For first-timers, a five-mile stroll along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches — Rio de Janeiro’s two most fabled sand parentheses — will stir up feelings even in those who have long and unironically listed “walks on the beach” as a favorite pastime.
Such reactions may range from counterfactual nostalgia (“Imagine coming of age in a place like this”) to cultural aha moments (“Bossa nova makes so much sense now”) to medium-term reverie (“What are the rules on Brazil’s digital-nomad visa again?”).
More than 20 visits in, I still turn some kind of emotional every time I return to Rio and set foot on the boardless boardwalk where the vast majority of this stroll takes place. Brazilians call such a beachfront sidewalk the “calçadão,” but forget pronouncing it and focus on its official sound: a thousand flip-flops slapping the wave-patterned Portuguese pavement.
Start midafternoon on a sunny day — the Rio beach scene under gray skies is like Italy during a pasta shortage. Weekends are good, December to February summer weekends are better, and Sundays are ideal, as the city closes the adjacent beachfront avenue for throngs and thongs of promenading locals.
Not far past Posto 6, your first beach comes to an end at Fort Copacabana. Cut across on Francisco Otaviano Street for three-plus blocks, ducking through a park to Arpoador Beach — known best for morning surfers and late-afternoon sunset applauders, but also home to a charming little peninsula-top park.
If you haven’t left the beach yet, consider turning right on Rua Vinícius de Moraes (named for the lyricist of “Girl From Ipanema”) onto the posh Ipanema neighborhood’s main drag for either ice cream at Vero or an icy guava juice or grilled sandwich at Polis Sucos.
Distance: Five miles
Difficulty: Easy, because it’s almost entirely flat, but you’ll get hot and sweaty on a sunny day.
Time to walk: Two and a half to three hours, with lingering.
Good for kids: Probably not the best bet for young children given the length, and the fact that they’ll probably be more interested in playing on the beach.