Rio de Janeiro is called the Marvelous City. The name is appropriate for a land that switches seamlessly between urban chaos, golden beaches, and forest green mountains. In all my travels I have never seen a city with such geographic diversity, and when I arrived in Brazil I wanted to explore each facet of marvelousness thoroughly. As such, I started with a day on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
I came to Copacabana late on Thursday night after a 12-hour flight from London. Bleary eyed and jet lagged, I took a taxi to my hotel, the Pestana Rio Atlantica. It had generously offered me a huge room with expansive views over Copacabana Beach for the night. Tired as I was, I couldn’t resist peeking out the window to see the golden sand in the moonlight.
The next morning I woke up and went straight out onto the balcony to get a better look at the beach. The stretch of sand went all up and down the coast, flanked on one side by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and on the other by a stretch of high-rise hotels. In the distance were the mountains, which stuck up out of the landscape like so many green thumbs.
I took my time getting ready for the day, enjoying the breakfast buffet in the lobby restaurant before heading out to take a walk along the beach. There was a promenade that ran the length of the sand, complete with a wave pattern on the ground. It was full of small restaurants and cafes, and lined with sculptural sandcastles advertising everything from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
I spent most of the day strolling up and down Copacabana Beach, sometimes on the promenade and sometimes next to the waves. Throughout the day I stopped to drink fresh coconut water straight from the source, have a pizza for lunch at one of the many small restaurants along the sand, and peruse a market selling all kinds of touristy kitsch.
In the middle of the afternoon I checked out of my accommodation and checked into my next hotel on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro: the Copacabana Palace. A historic hotel built for Brazil’s centenary, the Copacabana Palace dates back to 1923 and is one of the few buildings on the beach from its era.
My room was large and decorated in pinks and whites with tropical green accents. It made me feel like I was back in Bermuda. After I got situated, I headed down to the large swimming pool and found the most heavily shaded lounge chair under which I could park my already sunburned skin.
An hour later I was itching to get back to Copacabana Beach. I took another walk, had another coconut, and made my way down to the southern end. I checked out the fort that was located there, and then walked up the promenade as street vendors were setting out colorful sarongs, tank tops, gloves, sunglasses, and other goods to sell to the passing crowds.
Later in the evening I returned to the beach again to watch the many soccer games taking place on the sand while having dinner at one of the restaurants. The tabouleh dish I ordered was surprisingly good, and I soaked up the last few rays of sun before my day at the beach came to and end.
Exploring Copacabana Beach was my first step in verifying Rio de Janeiro’s reputation as the Marvelous City. The beach most definitely impressed me and proved that at least one part of the city lived up to its nickname. But I still needed to see Rio’s urban areas, green spaces, and other beaches. Thankfully I had two more days to let one of Brazil’s most famous cities marvel me more. In the meantime, I was off to Salvador…