Most travelers will see their first beaches in Rio, which does have some remarkable, if crowded shores. Of the famed Zona Sul beaches, Ipanema is a classic choice.
If it’s not too crowded, it’s a beautiful stretch of sand, with kiosks to pick up a coconut to down the water from the shell or a caipirinha. There’s plenty of scenery along the sand and the jagged pinnacles of the Two Brothers that loom up beyond the next beach, Leblon.
A couple blocks from the water, you can revisit the inspiration for the “Girl From Ipanema” with a visit to Garota de Ipanema, the cafe where the song was written.
If your tastes run to fewer tourists, more nature, Arpoador Beach is hidden by the rocky bluffs separating Copacabana from Ipanema. It’s an isolated cove with wild waves and (relative) peace in the middle of chaos.
About an hour south of Recife, Tamandare is an unpretentious beach town with a shore you can wander for miles and explore nearby wetlands. A couple miles from town, you’ll find one of the most idyllic coastal stretches in Brazil.
Tucked into a grove of palms off a dirt road, Praia dos Carneiros looks like it escaped from a South Seas postcard. The white sand beach faces a small, lagoon-style bay that’s great for swimming. The water is bathtub-warm, and there are no waves to contend with. Leaning, long-frond palms form a picturesque colonnade down the shoreline.
Watercraft are available for rent, and boat tours of the bay and wetlands are a great way to get to know the area.
Carneiros’s superb natural setting is perfect for a quiet, not chaotic, day at the beach. The secret to the tranquility is that Carneiros is a private beach. It and the area around it are owned by a single family, which has managed to keep it from being overrun. It’s not cheap — $30 a day per car, and the only on-site food is also pricey, but the serenity and scenery are worth it.
A day at one of Brazil’s best beaches doesn’t get much more relaxing than this.