Sweating Out the Caipirinhas

Guest blogger John Clites lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. Although he has most certainly been seduced by heady Rio nightlife and the Copacabana beach scene, Rio offers plenty to get the heart rate going too. In this blog post John describes the best Rio activities to restore a sense of balance after overindulging in cocktails…

Rio is nicknamed “Cidade Maravilhosa”, the Marvelous City, for many reasons. Certainly the beaches and nightlife would be high on the list.

But after a few late nights in Leblon, Lapa, and enough lazy afternoons at post 9, you may feel the need to rebalance with a tad more activity. Rio offers plenty of opportunities to get out and sweat out those caipirinhas that you tossed back so freely last night. Below are some free or inexpensive suggestions.

Come on! Let’s go work off that gut!

Price Guide: Prices in Rio have been on a steady rise for a couple of years now, so it’s best to verify them in advance. At the time of writing (March 2011), one Brazilian real = 0.42 euros or 0.60 US dollars.


Biking is a great way to gently ease back into exercising, while also seeing much of Zona Sul (which includes Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana). Bike rentals aren’t dirt cheap, but are within most budgets. Cruising along the beaches or around the lagoa is a great way to clear the cobwebs with some easy exercise.

Bike & Lazer (Rua Visconde de Pirajá, 135 B, Ipanema), one block from Praca General Osorio.
15 reais/hour; 60/day
Tel: (21) 2521-2686

Special Bike (Rua Barata Ribeiro, 458 / lj. D – Copacabana)
20 reais/hour; 45/day
Contact: 2547-9551 specialbike@globo.com

Wherever you rent, be sure to rent a lock, too.

If you have enough Portuguese – or a Brazilian friend to help you – you can try renting a PedalaRio bike at the metro stations, the city’s own scheme. The website is in Portuguese so turn on your Google Translate! The rates are lower than private companies, and you can conduct the entire transaction via a cell phone, but availability tends to be limited and the phone instructions are also only in Portuguese. Your hostel staff should be able to help you out though. Check out this video:

Hiking in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a bohemian neighborhood near downtown that was once the home of Rio’s wealthy cariocas. You might think that walking around a neighborhood doesn’t offer that much exercise, but believe me, you can work up quite a sweat hiking up and down the Santa Teresa hills. Fortunately, the neighborhood receives a gentle breeze from Guanabara Bay below. So with quaint architecture, spectacular views and a cooling breeze, it’s no wonder young well-to-do cariocas lived here.

Take the bonde (electric tram) from behind the Petrobras building across from Carioca station, following the signs to BNDS. The Bonde is only 60 centavos, mere pocket change. If you ride on the running board and hang onto a handrail, the ride is free. But the bonde begins its ascent by crossing a high viaduct, and riding on the outside of the tram is not for the faint of heart.

Get off at Largo dos Guimaraes. Walk around the area, then ask how the get to the Parque das Ruinas. You’ll go back downhill, loop left, head back uphill, scale some steps to the ruins, then be greeted by more steps within the ruins themselves. You’ll get exercise, but be rewarded with some great views. Be sure to take your camera. Entrance is free.

On the beach

You can get in some exercise for free right on the beach, in Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. Along the sidewalks at intervals you’ll spot “jungle gyms”. Impress passers-by as you do pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, and sit-ups.


Warmed up? Now you’re ready to participate in the beach activities. Beach volleyball is played up and down the beaches, especially in Leme, around post 5 in Copa, and near post 9 in Ipanema. Be warned: Many of these players are extremely good, and they may not have much tolerance for a novice.

I suggest sitting and observing awhile first. If you feel like you can hang, wait for a break between games and ask if you can join in. But bring your “A” game!


By the way, you will see something in Brazil that looks like a combination of volleyball and soccer – that is, volleyball played without using your hands or arms. It called futevolei, and it is quintessentially Brazilian. I don’t suggest you just step in and try to play, but it is fascinating to watch. Some of the players are amazing. They use their chests, shoulders, thighs, and heads to set up their teammate for a head spike.

How do they learn to do this? If you walk down to the water, you’ll see groups of teens in circles playing a game called alto. Players bounce the ball to each other without using their hands. After refining their skills, they graduate to the futevolei courts.

Surfing and Bodyboarding

And since we are talking about the beach, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention surfing. Actually, Zona Sul doesn’t generally have great waves, but they are fine for beginners or bodyboarders.

In Zona Sul, you’ll find the best waves at little-known Praia do Diabo, “Devil’s Beach”, so-called because the rocks funnel the waves in order that they build as they reach the shore. In Ipanema, head toward post 7. Keep going and you’ll run directly into Praia do Diabo.
More advanced surfers may want to catch the specially converted Rio surfer bus, which heads out to some better surfing in Barra de Tijuca and Prainha. The cost is a modest 4 reais.

To rent surf boards or bodyboards, visit the shops on Rua Francisco Otaviano, which cuts from post 7 in Ipanema/Arpoador to the old fort in Copacabana. As with so many things here in Rio, prices are negotiable, depending on how busy the shop is and how good you claim your negotiating skills to be. As a reference, Rio Surf Tour rents boards for 25 reais for up to 2 hours, 35 reais for half a day, and 45 reais for a full day. Lessons for beginners cost 65 reais per person (2 person minimum) and this includes transport to the beach.

Praia do Diabo

Aside from surfing or bodyboarding, there are many things to do back at Praia do Diabo. It’s really one of my favorite spots in Rio, and not heavily frequented by tourists.

You’ll see people playing paddleball, here called frescoball. You’ll hear the rhythm – thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack – before you see the players.

Looking toward the sea, above the beach and to your left, lies a rough outdoor gym.  Here at “Flintstone’s Gym”, as a friend of mine affectionately named it, you’ll find free weights fashioned from simple iron bars with concrete slabs on either end. There are also chin-up bars and platforms to do sit-ups or bench presses. Utilitarian, sure, but you can work on your suntan and watch the surfers while you pump out your reps. There’s a donation box at the gym. It’s good form to contribute, say, 5 reais.

While pumping rusty iron, if you look from the Flintstone’s Gym across and just past the beach, you may see teenage boys demonstrating their courage by diving from Arpoador Rock into the sea. I don’t recommend joining in, but it’s fun to watch.
By the way, Arpoador Rock is a favorite place for locals to watch the sunset. If you’ve worn yourself out surfing or biking, grab a few beers and friends and stake out your spot.

Best activity for splashing out…

For a splurge, consider hang gliding from Pedra Bonita in São Conrado down to the beach at Pepino. Flights will cost around 200 reais, but hey, It’s a once in a lifetime experience! Check out my flight:

More Activities in Rio

Pick up a copy of Rio For Partiers, written by my friend Cristiano Nogueira. This little guide contains tons of great information about all kinds of activities, and also has coupons for savings. It’s available at bookshops around Zona Sul.

About John: John Clites teaches English in Rio and posts regularly on his own blog, www.JohnInBrazil.org. He has also written and photographed guided walking tours in Rio which can be downloaded to your phone or PDA. Why not send him a friend request on Facebook!

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Thanks to leesean, eguidetravel and Marcin Wichary for the images off Flickr!

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