Copacabana, Rio, Brazil

Living in Copacabana

Iyna Bort Caruso

Copacabana, otherwise known as “The Little Princess of the Sea,” is one of South America’s crowning coastal beauties.

Copacabana is a bairro, or neighborhood, in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Rio’s beaches are marked by numbered lifeguard stations. Copacabana’s curved beach extends about 2 ½ miles from the number two lifeguard post to number six.

The community emerged out of a small and isolated fishing village. A major step in its development occurred in 1892 with construction of the first of two tunnels that would connect the area to downtown Rio and integrate it into the rest of the city. Electric streetcars followed, changing the character of the area. Then came the international crowds. In 1923, celebrities and royalty swooped in with the opening of the glamorous Copacabana Palace Hotel, an Art Deco masterpiece. The hotel helped to spur Copacabana’s first real estate boom when wealthy Cariocas, as the locals are known, began making their homes here. It is still among the most desirable real estate markets in Latin America.

In the 1970s, Copacabana’s crown jewel of a shoreline got even better when a landfill project extended the width of the beach as an anti-flooding measure.

Copacabana buzzes with seaside activity, day and night, both on and off the sand. If there’s one “quintessentially Rio” stretch of land that can compete with the beach it’s the famous promenade alongside the main thoroughfare, Avenida Atlantica. The promenade’s black and white motif of undulating waves was designed by the modernist Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx using a traditional Portuguese paving style. Come New Year’s Eve, some two million people crowd the promenade and beach in one of the world’s largest outdoor parties.