Copacabana – A Buzz of Carioca Life
Too often I see sad guides of Rio de Janeiro that follow the lines of pretty much walk to the beaches…. Marvel at the nature. Ok, that is wonderful folks and you should definitely soak in the stunning nature, but just so you know, the beach is a hustle bustle of people trying to sell you everything under the sun (get it 😉 ) and also jam-packed with dismal tourist
This is a series of Knockout Neighborhood Guides, starring you through what locals actually do every week. It aims at showing you why the residents of Rio de Janeiro choose to live in Rio de Janeiro and not “tourist” there. You will see a lot of food, maybe a fair share of walking and some hidden gems I picked up after 3 years of living in the marvelous city.
Knockout Neighborhood Guide to Copacabana
Copacabana – The big apple of Brazil. You’re humming the song …. I’m humming the song. Just a heads up Copacabana is huge. When you stand on one end of the beach you look over and you can see the other side and think what a damn beautiful walk it will be to get to the other side.
You can run it… if you are a super fit, but truthfully you need to break this neighborhood down into bitesize chunks.
Copacabana has just below 150,000 people living there. There are in the luxury apartments and there are cramped studios. Sometimes a whole family living under one roof or a single granny. It literally caters for people from all walks of life. Therefore, there is a lot on offer. Good high quality restaurants and authentic hideouts. Indeed, some of my top food picks are found in Copacabana and I often choose to spend at least part of my Sunday walking by the beach. On the other hand, it means there are also a lot of hustlers, a lot of traffic and a bunch of tourist traps.
Read through to get my top 8 things to do in Copacabana. You can filter through to check which ones really float your boat and scratch off the ones you think look not your cup of tea.
You may also enjoy our Guide to Ipanema.
1. Sport It Up at Copacabana Beach
Every Sunday the avenue by the coastline of Rio de Janeiro is closed off. This means you have a three lane smooth concrete path to practice your sweeet skateboarding/ rollerblading/ bike riding skills.
An excellent attribute of Brazil is that skateboarders are not exclusive to the subgroup of hairy, floppy haired teenage boys. No, skateboarding is a legit way of getting from A to B.
Not all of us has the gift of traveling via tiny wheels (nor the audacity), so you can run, you cycle, truthfully any sport you will track down in Copacabana. Also, something I find charming is this weekly rollerblading/ skateboarding hang out by the petrol station on the Sunday. They have disco lights and everything.
2. Monkey Watching
Duque de Caixas fort is an easy hike with unique views beginning at the military village in Leme. I write about it in this post on where to see monkeys in Rio. Trust me, bring your camera you WILL see monkeys.
3. Live Music at Copacabana’s Beach Bars
The beach of Copacabana is lined with little bar/ restaurants known as kiosks. The food is usually average, the caipirinhas are precarious BUT there is live music and beach views to rival bars around the world. I suggest the Skol Kiosk because they usually have music at the weekends.
The prawns in garlic and oil are a great snack and also coconut water, which come inside a fresh coconut!
Note: the toilets do not belong to the kiosks and thus, being public you usually have to pay … but it is 20 US cents. You will also be charged a cover fee if there is music. I believe the musician deserves it though.
4. Bar do David
Bar do David is actually inside the favela of Chapéu Mangueira just at the back of Copacabana. I am all for entrepreneurs and David is a smashing one. He launched his little bar with a focus on great appetizers, known as petiscos, entering the yearly Rio de Janeiro bar competition. He won with flying colors and became so popular he had to build an extensive on his little bar.
David is always working and likes to greet everyone he can personally. An excellent and responsible way to visit a favela and give back to the community.
If you are interested, this post explains more about Visiting Favelas Responsibly.
5. Eat to Your Heart’s Content
A neighborhood with a Hollywood famous name, which draws tourists form the far flung stretches of the universe, as well as lots and lots of Brazilians. This means a TONNE of food. As a consequence you can also easily trip up and grab yourself a unpleasantly dank meal. Therefore, I will start you off with some of my favorites.
Churrascaria Palace – this is not the touristic churrascarria, it is where the Brazilians go on there Sunday. As a bonus if it’s your birthday within the month and you bring a bunch of friends, you eat for free! What makes this all you can eat meat buffet stand out from the crowd is that they hold monthly food festivals. Meaning sometimes they specialize in barbecuing seafood, other weeks exotic animals (like alligator) and always it is absolutely delicious. You’ll be disappointed you can’t fit more in your belly.
Arab – this restaurant by the beach where they have a buffet that you pay by the weight. The food is labeling Arab and basically constitutes a variety of dishes from the Middle East that Brazilians round up together into one food category.
Bar do Adão specializes in pasteis. These are special fried pastries filled traditionally with cheese, meat or shrimp. I love this restaurant because the menu is chocka with all the fillings you can think of.
Peixe Vivo – Fresh fish prepared flawlessly. Not super expensive also.
6. A Local’s Bar
At the back of Copabana there is a bar called Adega Perola. It is a tiny establishment that overflows at weekends. Usually you have to stand and drink, alla Carioca, because locals just can’t get enough of it. Actually, its charm lies in that it is a true classic. Therefore, it boasts those same bathroom tiles and questionable decor as most of the part of Rio de Janeiro that never updated itself. They really like to cling on to the past in Brazil. On the other side, this means that they have clung onto traditions like the Portuguese deli counter and booze on offer.
You pay via appetizer and weight. I love the octopus vinegarette washed down with a lima de persa caipivodka.
7. Hotel View at Top
Othon Palace hotel is the highest hotel on the main beach avenue of Copacabana. Unfortunately, it has a bad habit of casting an enormous shadow on the beach in front of it, but on the other hand the views are awesome.
The building is a classic with some pretty high prices and a flash drive up area endemic of the 1950s glory days. Though you have a chance to make the most of it’s luxurious views without necessarily spending all your backup funds.
Walk right up past the reception and hop in the elevator heading to the rooftop restaurant. Prices are typical of the city, but the view you will get will blow your mind away.
Get drunk up there! It’s so bloomin’ beautiful!
8. Bossa Nova Shop
Next up is this gem of a shop, Bossa Nova e Compania is great for budding musicians or those who have a soft spot for Brazilian rhythms. You can buy musical scores for Chorro, Bossa Nova, Samba for any instrument that usually plays it.
I bought several for flute that I have NEVER found anywhere else. In a day and age where you can get everything from the internet this is truly special.
You can also pick up cds. Old school, I know, but a great way to whittle down some classic Brazilian music without having to take on the INTERNET. That I know is a daunting task…
Should You Stay in Copacabana?
Finally it is definitely a feasible option with some cracking discount prices on offer staying in Copacabana. I like to describe Copacabana as a Carioca roots neighborhood, since you will be living side by side a whole bunch of eclectic Brazilians. Grannies, hustlers, workers, young people, rich kids they all congregate here.
However, I wouldn’t stay in Copacabana if you are looking for peace and quite. There is a constant buzz and so many things to discover, but also as a tourist you probably won’t blend in. This may mean you are pestered. Some people love that, some people don’t. Therefore, decide which one you are before setting up shack in Copacabana.