Rio is one of those places on the earth that you always hear about and that you dream of going to one day—at least, that was one of my dreams for a long time.
My first trip to Brazil was back in the early 2000s and I fell in love with Brazil on first site (or first visit).
I think I have been back about a dozen times since that first trip and each time I go I discover something new about this diverse country.
In 2010 I moved to Rio and gave living there a go—I got to know the city well and I surfed every imaginable wave in and around the city.
Rio is crowded, polluted, dangerous and yet seductively attractive. it’s one of those places you fall in love with and never stop dreaming about your love affair—it’s like falling in love with a prostitute, you know it’s not good for you but it sure does seem like the right thing to do in the moment.
Getting to Rio & Hotels
It’s going to cost you about a g-note to get to Rio, that is $1000 for you non-native speakers. It’s a long ass flight, like 18 hours from LAX and you usually have to stop in DC our Houston—there are no direct flights from Los Angeles.
If you go through DC give yourself a few hours between flights, I almost had a heart attack running to make my connection in DC—note to self, start running pre-trip to Brazil.
Once you land in Rio—and see the sprawl from the plane—don’t worry cause where you are staying is nothing like the area around the airport. It will take 45 minutes to one hour to get to your hotel from the airport. Watch you stuff on the freeway, smash and grab is a real thing.
There are a lot of neighborhoods to stay in but I suggest that you stay in the north (which is actually east but always feels like going north to me) near Leblon or in Barra de Tijuca. There is always a wave in Leblon and when it get’s big it will maintain shape off the rock point jetty.
Staying in Leblon will give you access to the fun areas of Rio, just hop on the boardwalk and walk towards the tall buildings or follow the local talent along the beach. If you stay in Barra de Tijuca it is way more laid back, the water is cleaner and the waves are spread out. The perfect trip is to stay a few days In Leblon and then move over to Barra de Tijuca.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Please read my article of getting a gun shoved in my face to help you mitigate the danger factor in Rio and my tips for staying safe.[/box]
You got two options for housing in Rio, private or hotel. If you got the cash stay at the Radisson Hotel in Barra, it’s right on the water and surrounded by great restaurants and shopping. There is a good sandbar right out front, grab your gear and get out there and check it from the window of your hotel.
If you decide you want to be closer to Rio then the Sheraton sits just a few minute walk from the main beach at Leblon. It is really in a beautiful location overlooking the ocean, though not really surf-able out front.
Just behind the Sheraton is a Favela, it’s a trip cause you are sitting in your hotel room (costs like $200 a night) and from the balcony of the room you can see the Brazilian slums—it’s sounds worse than it is, yet this is the contrast of Rio and something that you’ll have to get used too.
If you aren’t into the hotel chains then check out all the awesome locations on Air B&B, I stayed at this place in Barra a few years ago and had a nice time. It’s super safe and you can see the break from the patio—though a bit noisy during the day as the traffic can get heavy on the main drag.
If you are down for a more authentic experience I like what these cats are doing at Rio Surf & Stay. I almost stayed there on my last trip but didn’t pull the trigger—the reviews are good and I did exchange a few emails with them and they were super cool.
* For the touristy stuff to see check this online guide or the one at the end of the article has some good tips.
In Zona Sul, the southern part of Rio and the place you’ll want to hang, there are some great waves that are a walk or a short bike ride away, and for the others, there are buses that can get you there.
You might want to consider renting a car—though it is a pain to park and to secure all your surf goodies. I recommend taking taxis or find a surf guide that can cart you back-and-forth to the far-way surf breaks.
You’ll want to stay in the southern area, my personal pick is Leblon or Barra like I mentioned above, the swell always seems to be a bit bigger there and the crowds are friendlier than at Arpoador. However, if the swell is macking you definitely want to paddle out at Arpoador, that left gets sick when the conditions are right . . . here is a photo of an excellent day.
Top Picks For ‘Epic’ Rio Surf
Prainha is the spot of Rio, powerful lefts and rights with an amazing backdrop. Prainha can hold up to 12-15ft, show respect to the locals as in any other situation. On a big day paddle out next to the rocks on the south end of the beach, really fun left. Prainha is a 45 minute drive from downtown Rio and worth the trek. There is a fun wave in the middle section when the tide is right. Don’t miss this wave!
Arpoador is beside the big rock at the northern end of Ipanema has one of the best lefts around, but also one of the biggest and most aggressive crowds. f you want to fight for position you got to paddle in at the base of the rock while the sets roll in, it can be daunting as you navigate the take-off zone. If you can get one up top it’s a blast—get down the line fast. Super fun wave.
Leblon is at the south end of the Leblon/Ipanema beach has a wicked right hander off the canal outlet and also a nice bowl in the same area on smaller days. It has the best vibe in Rio. Even when it’s small you can catch some decent waves here. Right next to a sewage treatment plant, can get very dirty.
Top Pick for ‘Uncrowded’ Surf
Barra is an 18 km long beach with many different breaks, there are tons of sand bars and many good waves to be had along this stretch. Barra also tends to be protected from some of the nastier winds that plague the city and it is usually blowing off shore at the north end of the beach—which is where you kite boarders want to go. If you want to escape the crowds you’ll find some deserted beach break here, its about a 30 minute drive from Ipanema. It’s one of the cleanest beaches in Rio.
Most ‘Adventurous’ Surf Spot in Rio
Grumari is where scenes from Cidade de Deus were filmed. It is a nice beach with a sandy bottom and easy left and rights. It’s about one hour from the city center and it wild and rustic. I had one of my best all time days here on a big swell. It is a beautiful spot and worth checking out.
Good Breaks in Rio With Right Swell
Copacabana or Leme are a few breaks along this stretch. In front of Posto 5 and 6 have the better breaks. Takes a bigger swell to get in here but when it does it can be really going off. I’ve also seen some really good waves along the fort at the north end of the beach, there are several takeoff points as the swell get bigger, better for a longer board.
Ipanema has various breaks scattered along its stretch, it is also a hive of activity and a great place to hang. Arpoador is at the north end of the beach and Leblon is at the south end—you could walk the distance in about 30 minutes and you won’t be disappointed by the view.
Macumba is one of the more pleasant beaches of Rio, various left and right peaks with an offshore bank that works on the bigger swells.
Any Day in The Water is A Good Day in Rio
Praia do Diabo is on the other side of the big rock is this little break, easy rights and sharper lefts. Good fun and better suited for a bodyboard.
Praia do Pepe is at one end of Barra de Tijuca, for wind-surfers and kite-surfers (possible to hire).
Recreio is over the hill from Macumba, good on the large south west swells.
Sao Conrado break is at the bottom of the favela Roçinha. Conrado is an intense, short wave, but be aware here due to the proximity of Roçinha, cleanliness of water is also an issue.[box type=”download” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Download this free tourist guide for doing those non-surf related activities around Rio which you should put some time aside to check out.[/box]
Let’s check the swell forecast . . .
Rio De Janeiro Brazil Maps
Great article, helpful!
Dear Derek, your article is just great. I’m planning to get there in december, it will be helpful for sure.
Do you have tips regarding transport to move from spot to another (bus, bike rental, etc)? And to rent a “good” shortboard (something like 3 fins – 6′) – not malibu for tourist/beginners : shops, school, on the beach ? An idea of the price ?
Best regards from Belgium !
I have the same question and same time frame, so very interested to see the answer!
Hey Julian! I asked Derek to answer your questions and here’s what he said…
“Depending on where you are staying, you can go by bike or taxi to the breaks in town. You also might want to rent a car—you’ll have tons more options.
I like surfing the Barra area, the water is much cleaner and there are fewer people. Midweek you can find a sandbar and surf it all to yourself.
If you do rent a car, don’t leave anything in the vehicle while you surf. Car break-ins are super common in the beach areas.
No idea on boards—I always take my own. There are lots of surf shops in Rio where you can pick up a used board and there are shitty boards for rent at the beach.
Hope this helps! Have a great trip!
Thank you so much Laura for your answer. I’ll make good use of your advises.
Hi Derek, Brazil is a lot more then Rio, wow the fact that you lived there, there are a lot nicer and better places, in Brazil. You need to travel much wider then Rio and Sao Paolo. I suggest for your next trip your go-to Bahia in the North East, and if you want to experience colder water down south to Santa Caterina then Florianopolis. Floripa as its called for short is very much like any western city. Real Brazilian culture and experience are found in Bahia. Every few months there is a different festival which means different music with different dance styles. Itacare is the quintessential surf town when you get there you can just walk everywhere no car needed. It has a variety of surf breaks, sand, rock and river mouth. Its always nice and warm no wetsuit needed. There is lots of Capoeira the Brazilian martial art – set to music, of course. There is heaps of accommodation and restaurants. Time to leave the big city and really enjoy yourself.
Hi Sha! Thanks so much for the tips! I’ll be sure to pass those along 🙂 Have a great week! ~Laura