For glamour and beauty, Copacabana has always hogged the limelight. But, actually, Ipanema is beginning to steal the stage. Which is no great surprise, when you consider its younger crowd, sensational nature views and fantastic bars and restaurants. To make the most of your time here, start with our lowdown on the top things to do and see in this Rio de Janeiro neighborhood.
Brazil is known worldwide for its first-rate martial champions, and, while you’re here, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl. In Ipanema, look for the Jiu-Jitsu school called Brazilian Black Belt. It offers regular classes and is more than happy to welcome drop-ins. The instructors speak Portuguese, English and Spanish and offer classes for beginners up to more advanced. Even if you don’t get the hang of it, Jiu-Jitsu is a great way of immersing yourself in a special aspect of Brazil’s culture. And, of course, you’ll get some serious exercise, too.
Built around rainforest-swathed hills and half-moon beaches, Rio is a city of stunning views. Few visions are better than the twin beaches of Leblon and Ipanema, though, spread at your feet in a lazy 6km (4mi) crescent, with the hulk of Sugar Loaf Mountain crouching in the distance. The viewpoint is off the international tourist map, but every local cab driver knows how to find it: on Avenida Niemeyer, it’s a five-minute drive from the end of Leblon Beach.
With Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Peak) at the far end, and a great expanse of blue Atlantic Ocean in between, it’s easy to see why the beautiful beach in Ipanema attracts such a crowd. At the weekend, things can spiral into a bit of a frenzy, yet this beachy hustle and bustle is always friendly. Cariocas – as the people of Rio are called – go to painstaking lengths to top up their tans, taking regular breaks to plunge into the waves, in between enjoying a kicky caipirinha cocktail or two.
This small arcade, right off the LGBT rainbow patch at Ipanema Beach, is as colorful and capricious as a chameleon. By day, it’s a cafe, a modish pop-up shop (selling everything from bikinis to jewelry), an extemporary art gallery and a part-time performance space. By night, it’s a sweaty, throbbing club, attracting tanned and well-toned members of Rio’s lively gay scene. The DJs and caipirinhas (made with all manner of exotic fruits, rums, vodkas and sakes) are the best in Ipanema.
The sun shimmers off the waves rolling in, silhouetting the domes of Two Brothers Mountain and slowly turning the long crescent of Ipanema Beach golden brown. Sitting on the Arpoador rocks at the end of the day and absorbing the view is a Rio ritual. You can’t miss the viewpoint – the rocks jut out from the northern end of Ipanema. Our only advice is to leave valuables behind, and don’t stay after dark, as theft is common.
In Rio de Janeiro, people love to surf – and, to get a feel for it, you can’t beat a session on the swell at Arpoador. Sound out a reputable establishment – say, Escola de Surf Arpoador – and be prepared to begin lessons at the crack of dawn. That way, you’ll get to practice on small but perfect early-morning waves. Lessons are organized for all levels, from beginners all the way up to advanced surfers. Equipment is included in the price, and there’ll be no language issues, as the instructors speak English.
Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.