Brazil’s Beach Culture: Dos and Don’ts

A beautiful sandy beach on curving coastline with visitors scattered amongst colorful umbrellas.

Praia Mole at Florianopolis. Photo © Mike Vondran, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

In Rio, the beach is a fundamental part of life and lifestyle. Although it all appears incredibly laid-back, in truth, Cariocas have developed a very sophisticated cultura de praia with habits and codes worth taking note of if you want to blend in.

    • Don’t wear a bathing suit from home. Chances are you’re going to be hopelessly out of style. Rio’s cutting-edge bikini and sunga (the male version of a bikini) styles are always light-years ahead of the rest of the world, and because prices are generally affordable, you should purchase one (or several) on location.
    • If you’re female, do know that Cariocas of all shapes and sizes are not at all shy about revealing an awful lot of flesh (although the days of the fio dental (dental floss) thong have mercifully passed). However, you don’t want to take your top off. Aside from a brief headline-making phase on Ipanema a few summers ago—when a few women’s toplessness led the police to enforce decades-old decency laws—topless sunbathing is a no-no. Moreover, Cariocas are very proud of their tan lines.
    • If you’re male, don’t don a Speedo-style bathing suit—these are for Olympic swimmers. For the last couple of years, stylish sungas have been modeled after men’s full briefs. Do know that surfing shorts are for surfing or for wearing over your bathing suit as you go to and from the beach, but definitely not for lounging around on the sand or swimming.
    • On the way to and from the beach, do wear flip-flops (Havaianas are the coolest) and don’t wear shoes. Females usually cover up (lightly) with a lightweight top and micro shorts or skirts. Walking to and from the beach, males sometimes flaunt their bare chests but otherwise should wear a T-shirt.
    • Don’t take any valuables to the beach and don’t leave your possessions unguarded. Take a beach bag instead of a purse. If you’re alone, ask a respectable-looking neighbor to keep an eye on your stuff while you take a dip.
    • Don’t bring a towel to the beach (even if you’re staying in a swanky hotel with very plush ones). Cangas are lighter and de rigueur. They are sold all over the beaches. If you want more comfort, rent a chair.
    • Don’t schlep food or drinks to the beach. You’ll look like a bag person. Rio’s beaches are well serviced by ambulantes, vendors who sell drinks (both healthy and unhealthy).
    • Rio’s beaches have strong currents in places. Don’t go swimming if a red flag is flying. Only go in the water in areas where locals are already swimming.
    • Don’t get a sunburn. Not only will you suffer and contribute to possible skin cancer, but the red lobster look is definitely uncool and will brand you as a foolish gringo.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil.

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