‘The Girl from Ipanema’ – a song written the year I was born (1962) – resonates to this day with a happy-go-lucky beach beat appropriately synonymous with one of the world’s most charismatic shorelines.
A quick headland walk around from Copacabana Beach, Ipanema has always been my favourite. It has a more community vibe to its swagger, and despite facing some of the world’s most exclusive and expensive collections of beachfront real estate, the beach scene at Ipanema reflects all aspects of life in Rio.
Glamorous tourists soak up the sunshine and sea swell amidst families from the nearby hillside favelas, as well as football, volley ball, surfing, racquets and body-beautiful posing enthusiasts. While the peak times of the day focus on the heat of the afternoon, some of my favourites visits have been pre-sunrise as the early morning light washes over an otherwise sleepy city.
This is when the working community of Ipanema beach goes about its gentle early morning set-up to a backdrop of silvery calm surf and near deserted beach-life. It is a far cry from the scene later in the day when tens of thousands descend onto the beach’s fine white sands.
The early hours usher in a much calmer ambience, with the odd sunrise walker waving across to the beach-sports salesman, promenade runner or returning late night party goer. At this time of the day, even when there is a powerful three metre swell, the waterfront bathes itself in a blue-fin glow as the crashing surf catches the morning breeze, as if trying to reach the distant Ecological Park End favelas. Which in turn look down from their colourful mountain side perches like custodian life-guards surveying all below.
As the morning heat builds up, energy levels rise and each section of this 9km stretch of beach begins to take on its own character. For example, while the well-heeled young and beautiful tend to decamp nearer the Posto 10 Rio Country Club region (in the middle of Ipanema Beach), the Posto 9 area tends to be more family orientated with lifeguards. As you walk west towards Praia Leblon (Posto 11) there can be much quieter pockets.
The Ipanema Farme section, known as a gay beach, has a welcoming environment with vendors selling everything from cold caipirinha cocktails to fresh coconuts and croissants. Equally if you are feeling the heat you can walk back across the swirly promenade and cycle path to the nearby galleries, restaurants and, on Sundays, the world-famous Hippie Fair.
Whatever the time of day, season or surf report, ‘people watching’ remains one of the most popular pastimes. It won’t be long before you too are seduced by the scene at Ipanema, with its exciting swagger and swank, epitomising all that is bold and beautiful in this glitzy part of Rio de Janeiro.
You’ll see her soon enough. Even old Blue Eyes himself noted ‘the girl from Ipanema… when she walks, she’s like a samba that swings so cool, and sways so gentle …’