Rio de Janeiro’s most famous beach is Copacabana and although not strictly in the Guanabara Bay, it is right in its mouth. Unlike the vast majority of beaches in the bay, you can actually swim in Copacabana’s waters and it’s a popular training ground for local triathlon athletes. In addition to topping up your tan, the beach is a whirlwind of sporting activities to join in such as stand-up paddle boarding, football (of course!), and volleyball among the most popular. There are also several great restaurants and bars nearby for when you’re feeling peckish.
The water at Flamengo is badly polluted so swimming is a big no-no here. You may spot a few brave souls taking a dip but it’s best to avoid the sea and instead use the showers dotted along the beach for when you want to cool down. However, the beach itself is perfectly clean and the white, soft sand is inviting to just laze the day away topping up your tan and participating in one of the many beach sports going on in the background. Right next to Flamengo beach is Flamengo park, a wonderful, long strip of grass and palm trees which are home to colorful parrots. It’s an idyllic spot for a picnic in the shade.
Located next to the Pão de Açucar – the Sugarloaf – Praia Vermelha is great to visit before or after a trip up Rio de Janeiro’s iconic mountain. The small beach is arguably one of Rio’s most gorgeous shores – it even made Culture Trip’s round-up of Rio de Janeiro’s most beautiful beaches – with its burnt orange-colored sand, deep green waters and surrounding rocky slopes. The water here is fine for swimming and its lack of waves make it ideal for kayaking or practicing stand-up paddle boarding.
Across the bay from Rio de Janeiro is Niteroi, another city that is just a short ferry trip away. Niteroi is rarely visited by tourists yet its selection of stunning beaches means it should be on any traveler’s itinerary. Itacoatiara beach is one of them with its long stretch of white sand lapped by powerful waves that make it a surfer’s paradise. It is also the base point for the Itacoatiara hike which takes you 700 feet above sea level to a flat-top mountain with panoramic views. It takes about two hours to reach the top and go back down.
You can reach Paqueta Island by taking a ferry from the port in Centro and it takes about an hour. The island gets lively around Carnival when word-of-mouth street parties take place, yet the rest of the year it remains calm, chilled, and relatively empty. Its beaches are clean and small and if you’re looking to escape the crowds, here’s your place. Small bars and tiny restaurants are dotted across the island and serve up traditional Brazilian food freshly using tried-and-tested recipes accompanied by cheap and cheerful Brazilian beers. There are no cars on this island – everything is accessed on foot or by bike.
Another beauty of a beach in Niteroi, Praia do Sossego is less-visited than popular Itacoatiara beach which makes this beach extra special. With fewer crowds and cleaner sands and water, it’s a picturesque retreat to enjoy a quiet afternoon with a book or simply to take in the natural scenery. If you are traveling to Rio de Janeiro with children, then Praia do Sossego is a great beach to visit as it’s easier to keep your eye on them and the waters are much calmer, so safer for swimming. There are some beach vendors there but it’s good to bring your own snacks and water as there are fewer options than at other, more commercial beaches.
The best beaches of Guanabara Bay are arguably across the bay from Rio de Janeiro and over in Niteroi, as Praia de São Francisco shows. This beach with its soft, white sand and calm waters is popular with families, couples, and groups of young students who go for the lazy afternoons of sunbathing or to practice water sports on the wave-free sea. The promenade next to the beach gets busy during the day with runners and cyclists yet at night it becomes lively with people flocking to nearby bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.