Just over the hill from Copacabana at Ipanema the broad golden sands, the rolling waves, the beach volleyball nets, the black and white wave patterned pavements, the kiosks on the promenade, the lifeguard stations, the tent cafes, the deckchairs, the sun umbrellas, the lines of apartment buildings overlooking the road and the avenue of palm trees, continue. So does the society of sunseekers, surfers, joggers, volleyballers, buyers and sellers. It’s the same coastline and the same beach culture.

Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

But for all that, Ipanema is quite a different place. It was a chic, rather exclusive and relatively quiet beachside suburb until Vinicius Morais wrote his legendary song, The Girl from Ipanema, and brought it to the attention of the world.

The café where he watched the girl on her walk to the sea and penned the song is now something of a shrine. Its original name has long been forgotten. Today, it’s La Garota do Ipanema. The lyrics and music are inscribed on the wall. Nearby is a framed newspaper article showing the once “young and lovely” garota, now, as a middle-aged aspirant for the local council. The café teems with tourists. But it’s still clearly a neighbourhood haunt where locals meet or wander casually through, sometimes in bikinis and speedos, on their walk to the sea.

Although Vinicius’ girl from Ipanema has grown old, her tall and tanned “grand-daughters” now stroll down the streets of Ipanema to the sea. So do their beautiful brothers.

Over the years Posto 9 or Lifeguard Station 9 has become the meeting place for Rio’s gay community. A rainbow flag flies nearby and at holiday and festival times, like Carnaval, spot on the sands of Ipanema becomes a gay (in both senses of the word) international village.