A neighbourhood whose name is recognised worldwide, but whose charm is reserved for those who have roamed its coastline, Ipanema shows off the best of Rio de Janiero.
Rio de Janiero’s physical landscape is unparalleled. Mountains sculpt the city, etched with tunnels and highways, lakes embellish neighbourhoods and sandy beaches line the city’s dramatic coastline. The small beachside neighbourhood of Ipanema is located next to Copacabana in the popular south zone of the city, which is generally considered a safe tourist area. From stylish eateries to beachfront bars where you can sip caipirinhas all day long, Ipanema is a highlight of Brazil’s once capital.
The area became known globally thanks to the 1960s hit, The Girl from Ipanema. The serene sands that occupy the length of Ipanema are one of its most impressive and popular attractions, and the location from which this song was created. It was on this very beach that Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim were inspired by one Brazilian local who would regularly pass them as she went to do her shopping; over time the song was composed and upon its release went on to win awards and be recognised worldwide.
Its popularity among artists and musicians spans from here through the country’s military dictatorship, with many flocking to Ipanema to meet here during this era as they sought a place that offered some sense of freedom. Ipanema continues to be a favoured spot among local creatives. Throughout the city, travellers can see homages to artists who have left their mark on Rio, with a life-size bronze statue of Tom Jobim occupying a prime spot on Ipanema beach.
Nowadays, the neighbourhood is one of Rio’s more expensive, lined by trees adorned with orchids, something you’ll regularly see throughout the city. It is generally populated by the upper-middle class and filled with theatres, bars, restaurants and hotels. Many of the city’s majestic land formations are visible from Ipanema: glance in the direction of Copacabana and you’ll see the cable car regularly ascend Sugarloaf mountain, or gaze towards Leblon to see one of Rio’s most famous landmarks, the Morro Dois Irmãos, or the Two Brothers’ Hill, looming beyond the beach. This mixture creates the ideal base for travellers coming to the city looking to immerse themselves in everything Rio has to offer.
Things to Do
Ipanema’s best-known feature is its beach – and rightly so: once you see it, it is a struggle to prise yourself away. Whether you are here for sport, relaxation or entertainment the beach is the heart of the neighbourhood. As you wander the 2.6 km sandy beach that stretches from Leblon to Arpoador, you’ll notice it is punctuated by postos that dictate – somewhat unofficially – who you will find there. For example, Posto 9 typically attracts local creatives whilst sporty residents, particularly volleyball fans, will be working out around Posto 10.
For those keen to surf, Ipanema’s waters provide fairly consistent conditions for the sport. Posto 7 is frequented primarily by surfers, so tourists should head here and are advised to follow the lead of the regulars and only venture where they surf and swim. The neighbourhood of Ipanema gained its name from the indigenous word ‘bad waters,’ which is an accurate description of the strong currents and grand waves that regularly crash onto the shore.
This stretch of sand also offers endless opportunities for sports; whether you want to run a 5K loop, rent a bike and take in the view point at Leblon, Mirante do Leblon, or head to Posto 10 for some volleyball. On Sundays, the main road which runs beside the beach is closed to vehicles, so whatever your chosen activity is, you can enjoy it without the chaos of the city’s traffic.
Even after a day at the beach, the area’s most picturesque moment is yet to reveal itself: sunset. Head over to Arpoador Rock, where locals and tourists cram onto the rocky mound to enjoy darkness descend on the city. A short path through cacti and a small set of stairs is the most accessible route to the main rocks. Alternatively you can navigate the rocks yourself and find your own, more secluded spot. Though with the amount of people that head here, don’t expect it to be too private. If you don’t fancy the rocks, there is a small enclave to enjoy the view from!
Away from the beach, head into the main streets and you’ll find the best locations for shopping. The Hippie Market, known locally as Feira Hippie de Ipanema, is located in the main square and is only a few blocks behind the beach. This bustling street market is open on Sundays from 8am to 6pm. It is a great place to pick up some local trinkets and souvenirs. For those looking for artworks, venture into its centre, where you’ll find local artists selling larger canvases and paintings.
Restaurants, Bars & Cafés
Throughout Brazil, travellers will stumble across botecos. These are lively bars that usually serve bar snacks and often have live music – although all are slightly different. Boteco Boa Praça (Av. Vieira Souto, 110) is a bustling spot just across from the beach that is particularly popular in the evenings with both locals and tourists. A large outdoor area, live music and a relaxed atmosphere give guests various flavours of the country alongside well-priced beers and caipirinhas.
Brazil’s superfood, açai, has been making itself well-known worldwide over the past decade, but the best and traditional servings of it are found in the country itself. For those not familiar with the berry, it’s normally served as a frozen sorbet-like dish and has quite a distinct flavour to it – though some places add extra sugar to sweeten it. Amazônia Soul (37 B – Teixeira De Melo, Praça General Osório) is a small restaurant serving traditional flavours of the Amazon, located in the square where the Hippie Market takes place. Portion sizes of açai tend to be large, with most locations giving guests the option of small, medium or large, though here there is also a mini açai option for the curious diner. The dish also comes with optional toppings – granola and banana are the classic combination.
Rio has a long history of bakeries, with some in the historic centre being the most decadent. Ipanema itself is filled with much smaller cafes serving equally delicious pastries and sweet bites. Visit Baked – Padaria & Forneria (Rue Visc. de Pirajá, 183) to sample Brazilian favourite brigadeiros, a rich chocolate dessert, or opt for a savoury pão de queijo.
Vegetarian food and Brazil might not seem like an obvious pairing, but Ipanema has various vegetarian and vegan establishments. One popular option is Teva (Av. Henrique Dumont, 110) which serves vegetarian takes on classic Brazilian dishes, meaning all travellers will be able to sample authentic tastes of the country.
Located at the intersection of the famous Ipanema and Copacabana, Hotel Arpoador is a modern, stylish hotel with some rooms offering incredible panoramic ocean views. The hotel’s beachfront restaurant serves delicious Brazilian dishes and is a popular eating spot throughout the day even with those not staying at the hotel. Its location means it’s a great option to grab a post-beach caipirinha or watch the sun go down.
The welcoming atmosphere and extra touches make the family-run Ipanema Inn Hotel a popular choice. Its excellent central location in the neighbourhood makes it incredibly accessible. It’s just off the main stretch of the beach and near to Nossa Senhora da Paz Train Station for those looking to explore a little further. Surrounded by bars and restaurants, travellers staying here will enjoy numerous options right on their doorsteps.
Hostel New Ipanema makes a great choice for travellers on a budget, or for those looking for a more social experience. Its beachfront location has a variety of private or dorm rooms, some complete with small terraces. Guests can join organised trips and social events that create a lovely, friendly vibe at the hostel. Laundry service and airport shuttles are available at an additional charge, with some room tariffs including breakfast.