words by Alice West
One of the first thing I was told by locals in São Paulo about the difference in fitness culture between there and Rio de Janeiro, is that ‘the women in Rio are strong’. Allowing for some language barrier I didn’t touch down in Rio one week later imagining a city full of female body builders, but I did expect Copacabana beach to be full of scary fitness fanatics, pushing themselves to the limit and kicking sand all over the place. What I did fine, refreshingly, was a city that seems to seamlessly combine healthy living, fitness and social life.
Something that goes hand-in-hand with the healthy, happy ethos in Rio is an awesome display of body confidence that’s actually quite catching rather than – as you might expect – a little intimidating. Everyone (and I mean everyone…) wears a bikini on the beach, and the guys wear either teeny tiny Speedoes, or surf shorts if they’re hitting the waves. Covering up simply isn’t an option, and whilst topless sunbathing is a big no-no here, skimpy bikini bottoms are positively de rigueur for everyone. Not a one-piece in sight and you’d even feel silly in little bikini shorts. Trust me, I did on my first day here.
So in a city with twenty five miles of beaches and a subtropical climate, day-to-day life revolves around the seaside and all the coastal roads include a mini lane alongside the promenade for joggers, cyclists and skateboarders. And in a country whose staple diet revolves around rice and beans plus plenty of meat and fish, Cariocas (Rio locals) are fit and strong with energy to burn and plenty of space to do it in. Brazil also has a huge Japanese population – the largest outside Japan – so good sushi is available everywhere and even in the most South American-looking eateries.
And everyone’s at it here – fitness really is for all. Brazilians of every age, shape and size are out first thing in the morning, on their lunch breaks and after work, jogging along the beach roads or powerwalking and chatting with friends along the sand. They’re doing pull-ups on the workout stations positioned every few hundred metres along the promenades, and they’re meeting friends for fun and relaxed beach circuits after work.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a significant amount of posing done in the process, and especially on the somewhat macho workout stations. But nobody seems to be sprinting around with heart rate monitors on, nobody’s obsessively checking their pace on their running watch. In fact, the standard speed is something between a power-walk and a jog. This sort of fitness seems far less focussed on the end product and more immersed in the power of the moment, which I love.
For a refreshing pick-me up or a cooling palate cleanser after a Brazilian feast, head for a smoothie bar like Yogoberry and order an Açaí. Pronounced a-sigh-ee, the native Açaí berry is a super anti-oxidant thought to be more powerful than the blueberry, sold widely and cheaply in either smoothie or sorbet form all over the city. For a refreshing drink on the beach, ask for coco at the nearest bar and they’ll bring you – yep you guessed it – a cold coconut with a straw, for about a pound. I got quite addicted to these…
So for a healthy holiday in Rio, just bring your running shoes. A jog along the promenade is safe enough during daylight hours but keep your headphones out, bring a friend and steer clear of the central beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema once it’s dark. Like any big city, common sense needs to remain switched on at all times here.
Rio is just as stunning away from the coastline, too, so pay a trip to Tijuca National Park and think about bypassing the funicular and hiking up Corcovado to meet Christ the Redeemer – only with an organised tour, of course. The city’s botanical gardens are a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and you’ll get a great view of the mountains through the palm trees on a clear day. Surfing is big here, and best done in lovely Barra da Tijuca, where novices and pros take to the waves together in the clean, rolling surf.
Nightlife in Rio is famously vibrant, and no trip is complete without visiting a samba club and dancing all night to its infectious beat. Rio Scenarium in Lapa is a safe but lively option – floor upon floor of jazz, samba, electro, pop… and dancing. Lots and lots of dancing. And you can’t dance the samba without having tried a Caipirinhia – the national cocktail of Brazil. Cachaça and loads of fresh squeezed lime muddled with crushed ice and sugar make for a surprising punchy but low calorie drink. Just be careful – they’re strong!
Top image available to buy as a poster here.