One of the most beautiful stretches of sand anywhere in the city, Ipanema beach is also the mythical home to the beautiful carioca youth. From Arpoador to the Lagoa-feeding canal that separates here from Leblon, the flat sands are the perfect place to hang out, lap up the sunshine and play a little frescoball or be waited on by the friendly vendors selling everything from açaí and ice cold beer to barbecued shrimp and cheese (queijo coalho).
Posto nove (lifeguard tower nine) is the legendary hip locals' hang out, with the area known as Coqueirão - marked by the towering palm tree between Rua Joana Angélica and Maria Quitéria - at its epicentre, but that doesn't mean you'll find any attitude, for on the beach everyone is equal. Further towards posto oito (8) the rainbow flags fly and the boys gather to show off their be-trunked torsos, and back towards Arpoador and posto sete (7), families and surfers mix. No other beach in the city is so overtly tribal, but it all adds to the fun, and sticking close to a posto means the bathrooms are on hand, pretty essential after a full day's lazing (R$2).
The crowds thin out a little even in the height of summer as you approach the canal by posto dez (10), but largely because the water here tends to be less clean and swimming isn't always recommended. Avoid going for a dip after heavy rains when the pollution can be at its worst and always beware of strong currents, usually - but not always - marked out by red flags. Ipanema doesn't mean 'bad water' in the Indians' Tupi language for nothing.
Towards the canal end you can also find the ongoing efforts to re-establish the original grass dunes, fenced off and well preserved, adding a little protection for the sands from the elements and the sunseekers alike.
Beach chairs cost R$4-$5 from the numerous barracas (tents), and its the same for the parasols, a pretty essential tool in the height of summer that even the locals demand. You'll never be short of ice-cold drinks either, usually each barraca has someone making sure your thirst is sated, but the coconuts tend to run out pretty quickly on the hottest days.
The main road Viera Souto is closed on Sundays and public holidays, making for a stress-free amble along the front. Keep alert for the skaters and cyclists weaving their way between the crowds, however, and trundling along with the tide of smiling faces in late afternoon as the sea mist gathers is the perfect end to any weekend.