Caxias on the south end. If you want to see a panoramic view of the beach, this is where you need to go! A short hike brings you to the top of Ponta do Leme (Leme Point), a small hill. The view from the outdoor observatory is absolutely worth the effort!
If you look in the opposite direction (to the northeast), you’ll also get a pretty impressive view of Pão de Açucar and Niterói on the other side of the bay, as shown below.
Restaurants in Leme
Leme is home to a couple of higher-end restaurants with large outdoor seating areas and beach views. If you’re tired of fast food and in need of a nicer meal, this is a great place to browse.
La Fiorentina pictured here, for example, makes a great seafood pasta and they appear to have a long history of high-profile guests based on all the signatures and portraits on the walls.
The city streets further inland from the beach are pretty nondescript. You’ll find restaurants, shopping centers, bars, and apartments, but there aren’t a ton tourist attractions. If you want to get a sense of what it’s like, you could go for a walk along the largest commercial street, Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, which runs parallel to the shore a few blocks in.
Especially if you’re pressed on time, there’s not much of a reason to spend an afternoon in the interior. With that said, many excellent restaurants aren’t directly on the water. In addition, you might want to be just a bit more aware of your surroundings the further away from the beach you wander. I’ll talk a bit more about that in the section below.
A general theme of this blog ever since I came to Brazil in January of 2020 is that in my personal opinion, the country is just not the lawless danger zone that some believe it to be. This is also true of Copacabana. While Ipanema is slightly more upscale, Copa is in no way a slum. I’ve walked along its boardwalk almost every day for the past three months and have never felt unsafe or witnessed any crime.
Of course, I still recommend that you exercise caution and keep an eye on your personal items. Since there are always crowds of people plus a visible police presence, the chance of violent crime on the beach is not something you need to worry about. However, here are just a couple of the things I do to minimize the risk of the far more likely crime of pickpocketing. Click or tap on any suggestion to expand it!
I recommend this for a number of reasons. Copacabana is significantly more crowded on the weekend, which means there’s just more movement to keep track of in general. If a pickpocket was going to scour the beach for potential targets, they would almost certainly go on a weekend.
This is crucial! Especially with so many people in swim shorts, baggy pockets are not something you want to have to worry about while you’re enjoying the beach. I always use my camera bag to hold my personal belongings because it goes over the shoulder and I can see it at a glance on my side. It would be much more difficult for a thief to unzip one of the pockets and grab something inside without me noticing.
Copacabana remains pretty crowded even after dark, so I’ve never felt unsafe walking on the well-lit boardwalk at night. With that said, the latest I’ve been out there is about 10:00 p.m., so I wouldn’t exactly recommend going on a post-midnight stroll.
Save any exploring of the Copacabana interior for daylight hours. That’s because the city streets tend to be a bit darker than the beach, and there won’t be as many people around. If I need to get from one part of the neighborhood to another and I’m in the mood to walk during the evening, I always stick to the boardwalk.
Copacabana has a couple of different favelas nearby, including Cantagalo-Pavão-Pavãozinho in the south and the smaller Babilônia in the north. Favelas are almost always perched on the steep sides of hills and mountains, so you aren’t going to accidentally stumble into one, especially if you stay near the beach.
Having said that, I’ve never visited a favela in Rio and I don’t ever plan to. Favela tours do exist, and whether you go on one is a personal choice. To me, avoiding them just seems like an easy way to minimize risk.
Should you stay in Copacabana?
The answer to this question is yes! I’ve lived in Copacabana the past three months and loved it. Copa is well-connected via the metro to both Ipanema further south and the city center to the north. Whether you’re staying in Rio for a day or a month, it’s amazing to be such a short walk away from the beach!
Give Copa a Chance!
Well, that’s about it for this post! Copacabana may not be the most upscale neighborhood in Rio, but it’s such an integral part of the city that you simply can’t leave without at least spending an afternoon checking it out. I would even say it has a bit more of a local vibe than Ipanema, which is one of the main reasons I’m glad I chose to rent a room here instead of over there!
Have you been to Copacabana before? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below and let me know! Thanks for reading and see you next time!
This post was published on Dec 15, 2020