I decided to do some exploring of the neighborhoods along the beach yesterday. Rio de Janeiro is a GIANT city. Like, really big. Technically, according to Wikipedia, the actual geographic area that it takes up is more than New York City! According to Wikipedia, New York City is 468.5 square miles — Rio de Janeiro is 486.5 square miles. (Kinda weird that the numbers are so similar..) The part of Rio that I’m in is called “Zona Sul” (South Zone), and if I were to draw a comparison with NYC, I would say this is the Manhattan of Rio. The neighborhoods are all richer than the rest of the city, and it’s where most of the shit happens. It has the beaches, the businesses, the domestic airport (their version of LaGuardia airport), all the touristy things, etc.
Here’s a pretty good map. Zona Sul is the tiny light green area at the Southeastern tip of the city. The giant pink area to the west is “Zona Oeste” (the West Zone).
So, anyway, I put on my bikini and set off to explore a couple miles of Zona Sul — namely, just the beachside neighborhoods of Copacabana, Leme, Ipanema, and Leblon.
From East to West:
- Leme: Small, quiet neighborhood. No metro goes straight here, although there are buses, so there’s also less in the way of restaurants, nightlife, etc. Because it’s quieter, it’s also a little more expensive than Copacabana.
- Copacabana: The cheapest of the beachside neighborhoods. Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana is like their version of Broadway in Manhattan, and it’s known for being noisy. Lots of restaurants, supermarkets, fresh juice stores, and it’s home to the famous “Copacabana Palace.” The beach is great, but locals seem to think it’s a bit dirty.
- Ipanema: The more upscale version of Copacabana. People here are slightly richer. It’s slightly less noisy and crowded, and the beaches seem to be cleaner.
- Leblon: The richest of these 4 neighborhoods. As I was walking through this part of town, I noticed a lot more gringos, a lot more kids in school uniforms, really nice apartment complexes, and more expensive restaurants. Everything is cleaner too. The beach is veeerry nice.
I started in Copacabana and walked towards Leme.
After walking to Leme (and of course taking a cat nap on the beach), I decided to rent a bike to ride to Leblon. The walk from the middle of Copacabana beach to Leme was about 25 minutes.
And my bike ride from Leme to Leblon took about 25 minutes as well. The public bikes only cost about $5.00 USD a MONTH, which is crazy cheap. The drawback of these bikes is that sometimes they’re a little janky. The chain on one of the bikes that I tried to ride had fallen off and I wasn’t able to get it back on. Instead, my hands just got really dirty with bicycle grease. I sat around and waited for another person to bring a bike to the station. Then, a Brazilian couple walked by and asked me if there was something wrong with that bike. I showed them the problem (I had no idea how to say “the chain fell off the bike” in Portuguese) and the man said “No worries, I got this.” ..And then he fixed it! Damn.
When I finally got to Leblon, I stopped by the Alliance BJJ academy.
It’s supposed to be good, but when I spoke with the front desk, she said they only have about 6 women who train there, and the monthly price is around $165.00 USD if you don’t sign a 3 or 6-month contract. That’s cheaper than in NYC, but it’s still expensive by Brazilian standards. With the 6-month contract, I would end up paying around $110.00 USD a month. That’s half the price of the Alliance gym in NYC, but still double the price of what it would be for another smaller, local gym. I’ll keep searching. I’m looking for a gym that has as many women as possible. If it’s Alliance, then I’ll just get the 6-month contract.
While in Leblon, I bought an açaí at a juice and burger shop. It was 7.10 reais (about $3.50 USD). In Copacabana, the price was only 4 reais (about $2.00 USD). I can’t say it tasted better either..
While my bike ride from Copacabana to Leblon in the middle of the day was fine and dandy, on the way back the sun was setting. This meant an increase in traffic — car traffic, bike traffic, pedestrian traffic, you name it. Everyone and their mother was out on the streets, leaving the beaches, going for a run, driving home from work, etc. It made biking a real pain in the ass. Even though the bike line just big enough for two people (each going in the opposite direction), runners seem to looove to run in the bike line. On top of this, pedestrians rarely look when crossing, and the guy biking just a tad faster behind you is likely to try to pass you, regardless of whether or not there’s another cyclist coming towards you in the other lane.