Our hotel is in Copacabana, four or five blocks from where the Rolling Stones are staying during their Rio gig. Okay, they are at the five-star Belmond Copacabana Palace while we are renting a place from Expedia (and are missing two pillowcases), but still, we are close to rock legends.
I can imagine the scene if we were in the same hotel.
“Mommy… the music hurts my ears! That’s LOUD!”
“That’s just Keith partying, honey.”
“Mommy… there are people in the elevator… I don’t like it, too many people.”
“Well, that’s Mick and his girlfriends, they are nice people.”
The first night, we noticed a gathering in front of the Copacabana Palace, people wearing Rolling Stones t-shirts and waiting by the hotel singing “I can’t get no satisfaction”. Sand portraits of Mike Jagger (instead of your boring sand castle art) along the waterfront were the cherry on the cake. We knew the band was in town and added two plus two.
Despite its fame, Copacabana isn’t actually that fancy. There are many posh hotels along the four-kilometer stretch of beach, but there are also tons of “normal” small businesses—lanchonetes, a juice bar at every corner and supermarkets just a block behind. Fun fact: the avenue along the beach isn’t the Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, this is the artery two blocks from the sand. The one along the waterfront with the famous wavy sidewalk made with black and white cobblestone after the calçada portuguesa is Avenida Atlântica. So if you want to go to Copacabana beach, don’t follow the Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. Brazilian logic.
Weekdays or weekends, Copacabana is where everybody hangs out. Kids from the favelas, tourists, locals, vendors, the military police… It’s a very inclusive beach, fairly clean by world standards considering it’s a city beach.
If you want to smell money, real money, you have to head to Ipanema. This is where you buy a new Vuitton bag and bring it back to your apartment with 24/7 security guards and heavy metal gates (the “help” goes through a different door, goes without saying). The smell of French perfumes floats in the streets and there is police everywhere. Technically, anyone can hang out in Ipanema but there are less homeless in the clean ruas, less garbage, less carelessness. Remains a bunch of snotty ladies and expensive imported products in supermarkets (they have galettes Saint-Michel!)
The beach is nice, though, and again, everyone is welcome to claim a patch of sand. It does get crowded but who cares?
Still, for the relaxed atmosphere, I like Copacabana best.