Ipanema Beach is the heartbeat of Ipanema, one of the most popular neighborhoods of Brazil’s Marvelous City, Rio de Janeiro. This article is your ultimate travel guide to this destination.
Ipanema Beach is an enjoyable place!
We included it in our Rio neighborhoods guide, but it deserves its own.
So, we talked to Bruna Oliveira, a travel expert in the city, to give you a local perspective.
Meanwhile, we have travelers just like you that will also tell you their experiences.
From the famous song to the fun streets, this guide will give you tips and ideas.
Therefore, let’s jump into the guide.
Table of Contents
Ipanema Beach, known locally as praia de Ipanema, is the most famous beach in Brazil.
Without a doubt, it is also one of the consistently top-rated beaches in the world.
The beach starts at where Avenida Vieira Souto meets Rua Francisco Otaviano.
“And it ends where Canal do Jardim de Alah cuts it off from Leblon Beach,” says Bruna.
So, that makes it about 1.2 miles (or 2 kilometers).
In other words, not a “long” beach, but it is definitely enough for those who know why they come here.
“Surfing is a dream,” says Jake, an American traveler. “I’m waiting for this guy, and I’m stoked to get my first surf lesson,” he adds.
Not long after, a young man named Paulo comes with surfing gear. Jake and Paulo start doing their things.
Ipanema Beach is very popular with surfers, explains Paulo.
“The water is perfect, especially if you are here at the right season,” he smiles.
When is the right season? The fall or autumn, says Paulo.
“I love surfing in April,” says Paulo, which is in the fall, as Brazil is in the southern hemisphere. “Sometimes March or May can give you good days, too,” he adds.
Meanwhile, many swimmers are here, as are vendors, spectators, and even single people looking to hook up.
“You could say it is a multi-purpose beach,” laughs Bruna.
Ipanema Beach is part of Ipanema, a neighborhood in the city’s zona zul or South Zone.
Get this, in the original language of this area, the meaning of “Ipanema” is “stinking lake.”
Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing that stinks about Ipanema.
“Some people will argue about it, but I believe it is the most popular neighborhood in the city,” says Bruna. “It is a beautiful district that full of cafes and boutiques,” she adds. “You will find whatever you are looking for.”
Because of its small size of 1.2 square miles (or 308 hectors), it is surprising that it has such a big hold.
Regardless, you will immediately recognize there are more visitors than residents.
Its streets, establishments, and beach are all busy.
João, a young man in his 20s, is in Ipanema all the time, he says.
“I love coming here,” says João, who lives in Morro do Cantagalo, a favela or Brazilian slum above Ipanema. “The beach is great, and so many beautiful girls come here form all over the city,” he smiles.
Yes, indeed, people come from all over to enjoy the amenities of the neighborhood.
Soon João is waving at a guy selling stuff.
“What’s up!” smiles João as his friend gets close.
They fist bump.
Renato, João’s friend, is also from the favela.
“I sell anything you want,” says Renata. “I love to sell things to tourists!”
And just as fast, he goes after an Asian tourist.
Ipanema is full of all types of interesting characters, says Bruna.
“This is a welcoming neighborhood,” she says. “Anyone is free to come here and try their luck.”
The neighborhood is most associated with the Ipanema song, “Garota de Ipanema,” or “The Girl from Ipanema.” It was composed and released in the 1960s. Since then, it has become a very successful song.
The song describes a beautiful girl who is going to the beach and who is making heads turn.
“It is a song that evokes emotions of the beach and young love,” says Bruna. “We all want to be her or want to love her,” she adds.
Musicians Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes had no idea their bossa nova song would become a hit.
Not only did the song become a global hit, but it also won a Grammy in 1965.
Many musicians did covers, including Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more.
A press release from the musicians confirmed that the girl in question was Heloísa Pinheiro.
Later, Pinheiro opened a boutique in her native neighborhood of Ipanema, which she called after the title of the song.
The heirs of the songwriters sued her unsuccessfully.
Of course, there are tons of things named after the song, including a bar and a park.
“It is really no longer just a song but a representation of Brazil in general,” says Bruna. “For example, the song was part of the Olympics.”
Art lives on.
So, if you need more reasons to love this neighborhood, we got you more.
It Is Better Than Copacabana
Ipanema is better than Copacabana and has been that way for years. Many people try to pit Ipanema against its neighbor district of Copacabana, but the locals say there is no comparison.
João, our friend from Cantagalo, says it is absurd even to bother.
“Copa [short for Copacabana] is old,” he says, firmly. “Really, it is full of old buildings and old people.”
João says he goes to Copacabana twice a year.
“For New Year’s Eve and when my favorite aunt is in town,” says João. “They have the best New Year party, and I admit that.”
However, locals point to the energy of the young, cooler Ipanema as the reasons why they prefer it.
“Ipanema is fun,” says João.
Of course, it is all subjective, because some people love Copacabana more.
That said, for travelers, probably Ipanema is more interesting.
Anna, a German traveler, says she had to switch hostels because she found Copacabana a bit boring.
“No offense to the people who live there, but I was constantly in Ipanema,” she says. “At some point, it was just easier to move.”
For example, Anna says the beach scene at the Copacabana is kind of conservative, especially at night.
As a result, she prefers the more easy-going atmosphere at Ipanema.
Likewise, Olivia, who is from Australia, said she preferred Ipanema so much more.
“It was just my type of place to hang out,” she says.
So, it looks like Ipanema wins.
It Is Clean
Ipanema is very clean. One thing that travelers notice immediately is its cleanliness. From the buildings to the pavements and the beach, the place is clean all the time.
“They have garbage cans everywhere,” says Amanda, an American.
Bruna says the area is clean because it is also a high-end neighborhood.
“Many rich people live in Ipanema and Leblon, so they tend to be a lot cleaner because of that,” she explains.
For example, there are famous personalities who live in the neighborhood, especially the young and hip ones.
But some hotels are popular with international celebrities such as Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro.
In other words, there are a lot of reasons why this neighborhood is immaculate.
It Is Really Safe
Ipanema is a very safe neighborhood. The streets are safe, as are the establishments, and the beach. For example, it is safe to walk around at night here. It is also safe for solo travelers, older people, and families.
Rio has had a lot of bad publicity for many decades because of gang rivals in the favelas.
However, because Rio has had some major international tourism, the city made significant changes.
For example, recent global events like the World Cup and the Olympics forced the city to crack down on crime.
As a result, Rio has seen a dramatic decrease in crime in all of its barrios or neighborhoods.
That said, affluent neighborhoods like Ipanema were already a lot safer.
Meanwhile, they got even safer as wealthy tourists flocked to the city.
It Is Very Diverse
Rio de Janeiro, like all of Brazil, is diverse. Of course, Ipanema is also very diverse, even though some will argue the residents are not that diverse. But, when you walk around, you will see a lot of different faces.
“Look at me,” says João, smiling. “I’m Black, and I come here, and it is no problem,” he adds. “If you look around, you will see many types of cariocas [a demonym for Rio natives].”
He is right. Sure, maybe many people like him do not live in Ipanema, but there are tons of diverse faces at the beach.
“My best friends are diverse,” says João. “We are all Brazilians. Most young people don’t care about the color of your skin.”
However, people like João will tell you that Brazil has a lot of systemic racism, as well.
Clara is in her 40s and lives in the far northern part of the city in a neighborhood called Irajá.
“But I work here,” she says. “It takes me more than an hour to get here,” she adds.
Even though she spends around ten reais (about $2) in commuting, Clara says work in Ipanema earns her more.
“A lot of us non-White people come to work here because the tourists are nicer, let’s admit it,” she says. “I prefer to be a waitress here than in my area. People here can be very racist, but they are polite about it.”
Clara, who considers herself ethnically mixed, says the diversity of Ipanema has to do with everyone wanting to go there.
“It is a very nice neighborhood, and I could never afford to live here,” she says.
Hotels and Other Accommodation
Ipanema has many resorts, hotels, and hostels. There is something for every budget. Most hotels have staff that speaks English, too.
Luxury hotels include Prai Ipanema Hotel, Sol Ipanema Hotel, and Hotel Arpoador.
They all cost over $500 per night.
Mid-ranges include Hotel Tulip Inn Rio de Janeiro Ipanema, Hotel Hotel San Marco Ipanema, and Hotel Hotel San Marco Ipanema.
So, these are above $100 but less than $500.
Meanwhile, there are hostels like Ipanema Beach House, Mango Tree Ipanema, and Shamanic Home.
Hostels will cost less than $100 per night.
Of course, things are changing a lot around the world when it comes to accommodations.
“For the past week, I had been staying at an Airbnb,” says Jack, a Canadian. “Must say that I was surprised it was effortless to get one,” he adds.
Yes, there are apartments you can rent for a day or week or even a month.
Apartment owners in Ipanema rent their apartments on places like Booking.com, as well.
So, there are a lot of options for travelers who want to stay in Ipanema.
Restaurants and Eateries
Ipanema has a lot of great restaurants. From cafes to fast food and fine dining, this neighborhood has it all!
Brazilian food is fantastic, and Ipanema gives you a chance to sample at different eateries.
For example, you could say that feijoada, composed of black beans and pork stew, is the Brazilian national dish. And what do you know, there is a restaurant for that in Ipanema!
Casa de Feijoada, a sit-down restaurant on Rua Prudente de Morais, is known for it. They serve this delicious dish from noon to midnight.
“The food is delicious,” says Wei, a Chinese traveler. “Perfect place to eat,” he adds. “My wife doesn’t like to eat meat, but she loved this dish!”
Meanwhile, consider trying unique things, too, as Brazilian is a multicultural society.
For instance, try Arabic food at the Restaurante Faraj on Rua Gomes Carneiro. Brazil has a lot of Arabs, especially Lebanese.
Likewise, sample Japanese food at Manekineko Ipanema on Rua Barão da Torre. Brazil is home to the largest community of Japanese outside of Japan!
“Personally, I prefer fast food places,” says Jack, the Canadian traveler.
Jack recommends enjoying some açaí (Brazilian fruit that also works as various frozen goodies) at Polis Sucos on Rua Maria Quiteria.
“For pizza, go to Pin Pin Sumos Ipanema,” he says.
This pizzeria is on Rua Vinicius de Moraes.
So, there are tons of places, and the best thing to do is to talk a stroll on Rua Prudente de Morais.
Rua Prudente de Morais is one block north of the seafront Avenida Vieira Souto.
Street art is prevalent in Ipanema, and you will see many walls covered with beautiful graffiti. There are also some sculptures and other public art.
In 2009, the Brazilian government legalized graffiti, which encouraged many local businesses to embrace their walls covered with art.
As a result, graffiti is a big part of the street art you will encounter in Ipanema.
Even though there are tons of graffiti everywhere, the best place to check it out is at the Bowl of Arpoador, a skating rink.
Likewise, there are local boutiques that do great window displays of art that you can enjoy as you stroll.
Fun Things To Do
Ipanema has a lot of fun things to do. For example, you could do beaching, people-watching, clubbing, and even shopping until you drop.
“There is a very famous bloco de carnaval [local carnival unit],” says Gerson. “It is called Banda de Ipanema,” he adds.
You will dance with this carnival unit. Speaking of dance, Ipanema has several nightclubs, locally known as casa noturna. Check out spots like BenSô Hall, Rock & Pop, and Galeria Café.
“Nightclubs here are not like those in New York or Los Angeles,” says Amanda, the American traveler. “They are laid-back much like everything else in Brazil,” she adds. “However, Brazilians know how to have fun wherever they are. The drinks are also stronger!”
Amanda recommends sampling the different spots to find one that is to your liking.
Likewise, there are tons of beach-related events such as surf contests, volleyball tournaments, and more.
Meanwhile, if you want to shop for souvenirs, try Feira Hippie de Ipanema, which happens on Sundays.
Ipanema is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro and all of Brazil.
In this guide, we covered where to stay, what to eat, and exciting things to do.
Likewise, we tried to give you a glimpse of the neighborhood from locals, travelers, and experts.
So, what is the conclusion to this guide? It is that Ipanema is a place you must visit when you are in Rio.
Let us know how your travels in Ipanema, Rio, and overall Brazil go!
AJ Paris is a travel photographer based in New York. He is the editor of Caravanzers.