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Sports on the beach |© Alexandre Macieira|Riotur/Flickr
Sports on the beach |© Alexandre Macieira|Riotur/Flickr

The Essential Guide to Rio De Janeiro Beach Etiquette

Picture of Sarah Brown
Updated: 27 October 2017

With some of the world’s most exotic and beautiful beaches, it’s little wonder that Rio de Janeiro has a deeply embedded beach-centric lifestyle. Weekends are made for some quality beach time, and even during the week there is time to squeeze in a morning surf session or an evening run along the shore. When in Rio, be sure to follow these beach etiquette tips.

Dress like a local

Brazilians are known for their itsy-bitsy swimwear with men usually wearing tight, small trunks – known as sungas – and women in the infamous thong-style bikinis. Being in Rio offers a great opportunity to try local styles and customs, so why not dare to bear? The beaches are open and friendly with all types of body shapes and sizes. Whatever you decide to wear, there is no judgment – confidence is the main accessory on Rio’s beaches, so wear what you feel most comfortable in.

Eat beach food

The beach vendors spend all day, every day walking up and down the shores selling their goods, which are mostly snack options and a great way to satisfy an appetite without leaving the beach. Try the acai with granola and banana or strawberry for a healthy, refreshing snack. The pastels and mini pies of prawns, cheese, and dried meat are more substantial offerings, while the grilled cheese sticks may not fill you up but are delicious. The long skewers of grilled prawns are mostly targeted at the holiday-makers – it’s rare to see a local eating them as they tend to be wary of how long these prawns have been out in the sun. Globo biscuits are like potato chips made with cassava flour and are a beloved Brazilian snack. The taste is unusual with few comparatives, yet they are incredibly moreish.

Get some shade

The whole length of the beach is dotted with small stalls that rent out umbrellas and chairs. As soon as you step on the beach, you will be offered one. If you decide to get one, it’s usually between R$5 and R$10 for each item and you can keep them for the whole day. All the stalls sell drinks such as water, beers and caipirinhas, and can be ordered and placed on your tab which is only paid when you leave the beach. Most stalls accept credit and debit cards now, although it’s best to double check.

Take trash home

Leaving trash on the beach anywhere is not good beach etiquette. In Rio, the Lixo Zero (zero trash) law lets the local police dish out hefty fines for those who litter, and although it’s not strictly regulated, it’s better to avoid the trouble. Dotted along the beaches are large, orange trash cans so be sure to leave all your trash there. The only exceptions are metal cans – these tend to be left out on the sand for the recyclers who earn money from collecting them and taking them to be recycled.

Keep your top on

It is illegal to go topless in Brazil and this rule is taken very seriously. Avoid confrontation with the police or locals by keeping bikini tops on at all times. For those that want to get an all-over tan, head to Praia do Abricó, which is one of the state’s only beaches where nudity is allowed.

Clap when the sun sets

If you spend the day at Ipanema beach, it’s worth staying until the sun goes down to see one of Rio’s most breathtaking sunsets. The sun sets just to the side of the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers peaks), casting shades of orange, red, pink and yellow across the ocean. The sound of clapping fills the air as the last ray of sunshine ducks down behind the horizon, a long-standing tradition to signal appreciation for this beautiful phenomenon.

Get a tan

The fashion in Rio is to get tan lines and women will carefully make sure that the neckline of their bikini top leaves those tell-tale strap lines. Most days in Rio are sunny, and the heat during the summer can get intensely hot, with temperatures of up to 122F (50C) degrees. Get a tan – but do it safely. It’s still hot first thing in the morning, so head to the beach early or late to avoid the hottest points of the day between 11AM and 3PM. Be sure to use a high-factor of sun protection; the idea is to get a healthy, glowing tan, and not a red, painful burn.

Try a beach sport

Rio has an incredibly active lifestyle, and a day at the beach isn’t always just for lounging – it’s also a great opportunity for doing sports. Surfers head to Arpoador in the morning to catch the small, perfectly formed waves, whereas the more advanced surfers go to Barra da Tijuca, Prainha or Joatinga to tackle larger, more challenging ones. Throughout the day there are games of volleyball, frescoball and soccer taking place along the beach. Take some classes, bring your own ball, or simply just ask to join in. Sports is a way of life in Rio and sports enthusiasts are usually welcomed into ongoing games.