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Ipanema, Rio de Janieiro, Brazil

“Tall and tanned and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking,

And when she passes, each one she passes, goes ‘aaah!’”(The Girl from Ipanema by

Vincius de Moraes and Tom Jobim)

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema is the setting for the postcards with the big assed Brazilian women, side by side on the sands in tiny bikinis. It’s been voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and in some ways, it’s Brazil at it’s best. The beach is full of beautiful bodies, the Brazilians sit around chatting about the latest tele novela on the sands and then get up to make the gringos feel inadequate, by playing volleyball without the use of their hands.

Ipanema beach itself is about a kilometer long and in the distance are the two hills known as the ‘Two Brothers, peaks that overlook the biggest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha. The lights from Rocinha twinkle at night and you can just about fool yourself into believing that it’s beautiful from a distance.

Rio beaches are divided by postos (lifeguard posts) and all the action happens around posto 9, where the young and hip come to hang out. If you ever wondered where bikini heaven is, it’s here on the beach of Ipanema. To got topless is quite taboo but wearing the skimpiest bikinis in the world is perfectly okay, it seems. To make things worse the girls periodically run into the ocean to emerge dripping with water…

The guys get in on the action too, though, in their thin Speedo trunks and they’re the first to roll up the joints that posto 9 is famous for. As the clouds of marijuana drift up and own the beach the police often try to bust these stoners. It’s customary for a slow hand clap to start the moment the Brazilian cops are spotted to let everyone know they’re coming. If anyone is caught, the bathers sometimes mass around the cops to pressure them into letting the culprit free.

Down at posto 8 you have the gay part of the beach and so guys shouldn’t be surprised if they draw attention here. Many Rio girls also come down to posto 8 just to relax without having to receive so many lustful stares.

The water in Ipanema is kinda rough and the name Ipanema itself comes from an indigenous word that translates as ‘troubled waters’. It looks calm enough but huge waves roll in and you’ll want to be careful even taking quick dips.

Cafe tents line the sands and you can get your beers and coconuts from them, even an umbrella if you’re a wimp. Otherwise there are guys walking up and down selling lemonade, cold mate tea and a legendary pineapple salesman who runs up behind the pretty girls and yells: “Aaaaaaaaabacaxi!” (Pineapple!”) He loves it when they scream.

Of course this wouldn’t be Roadjunky if we didn’t get cynical at some stage. Whilst everyone who lives near the beach likes to hit the sands from time to time, you have to ask yourself who are all the people who have so much time that they spend every day on the beach. A short excerpt from the “Girl from Ipanema” (according to Roadjunky) will explain:

“There she goes, just back from holiday skiing in Switzerland,

Her daddy works for Globo TV. she’s planning to study in the States next year,

But she won’t ever have to work a day in her life,”

We’re working on the rhymes.

Up and down the sands the Brazilians blow you away with their natural coordination as guys and girls gather round to play hackysack with a football. Then they move along to play foot volley, alluded to earlier, where two play two on a volleyball court, using their feet, shoulders, heads – anything but their hands – to get the ball across the net.

Come down here at night and you might catch one of the big games that are played for money. The punters betting on the sides swear at the players on each turn.

Ipanema Neighbourhood

Ipanema is a wealthy area, just a short walk from Copacabana and, though it’s also on the tourist trail, it has nowhere near as much hotel development or crime as it’s neighbour. It’s a very pretty area to walk around with clean streets and chic little shops and boutiques.

Of course, Ipanema is also where the Brazilian cult of the body reaches its zenith and so almost half the shops are beauty clinics, hair dressers or gymnasiums. This is the neighbourhood for health food shops and yoga centres too.

Ipanema is strong on street cafes called botequim and these are good places to stop and get pizza and beer before hitting the bars. Try 3 blocks back from the beach on Vincius de Moraes for the best. Ipanema isn’t the greatest place for nightlife in Rio de Janeiro but has a few bars where you can pass away the hours and try to get laid.

Behind Ipanema is the favela, Cantagalo, rising up on the hill. About four blocks back from the beach, you can walk along Barao de Torre during the day and check it out: behind piles of wood and long vines hanging down from the jungle, heavy set guys guard the staircase and keep watch for the military police or hostile coke cartels. Walking along here 12 year old kids will offer you ‘white or black?’ (cocaine or marijuana ) and you might see a fire burning at night. It’s safe by day, a little edgy at night.

Ipanema is pretty safe but after midnight there’s the possiblity of getting mugged on secluded streets or beach areas. Don’t carry more than you’re happy to lose and maybe take taxis if you’re not sure at night.