Brazil welcomes all cultures with open arms and lesbians and gay men will feel right at home in Rio. Currently, the Brazilian government recognizes bi-national same-sex partnerships, allows gay adoption in some states, and boasts one of the largest LGBT Prides in the world! Rio’s LGBT area is concentrated in the hip neighborhood of Ipanema, with charming tree-lined streets, bustling sidewalk cafes and shopping galore.
What to Do
Grab your sunscreen and head out to experience Rio’s unique and inviting beach culture where locals and tourists alike flock to the sand. The gay beach is just a little east of Rua Farme de Amoedo. You cannot miss the rainbow flags flying. The first thing you’ll want to do is purchase a teeny weeny Brazilian bikini. Água de Coco is a popular Brazilian brand and they have shops in both Ipanema and the neighborhood next door, Leblon. But, if you’re on a budget then look no further than the beach! Locals will cruise past, offering swimsuits, colorful sarongs, sunscreen, trinkets, fresh sandwiches, fruit, empanadas, grilled corn and cheese, cocktails, and ice cold beer. Rent an umbrella and beach chairs for just $5 a day from any vendor on the beach. Everything is brought to you while you relax and tan!
It’s a real treat to watch the beautifully tanned Brazilians expertly playing futebol (soccer), Brazil’s greatest sport or futvoley (a combination of volleyball and soccer) on the sand. As the sun sets, the sidewalk cafés fill with locals casually enjoying chope (draught beer) and small appetizers of shrimp pastels or cheese bread.
A trip to Rio is not complete without a visit to the famous Copacabana Beach. Just follow the oceanside walkway from Ipanema around the bend. Along the way you can stop at the Copacabana Fort to enjoy spectacular views of Copa beach from the Cafe Colombo. Brazil is famous for coffee and this is a great spot to grab an espresso. Cruise along the beach during the day or buy souvenirs from Copacabana’s nightly markets. In the center of the beach is the oh-so-elegant Copacabana Palace Hotel. Its stunning architecture reminds you of grandeur from centuries past.
If you are looking for a more cultural experience, Rio has a plethora of colonial era museums and the architecture in the center of the city weaves a great tale of Brazil’s history. The Modern Art Museum has spectacular views of the city and is housed in Niteroi, just across the Guanabara Bay, a short catamaran ride from the center of the city.
For those seeking adventure, Rio boasts the largest urban rainforest in the world, the Tijuca Forest, right in the middle of the city. There are numerous outdoor activities for all levels, such as hiking, sea kayaking, and waterfall rapelling to name a few. If you desire a bit more adrenaline, then take a hike and a short rock climb to the top of Rio’s famous Sugar Loaf Mountain. Be sure to get there in the late afternoon to enjoy the sunset over Rio.
Where to Eat
Brazilian cuisine is to die for, and whether you are a meat, seafood, or veggie lover, you won’t be disappointed. Many of Rio’s fantastic restaurants are all just steps from your hotel in Ipanema. For a must-eat traditional churrascaria (Brazilian BBQ), you should dine at the famous Porcão (Barao da Torre, 218, Ipanema and various other locations). You’ll pay one price (around $40) for an unforgettable experience that includes the freshest meats brought to your table on giant skewers, and an all you can eat buffet with sushi and salads.
All of the Cariocas, or locals, head to Poli Sucos (Rua Maria Quiteria 70, Ipanema), one of Rio’s many juice bars for a fresh exotic fruit drink and a light sandwich. Start off your day of exploring with a big serving of Açai. This incredible fruit from the Amazon is full of flavor and antioxidants and is blended with ice to make a delicious smoothie.
Another neighborhood worth a visit is Santa Teresa. This bohemian neighborhood is home to artist galleries on winding cobblestone streets and offers great mountaintop views of the city. Brazil’s national dish of Feijoada, a black bean pork stew, is served on Saturdays and the Bar do Mineiro (Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno, 99 – Santa Teresa) is the restaurant to taste it! Get there early for a table, as it has a tendency to get crowded. Feijoada is often paired with Caipirinhas, a national drink made from sugar cane alcohol, limes and sugar. You must have at least one!
Where to Party
The LGBT scene in Rio definitely has exclusive locales, but is also very much inclusive. Brazilians use the term GLS, which stands for Gay Lesbian & Sympathizers. So a lot of venues who classify themselves as ‘gay’ will often have a slightly mixed gay/straight clientele. Whether you are enjoying a beer at an after-beach cafe or strutting your stuff on the dance floor, you will definitely experience Brazil’s friendly and open culture. Rio made its entrance into the lesbian world arena with the introduction this past August of Lesbian Visibility Month. The schedule of exciting events and parties just for us culminated with the first lesbian march in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
While hanging out at the gay beach in Ipanema, hot women and men pass out flyers for the hippest gay parties. This is one of the best ways to find out where the hottest lesbian events are. Keep your eye out for a flyer for Hey Ladies, a monthly lesbian party that takes place at The Galeria Cafe and other venues around Rio.
The Galeria Cafe (Rua Teixeira de Mello, 31 – Ipanema) was one of the first gay clubs in Rio. This unique venue is an incredible blend of dance club by night and artist gallery and exposition lounge by day. Local artists display their goods in the Galeria Bazar, which is also host to live dance and music performances. The Galeria is also well known for special events with fantastic international DJs.
If you want a bit more glamour at your nightclub then head to The Week (Rua Sacadura Cabral, 154 – Rio City Center). Inspired by its extremely successful counterpart in Sao Paulo, this hip club is the place for A-listers and sex appeal. Saturday nights are gay and you’ll find yourself dancing the night away in their 5 stories of pumping DJ action and fancy drinks. If you happen to have picked up a flyer while on the beach in Ipanema, you will get a discount for entry at the door.
On weekend nights at Casa da Lua (Rua Barão da Torre, 240 – Ipanema), the women are spilling out onto the sidewalk in front of the bar and sometimes it feels as if you are part of a lesbian street party. La Girl (Rua Raul Pompéia, 102 (Galeria) -Copacabana) is the place for lesbians and Brazilian girls who are definitely not shy. Put on your dancing shoes and get ready for a late night of shaking that booty!
A very popular lounge in Copacabana is The Copa (Rua Aires Saldanha, 13 – Copacabana). Dedicated to the LGBT crowd, they do have a specific lesbian night once a week. Enjoy appetizers and large cocktails as you check out the ladies on the dance floor. You can expect great beats from their resident DJs spinning house, new wave, electro and pop.
The perfect way to recover from a fun-filled night out in Rio is to hit the beaches and take a cool dip in the ocean. Meet up with your new friends from last night in Ipanema and watch the stunning Cariocas walk by. As you’re heading back to the hotel to get geared up and do it all over again, stop in at Bofetada (Rua Farme de Amoedo, 87 – Ipanema) for tasty apres-beach appetizers and refreshing Caipirinhas. This bustling restaurant lets the day slip into the night on its outdoor patio.
Where to Stay
The four-star Ipanema Plaza Hotel (Rua Farme de Amoedo, 34 – Ipanema) is situated right in front of the gay beach and along the gay street, Farme de Amoedo. Rooms start at $170 and include a full Brazilian breakfast in their open-air restaurant. The hotel’s rooftop pool offers excellent beach views and is the perfect place for sunset cocktails!
The Sol Ipanema (Av. Vieira Souto, 320 – Ipanema) is just a few blocks away on the beachfront and rooms start at $160 with breakfast included. These hotels are in the perfect location as Ipanema is the best and trendiest neighborhood to stay in Rio. It is very safe and everything that you could possibly want is within walking distance.
Rio’s Carnaval & Pride Celebrations
Rio can truly say it boasts the biggest and most impressive parties in the world during the summer months of December-March because of New Year’s and Carnaval. Expect to pay higher prices during these months as that is a popular time to visit. Visiting Brazil is more affordable in the off season from April-November.
Carnaval has its origins in a pre-Lent religious celebration and the entire purpose is to purge all of your sins. In Brazil, this is a nationwide 4-day celebration that ends on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi-Gras. The dates for 2010 are from February 13-16. The gay community hosts some of the best Carnaval events. In Rio, the entire city flocks to the streets for invigorating parties with live Samba music that doesn’t stop. You will find an intoxicating atmosphere wherever you go during Carnaval whether it’s to the beach, bars, nightclubs or costume balls. The famous Carnaval parade is the culmination of a year-long preparation of dance and musical performance with unbelievable floats and flashy colorful costumes. You must experience this cultural phenomenon at least once in your lifetime!
Although Rio has a bustling LGBT community with a great Pride celebration, the largest Pride in Brazil is actually held every June in São Paulo. Just a few months ago their monthlong activities ended with a parade attended by more than 4 million people!
One visit to Rio is never enough to experience Brazil’s exotic culture. This is just one city in this massive country and there are numerous other destinations that should not be missed. Whether you’re traveling with your honey, or single, Rio de Janeiro will fulfill all of your expectations and you will find yourself wanting to come back for more!
Melanie Cain and Erika Cunha are the owners of Green Roots Travel, a boutique travel company that designs unique experiences and unforgettable vacations to Brazil!