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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe world’s most famous and infamous beach stretches out for almost 4kms along Rio de Janeiro’s striking southern bay. For decades, Copacabana was renowned both as a fashionable sun-worshipping hub and the city’s most stylish suburb, brimming with opulent hotels, restaurants, and clubs. Nowadays, however, that kind of hip and trendy focus has definitely shifted to Ipanema, a smaller yet just as famous beach just a few kilometers down the coast; leaving Copacabana to be more of a middle-range option for visitors who wish to be in the heart of the action, but don’t necessarily want to declare bankruptcy to do so.
Many international visitors often feel disappointed when visiting Copacabana, somehow dreaming of experiencing the flamboyant scenes for which the place is still so revered. But much like Cannes in France, whose golden days are most definitely in the past, Copacabana too has simply undergone a very natural shift in social evolution. Visit this most-sung-about beach today and you’ll find it overrun with tourists and hawkers; a place where swimming is hazardous and where finding a quiet spot in which to sunbake near impossible. If you’re after a beach day out, then best you head to Ipanema or Leblon, but if you’d like to set foot on what was once the most sought-after address in Brazil, then don’t miss your chance to visit Copacabana.
Copacabana’s very mild fall from its high and mighty pedestal, however, has had very beneficial consequences for its tourism. Although only the rich, famous, and affluent could afford to stay here in the 70s and 80s, leading to less than ideal occupancy rates, this very central hood is where you’ll now find the largest selection and variety of hotels, hostels, restaurants, bar and clubs; making it perfectly ideal for anyone, with any budget.
Copacabana Through the DecadesBack in the glitzy 50s and 60s, anyone worth their weight in sparkling bling would spend endless summers showing off on Copacabana Beach. Ironic enough, when one learns that before the tunnel linking it to Botafogo was built in 1900, this part of the bay was little more than a fishing enclave.
The Copacabana Palace, built in 1923, was the first major hotel to be built here and soon became THE place to stay and be seen in, attracting an array of glitterati from all over the world. Just a few years later, when likes of Carmen Miranda hit Broadway, Rio de Janeiro, and Copacabana in particular, was propelled into the international tourist scene. In its golden days, Copacabana was a stunningly beautiful nook of Rio, with only a smattering of stunning people strutting their stuff on the glistening shores.
Yet the shift in Rio’s economic and social status hit Copacabana hard, flooding its pristine beaches and trendy streets with waves of countryside immigrants. The rise of the city’s many favela led to a complete overhaul of the city’s, and in turn suburb’s, vibe. Although some see it as a pity, many find Copacabana a perfect representation of modern-day Brazil. Lively, multi-cultural, edgy, enticing and offering a little of everything Brazil has to offer, it is still one of the most interesting and exotic spots in the entire city. On one side it’s plagued by petty crime and pollution and, on the other, it‘s still trying to desperately hang on to its glamorous reputation. Which side will eventually prevail is anyone’s guess.
The BeachIt’s probably a good thing that one visits Copacabana for the people-watching, sightseeing, and vibe, because when it comes to being a fantastic swimming beach, this spot falls rather short. Luckily, there’s still plenty of spectacular sights to enjoy here, including Sugarloaf Mountain and the 18th-century Fort Duquede Caxais on the left, and the Fort Copacabana and Army Historical Museum on the right.
The Seaside PromenadesThe 4km-long walk along the beach is as interesting as it is colorful, with high season attractions like sand sculptures and sporting events (including football, outdoor gyms, and beach volleyball games) put on to entertain the crowds. You’ll find plenty of stalls selling icy cold coconut juice and plenty of beach bars offering cheap and refreshing beer on tap. The seaside promenade, which runs for the length of the beach and is pedestrian-only, is popular with joggers, roller bladders, and cyclists. Across the road is where you’ll find the still-very-luxe Copa Palace and Marriott Hotels, and quite an extensive smattering of fantastic local eateries.
The Sunday FiestaIf you only have time to spend one day on Copacabana then do make sure it’s on a Sunday, when Avenida Atlantica is closed off to traffic and hosts a brilliant market selling souvenirs, trinkets, clothing, and bags. This being Rio, you’ll also enjoy a vast array of loud, catchy music, dancing, and merry making.
Interesting FactsHere are some weird and wacky facts you may not know about Copacabana.
- On New Year’s Eve in 1994, Rod Stewart held an outdoor concert on the beach, which was attended by over 3.5 million people. It is still the largest concert ever held in the world.
- In July 2013, Copacabana also hosted the largest religious gathering ever held. Pope Francis attended during World Youth Day and three international presidents were also in attendance.
- Bossa Nossa, the music genre most made famous by the song ‘the Girl from Ipanema’, actually originated in Copacabana.
- Every evening, a team of council workers descend on Copacabana Beach to attempt a clean-up of the litter left behind by day-trippers.
- Poor sanitation systems means that water faecal contamination off Copacabana is always several times over the government’s set ‘safe’ level.
- Copacabana is the most densely populated area of Rio de Janeiro and one of the world’s most human-packed hoods.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: May 16, 2015