Rio de Janeiro embraces sports as much it does samba, sun and beaches. At the crack of dawn, runners of all levels and ages lap up and down the beach, only moving into the gyms when the sun gets too hot to work on ‘Project Summer,’ an expression Cariocas (people from Rio) use for getting a beach-ready body. There are lots of different physical activities in Rio for all interests, levels, and preferences.
Luckily, Rio’s unique combination of nature and urban life creates plenty of safe, outdoor running and cycling spaces away from the road yet easily accessible within the city. Running along the beach from Leme down to Leblon is a cycle path of approximately 10 kilometers that is shared by runners, skateboarders, and cyclists. It is incredibly energizing to run or cycle with stunning ocean views at your side. Another popular running, cycling, and skateboarding path winds its way from Praia de Botafogo (Botafogo Beach) to Parque Flamengo (Flamengo Park), a wide green space with tall palms and views of the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). It is possible to run from São Conrado to Flamengo, which is the route used for the International Half Marathon held every August.
Itau, a large bank in Brazil, developed a concept that allows you to rent bikes for just R$10 a day from any of the bike stations around Rio. Use is limited to one hour per bike, but it’s possible to leave the bike at a station after one hour and pick up another one. You just need a credit card and a phone to call and pay (there is an English option).
Outdoor gyms are a big thing in Rio, with some designed with the maturer audience in mind and others for a quick workout on the beach. The equipment is made to stretch and exercise all muscles yet is not too demanding. They are dotted around all over Rio in almost every neighborhood. For a more sweaty and challenging workout, try one of the circuit training classes on the beach that can be found all along Copacabana and right down to Recreio. They have daily rates and welcome drop-ins as well as regular members. Just stop by and inquire within.
Crossfit is seeing a surge in popularity for its promise of increased muscularity and better overall fitness. There are lots of new Crossfit centers around Rio. Many accept drop-ins and have reasonable class rates, and they are a great way to get your sweat on and your heart pumping. The classes are physically demanding but fun, with a strong feel-good factor. There are traditional indoor gyms, too, with daily rates, so fitness enthusiasts can drop in and not miss a workout.
Yoga classes in Rio attracts expats, tourists, and Cariocas alike, and the outdoor classes are a particularly great way to exercise while soaking in the exhilarating Rio vibe. Class location varies, from Ipanema Beach to Jardim Botanico, and classes tend to be restricted in size to avoid overcrowding and maintain a peaceful environment. However, some classes are open to all and attract large groups.
Rio’s mountainous skyline and close proximity to the Atlantic Forest make for some of the best hikes in Brazil, from moderate-intensity walks to more challenging climbs. All offer sensational views of Rio from up high. The easier ones include Morro da Urca, the smaller peak behind the Sugarloaf, and Pedra Bonita, which is also the base for handgliding and one of the best views over Rio. Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers), reachable via a motortaxi trip through the Vidigal favela, is also relatively easy yet a bit longer. More advanced hikes include Pico da Tijuca, which is one of the longest hikes with dramatic views and Pedra de Gavea, where one part involves actual climbing and is best done with a guide and equipment.
Being a coastal city, Rio offers countless opportunities to practise surfing, kite-surfing, swimming, canoeing, stand-up surf paddle, and body-boarding. Praia Vermelha in Urca is a little beach within a bay and sits at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. The water is almost always calm, making it ideal for stand-up paddling and canoeing, with all equipment available on-site for rent. For surfing and kite-surfing, head to Ipanema, Barra de Tijuca, or Recreio, where the waters are choppier and there are also surf schools for one-off or package lessons.
Football is the national sport of Brazil and lies at the heart of the culture. The majority of games are played on the beach as friendly kickabouts between friends. It’s not uncommon for people to join in on an ongoing game, so feel free to ask if you can play, too. On Wednesdays and Saturdays in Flamengo Park, there are games of football costing R$20 per game and a full-length match.