Rio de Janeiro is home to more than a dozen beaches. There’s the song-worthy Copacabana and Ipanema; the bayside Botafogo beach, which makes up for its small size with an impressive view of Sugarloaf Mountain; and Arpoador beach, where a rock jutting over the water provides the perfect spot to watch the sunset.

We spent most of our time on Leblon beach, one of the southern-most beaches in Rio’s Zona Sul district. The beach hugs a national park that’s home to the Dois Irmãos (“two brothers”) mountains.

Even in the dead of the South American winter, Leblon lived up to all the stereotypes about Rio beaches: sugary sand, stupid-pretty views, and gorgeous people in teeny bikinis.

Lounging on Rio Beaches

Sunday morning on Leblon Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio beach scene was alive and well in June, the dead of the South American winter.

If you don’t want to look like an obvious tourist on the beaches of Rio, follow these three tips to blend in with the locals.

Rio Beach Tip One: Leave Your Crap At Home

Bring nothing but yourself and some cash. No towels. No coolers. Heck, you don’t even need to bring a swimsuit.

You’ll find a Super Wal-Mart worth of beach vendors on Rio’s sands. What do you need – sunscreen, beach chair, an inflatable kiddie pool?

There goes a man with three dozen bikinis dangling from a twirling umbrella. Here’s a woman loaded with sarongs. Someone shakes a beer can made into a castanet and chants, “coco, mate, cerveja, limonada.”

A lesson on how to tie a sarong on the beaches of Rio

Towels are for losers. A sarong doubles as a towel and a cover-up. Here’s me getting a lesson on how to tie a sarong from the woman who sold it to me for about USD $10.

Vendors are not overly aggressive. If you make eye contact they’ll come by, but a quick “não, obrigado” will send them on their way. They don’t appear to compete with each other either. If one is out of beer/sandwiches/beach toys, he’ll call another over to serve you.

People excercising on Rio beaches

A jogger works out on Leblon beach. In the background you can see a vendor with an umbrella full of bikinis and behind him, the Dois Irmãos (“two brothers”) mountains.

Rio Beach Tip Two: Show Some Skin

Rio may be the only place in the world where you’ll feel like a prude in a bikini.

Everyone else is wearing g-strings with teeny bra tops, or banana hammocks and tiny shorts. Even the kids pranced around in very, very small suits.

There was a wonderful air of acceptance on the beach. No one leered. No one appeared self-conscious. Perhaps by letting it all hang out, there’s less judgment and objectification in Rio.

(But keep something on. None of Rio’s main beaches are topless or nudist. Even if your bathing suit covers barely four Band-Aids’ worth of flesh, it’s still required.)

Beach Tip Three: Go On Sunday

On Sunday the roads next to the beach are closed to traffic until around 6pm. Pedestrians, bikers and skateboarders take over.

The streets near Rio beaches are closed on Sundays to traffic

The streets are closed on Sundays for pedestrians and bikers. This is a welcome reprieve from the craziness that is normal traffic in Rio.

During the week, Rio’s no-holds-barred approach to driving can make the sidewalks sandwiched between the beach and the road downright unpleasant. But on Sundays, with the cars gone, the sidewalks are almost as much of a scene as the beach.

Make time to explore. You’ll find sculptors carving castles and shapes of women’s backsides into the sand. Tightropes are stretched between the palm trees that line the roads. There are more vendors, and also more police.

Tight-rope walkers practise their stuff on Rio beaches,

Tight-rope walkers practice their stuff near Ipanema Beach.

What did I miss? Share your tips for fitting in on Rio’s beaches in the comment section below.

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