Ipanema is a neighborhood that summarizes the best Rio de Janeiro has to offer. There’s a legendary beach, a bustling nightlife, restaurants to write home about, the most sophisticated street shopping in town, cultural centers, museums, excellent hotels in all price ranges… Better yet, everything is in a walking distance, and it’s easy to find your way around. Streets are lined up in a grid, and you have the beach and Lagoa as your references. If you had only one day in Rio, and you want to experience the city like a local instead of a tourist, this is the place you would be heading to.
Most of what is known as Ipanema today belonged to aristocrat José Antonio Moreira Filho, the Barão de Ipanema. Ipanema means bad water in Brazilian Indian dialect, but since the name was inherited from the baron, it has nothing to do with our beautiful blue sea. Once the tunnel connecting Copacabana to Botafogo was opened, Ipanema was finally integrated to the rest of the city.
In 1894 Vila Ipanema was founded, with 19 streets and 2 parks. The neighborhood started to grow faster with the arrival of streetcars in 1902. Ipanema became a household name in the 1950’s and 60’s – it is the birthplace of Bossa Nova. The whole world learned about it with hit song The Girl from Ipanema by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Morais, both Ipanema residents.
Since then Ipanema is always setting new trends, and what happens here reverberates throughout the country. Take Banda de Ipanema, for instance. What started as a celebration among a few dozen friends ended up bringing a new life to Rio de Janeiro’s Street Carnival festivities. Today the parades attract as many as fifteen thousand, and many other neighborhoods have street bands of their own.
The first pregnant woman in a bikini was actress Leila Diniz in the 70’s, she lived on Rua Aníbal de Mendonça. The first men sunbathing in a bikini bottom was Fernando Gabeira at Posto 9 in the early 80’s. The first topless woman (who bothered asking? – 80’s), and the dental floss bikini (late 80’s) are among fashion statements that were made here first.
Ipanema has played an important cultural role in the city since its early days. There are major art galleries, universities, several schools, avant-garde theaters, art movie theaters, cyber-cafés… Do not be surprised to discover a cozy café with a web connection inside a bookshop or clothing store.
Fitness is also a big thing. Expect to run into juice shops every other block. People going into and coming out of the many state-of-the-art gyms. Activities offered sometimes include capoeira, you could well walk in and give it a shot. Keep your sunglasses on to better watch the sun-kissed girls and boys of Ipanema go by.
When the sun sets, the fun does not end. With an assortment of cafes, bars, and clubs there’s always something happening at night. Stroll around Praça da Paz, Baixo Farme and Baixo Quitéria. Watch a live music performance, crash a circuit party, sip a beer or fresh coconut under the stars at a beach kiosk. Gays and lesbians have their own beach spot, and enjoy venues and clubs on Rua Teixeira de Melo, Farme de Amoedo and surroundings.