1. Never seen garbage bins overflowing with discarded green coconuts before? Now you have.
2. There are surprisingly clean public bathroom facilities at every posto for 2.70 reais ($0.70). You can also find changing pads for babies along the beach.
3. Talking about public facilities, it was tempting to bring my soap and shampoo and a shower at the beach because we had no water pressure at the hotel. There are three kinds of showers along Copa and Ipa—paid showers (most of them hidden underground), free showers on the beach, and free eco-friendly steam-refreshing shower along Avenida Atlântica. Yes, Brazilians take beaches seriously.
4. Copacabana and Ipanema are probably the world’s biggest display of naked butts but you won’t see a single nipple.
5. Avenida Atlântica along Copacabana beach and Avenida Vieira Souto along Ipanema beach are also probably the only main streets where you can walk around in a thong swimsuit.
6. Need sunglasses, a new swimsuit, a sarong or craft jewellery? A sudden craving for popcorn, a caipirinha, a caipivodka, empadas, cotton candy, shrimps or meat skewers, cheese grilled over charcoal, watermelon, Biscoito Globo, roasted cashew, rice pudding, ice-cold beer or just… ice? Stay on the beach, tons of vendors walk by, singing out what they’re hawking.
7. Renting a chair is 5 reais ($1.20) well spent to mark your territory. Both beaches get very crowded.
8. Few people actually go swimming. The water is pretty cold, currents are strong, waves are huge and the water isn’t exactly super clean (hint, sewage smell in some spots…).
9. More cops doesn’t mean more crime. In most countries, a police car equals a traffic accident or an arrest but in Rio, police is dispatched as a deterrent. The richer the neighbourhood, the more police you’ll see. For instance, as soon as you step into Ipanema, you’re greeted by the Polícia Civil do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, the Guarda Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, and the Polícia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, plus the tourist police. Some officers carry a tonfa, others have machine guns—do they play heads or tails at the beginning of the workday? Most of the time, if you see a random street with plenty of police cars, it means it’s an access to a comunidade, i.e. a favela. For instance, there’s always police on Rua Francisco Sá, which leads to Cantagalo, one of the favelas overlooking Copacabana. Note that “police presence” is sometimes taken literally—there’s always a police car parked at both ends of the “tunnel of death”, but I have yet to see an officer sitting in the car…
10. Both beaches as well as Avenida Atlântica are great spots for people watching and to understand Rio de Janeiro’s socio-economic diversity. See the guys digging into the orange garbage bins and carrying giant bags of cans? They are catadores (waste pickers) collecting metal. See the gay couples? In this spot of Ipanema, it’s okay to be gay (in other parts of the city, apparently, not so much). Ipanema is also full of rich kids wearing trendy brands, surfers, body-obsessed Cariocas, old ladies walking their dogs, favela kids playing football, tourists getting drunk of cheap beer and more.