By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For many people, when they think of Rio de Janeiro, the word “Copacabana” isn’t far behind. No other neighborhood quite encapsulates the city-to-beach Carioca lifestyle like this sprawling assortment of sugar-block high-rises crowding the most iconic stretch of sand in the world.
With its eponymous beach, wide range of hotels, and diverse bars and restaurants, Copacabana is often the first stay for many people visiting Rio de Janeiro, and indeed Brazil, but its unique allure leaves many a tourist and traveler coming back for more.
If Rio is a city that knows how to party, then Copacabana is its main stage, hosting world-beating new year’s celebrations, Rio’s biggest gay pride event, and legendary beach concerts. Even the Pope chose Copacabana as the location for his famous mass, attended by an estimated three million people.
The neighborhood is perhaps the most accessible in Rio for public transport. It’s well-serviced by Rio’s Metro subway line, with three modern stations traversing Copacabana: (from West to East) Cantagalo (newly opened in 2007), Siqueira Campos, and Cardeal Arcoverde.
Regular bus services run to all parts of the city, and beyond, along the busy thoroughfares of Rua Barata Ribeiro (going West), Avenue Nossa Senhora Copacabana (going East) as well as Avenue Atlantica (Airport express).
Yellow taxis fill the streets, providing a comparatively safe and effective way of getting around. While Uber’s reputation is now growing as a cheap and trusted alternative.
“I think a lot of young people are coming back to Copacabana.” Beatriz Lemgruber, a lifelong Copacabana resident, commented. “If you look around now, there are a lot of old people, but the young people are returning; because Copacabana is cheaper than Ipanema and Leblon, even Botafogo, and it’s still in the middle of everything.”
Although Copacabana is synonymous with a bygone era of glamour and luxury – the neighborhood is almost 125 years’ old, and over 27 percent of its residents are aged sixty or older – its charms still hold today. In some ways, the aging process has allowed it to take on a more slow-paced, family-friendly air.
Plenty of its unique establishments have remained unchanged, serving a loyal local populace with samba music, unpretentious food, and an endless supply of ice-cold refreshments.
Restaurants such as Galeto Sat’s and the neighboring Cervantes, both on Rua Barata Ribeiro, dish out legendary barbecued chicken and stacked roast beef sandwiches, respectively, and are open 24 hours, because who knows when you’ll be hungry.
Another great little spot is La Pizzateca, which was launched last year by long-term Australian expatriate in Rio, Duncan Hay, and partners. It is tucked away on the leafy corner of residential Copacabana street Rua Cinco de Julho.
Hay explained at the time, “Rua Cinco de Julho is my favorite in Copacabana, with a tunnel of beautiful trees. It’s a great vibe to sit there and watch the world go by.”
Today he shares, “We’re really pleased [we have had a] great local response and TripAdvisor gives a good snowball effect. We have also managed to capture the local Italians from Copa who reluctantly agreed that the Aussie owner can actually produce an authentic Neapolitan Pizza.”
For the more adventurous palate, there is the popular Amir’s, a traditional Lebanese restaurant serving a wide variety of Middle-Eastern cuisine, as well as home made pastries; and A Polonesa, a Polish restaurant, founded in 1948, serving Goulash, Stroganoff, and a famous chocolate soufflé.
After the sun sets there are a multitude of places in which to experience the famous Carioca nightlife in Copacabana. Next to the beach, Rua Bolivar plays host to a variety of lively bars, such as Boteco Bar, or, hidden around the corner, Panama Bar, one of the rare establishments that doesn’t have a television, and that serves a wide variety of wines and cachacas.
At the other end of Copacabana, there is much fun to be had in the bars lining the Barata Ribeiro. Local favourites include the Pavão Azul (Blue Peacock), and the Pato Louco (Crazy Duck).
Copacabana is incredibly popular with tourists, and, because of this, the city’s police force can often be seen stationed on the major streets and along the beach. However, due to its reputation as a tourist destination, there are no shortage of pickpocketing and mugging reports.
Though the neighborhood is relatively safe, with almost every building employing a private doorman or security guard, common-sense must be exercised when walking around the streets, especially at night.
Real estate prices have been steadily declining throughout Rio de Janeiro since 2015, and Copacabana is no exception. The average price of a square meter in Copacabana is now around R$11,500-12,000 to buy, and R$36 to rent.
To buy a one bedroom or studio apartment costs on average R$400,000. Though there are reports of growth in the Brazilian Real Estate sector, experts are still not predicting price stabilisation in Rio until 2019, but many are citing 2018 as the year that property prices may tentatively begin to pick up.