Despite my crippling irrational fear of drowning and inability to swim or surf, I actually love the beach. Especially when it’s really, really hot out. I’ve lived near several beaches on both coasts (San Diego, LA, Miami, and several summer trips to the Hamptons while living in NYC), plus I’ve visited many others in my travels. Depending on what you’re into, however, I have to say my personal favorite beaches have been here in Brazil.
There are several things you can judge a beach on, from crowds and “culture” of the beach, to the texture of the sand and temperature of the water. Growing up on the Pacific, I don’t really mind if the ocean is freezing (as long as it’s really, really hot outside). Sand, however, is extremely important to me. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled because most of the sand at my favorite California beaches was likely imported to set back erosion. The best beaches are the ones with thick sand that doesn’t stick to your skin and make you feel dirty, but is comfortable to lay on. Also, never go to Nice, France. They don’t even have sand, they have rocks.
But this problem goes the other way too, when the sand is too fine and becomes, again, uncomfortable to lay on. In Salinas, Pará, the sand is basically dust, and the wind is so strong that lying on the ground is pretty much out of the question unless you are already blind. Also, the water there is warm and extremely salty, which makes for a hard day for your skin. However, the compact sand allows you to actually drive onto the beach in any normal car, which is pretty cool.
Most people agree that private beaches are better, and in San Diego I would have certainly agreed with you. But here in Brazil, the benefits of being on a popular beach far outweigh the fact that you have to spend a few extra minutes hunting for a spot. That said, I will explain why my favorite beach is Ipanema, and I’ll try not to sound too cliché while doing it.
1. It’s beautiful.
It’s so beautiful here, that people actually APPLAUD when the sun sets.
Also, the rumors are true. The beautiful women here are like goddesses, and are worth the awkwardness when you get caught staring. You can google that yourself, though. I’ll just say that being forced to share space with really attractive people isn’t all that bad.
2. You don’t have to bring anything.
Literally the only things Brazilians bring to the beach are some cash and a canga. No one uses towels, because let’s get real: towels suck. You almost never use them to dry off at the beach, and they just end up wet, heavy and caked in sand for the rest of the day. Brazilians use what Americans would call “sarongs” to lay out on (and less often as a “sarong”) at the beach. Simple, but brilliant.
Every single other thing you could need is sold on the beach, and you don’t even have to stand up. When you first arrive, there are guys working at huts every 50 paces along the beach to offer to rent you umbrellas and chairs, and sell you only-slightly-overpriced water bottles, beers (see #3) and even coconuts.
Of course, if your particular hut doesn’t have all the options you require, there are consistently people walking by with many other options. I personally recommend the dangerous queijo coalho, which is literally dangerous. It’s illegal to sell on the beach for health reasons (namely that it’s imported without following proper health laws and cooked on makeshift foguinhos that are probably made from toxic paint cans and other things).
3. You can drink on the beach.
Oh yeah, forget hiding your beers in red cups and pre-mixing vodka gatorades (if you went to USC, you’ll know what I’m talking about), no sneaky methods necessary. This is Brazil. Not only are you allowed to drink on the beach, but they will bring the beer to you. Relaxa.
I could have looped this in with #2 and all the stuff people will bring you, but mate deserves its own. This tea is actually from the south of Brazil, but is for whatever reason extremely popular in Rio and served on the beach by guys carrying giant metal jugs of it and screaming “MATE” at the top of their lungs, over and over.
FYI, it’s actually pronounced “mah-tche” because this is Brazil, and if you run around screaming “mate” people will probably just assume you are Australian. Or at least, I will.
5. Even the sidewalks are famous here.
The famous print of the Ipanema sidewalks are beautiful, and all over every souvenir shop. You know you’re doing it right when you don’t even have to show the ocean or sand, you can just show the sidewalk and already people want to be there.
No kidding, I saw a woman (in Ipanema!) wearing a dress that was the same print as the famous sidewalk.
Writing this just gave me horrible saudades for the beach. Lucky for me, I’m heading up to Rio for Carnaval and I’m looking forward to spending more time with my favorite beach in Brazil, and perhaps get to know some new ones! And it looks like it will be nice and hot (did I mention I love the heat?)