It won’t take you long to realize why locals refer to this as the Cidade Maravilhosa - the “Marvelous City.” The cultural capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro never fails to impress. In a twist of history, Rio was once the capital of Brazil and Portugal. The Portuguese royal family and court of 15,000 escaped Napoleon's invasion of 1807 to arrive in Brazil, their colony since the year 1500. During the next thirteen years native-born Brazilians became accustomed to participation in government, and their ports were opened to foreign trade. When the king returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving his son Prince Regent Pedro to govern in his name, powerful interests in Lisbon pushed for Brazil to revert to it's former status. Unwilling to submit, Brazilians persuaded Pedro to declare independence. In 1822 they crowned him Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil, in Rio, then fought a two year war to finally rid themselves of European rule.
Today Europeans and North Americans are among those who arrive for the beaches, the sunshine, the food, and the people. You won’t find lovelier stretches of sand anywhere. And the men on the sand — at Copacabana’s Bolsa Beach and Ipanema’s Farme de Amoedo (or “Farme Gay”) — are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Both beaches are a great place to meet new friends or find out where the in-crowd is headed that evening.
Rio’s gay nightlife, centered in Ipanema and Copacabana, is another draw for foreign travelers. You’ll find every kind of music imaginable, but make sure you try one of the clubs where they dance the samba and bossa nova. The sight of so many hot men swaying to the tropical beat will surely be one of your best memories of Rio.
Rio, by Michael Luongo
To my mind there is no more beautifully situated city in the world than Rio de Janeiro. A beachside metropolis, my favourite kind of urban destination, it spreads up from the Atlantic Ocean into the dramatic mountains behind it. Many are oddly rounded in shape, like Sugarloaf (which takes its name from a time when sugar was shaped in cones) and Corcovado (“hunchback” in Portuguese), graced for more than 80 years by the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer, who blesses the city and her residents no matter what sins they get up to.
Rio dates back to the 1500s and was once the capital of Brazil, before the central government was moved in the middle of the last century to Brasília, in the wilds at the heart of the country. Still, even the designers of the new capital so loved Rio they refused to live in Brasília. The most famous architect of the new capital, Oscar Niemeyer, lives in a curvaceous ocean-view high rise on Avenida Atlantica. Niemeyer, 105 years old (in December 2012), is the perfect example of what locals call a Carioca de Gema, or native of Rio “down to the yolk.” Such people refuse to leave Rio; once you visit this seductive city with its mix of danger, sensuality and beauty, you’ll understand.
My ﬁrst visit to Rio was in 2000, and I landed in the middle of Carnival. I was travelling with my friend Jim Green, a professor at Brown University and the author of the book Beyond Carnival, about Brazil’s gay history. I could not have had a better person as a guide. We spent time in Copacabana, where the gay beach, marked by its own rainbow ﬂag, sprawls from the famous Copacabana Palace hotel. We delighted in watching famous Brazilian pornstars order drinks from the gay kiosk on Avenida Atlantica, with its black and white swirled walkways.
The other gay beach is in Ipanema, a more upscale, less crowded part of the city where we watched well-toned men (often called Barbies for their beautiful, though distinctly male, physiques) play volleyball where the sands meet the Rua Farme de Amoedo, considered the main gay drag. I partied at the Banda de Ipanema street festival while getting rained on, surrounded by hundreds of Speedo-clad men whose feathery head-dresses wilted to the pavement.
Farther from the centre of Rio is the beach at Leblon, and during Carnival it’s home to the Gay Ball at the social club Scala, which for me was the highlight. I danced with a hunky Argentine tourist, a transgender beauty and a ball-gowned woman old enough to be my grandmother. All this special gay fun was in addition to the normal goings-on during Carnival, including the Sambadromo, where the parades of samba schools competing for the best themes and costumes all take place.
Carnival, which takes place just before Lent, is the party that put Rio on the map, but there are other great times to visit the city. One of the world’s biggest New Year’s celebrations is Réveillon, when millions of Cariocas dress in white and head to the beach, throwing ﬂowers into the Atlantic Ocean as offerings to Yemanja, the goddess of the sea, celebrated in the Penelope Cruz movie Woman on Top. We all know what happens when white clothes hit water, so after the ﬂowers are thrown, people ﬁnd other ways to ring in the new year.
Any event will have a gay dimension in Rio, but if you want to visit during Pride itself, head to Rio in October, just as summer is beginning. This year’s Pride had nearly a million participants. Clovis Casimiro, the commercial director of the gay tourism promotion group ABRAT GLS, says that during Pride or any time, “Rio is so fun because of the local people and the combination of nature and metropolis --and also because Rio means the Brazilian way of life -- relaxed, happy, colourful, with music and great hosts!”
Casimiro reminds us that while beaches made Rio famous, the city is so much more than just that. Within the old downtown, you’ll ﬁnd fantastic colonial churches, like São Bento, with its interior awash in gold, or the space-capsule-shaped Catedral Metropolitana. I love the old plazas here in the center, often devoid of tourists, who stick to the beaches. The downtown is full of imposing early-20th-century classical structures, along with mid-century moderns built under dictatorships, which seem almost Pharaonic in scale. No gay person worth his or her salt will want to miss the neighbourhood of Flamengo, with its Carmen Miranda Museum. Gay artist Ulisses Rabelo sculpted many of the mannequins that hold the brilliant clothes this Brazilian star wore in numerous Hollywood musicals of the 1940s.
Overlooking Rio is the hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, which has undergone a revival and is full of artists and galleries. At the bottom of the hills, below Santa Teresa, is a famous aqueduct, the Arcos da Lapa, in the area known as Lapa. This neighbourhood, now full of clubs and music bars, is a little seedy and was once the haunt of the legendary Madame Satã, whose real name was João Francisco dos Santos, an infamous gang member and drag performer in the 1920s and 1930s. Madame Satã is just one example of Rio’s gay history and her always-lurking dangers. The city has dramatically improved in the past decade in both cleanliness and safety, as all of Brazil’s economy has uplifted and with the city preparing for the Olympics.
Still, night is a time to be cautious. I was once attacked by young kids with knives in Copacabana. In the end, I was relatively unharmed, just a little shaken, but I was left with one of my favourite Rio stories. I ﬂagged down the police, explaining to them what had happened, but we could not ﬁnd the suspects when we did a drive-around. The police asked me where I was heading, which was to a new gay bar (since closed.) The policemen did not know of it but said they would instead take me to Le Boy, Rio’s best-known gay club. They turned on the sirens and the ﬂashing lights and sped me through the streets. In front of Le Boy, I hugged and kissed the policemen goodbye and stepped out of the patrol car into the club, skipping the long line, with everyone thinking I was a celebrity or a gay cop. There is no city in the world quite like Rio.
You’ll most likely fly into Aeroporto Internacional do Galeão, about 45 minutes northwest of the city. Aeroporto Santos Dumont, closer to the city, is where the Rio-São Paulo air shuttle touches down. Airport taxis where you pay in advance can be found at both of these gateways.
Rio's Metro is an excellent subway and rapid transit system. Tourists can connect between Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo, Gloria, Central Station in downtown, and beyond, then hop a taxi for streets around stations. Buses are everywhere, but unless you’re a local you probably won’t figure them out before it’s time to board your homeward-bound flight. Taxis are easy to hail on the street, but for an air conditioned cab you might want to have your hotel call one for you. They are more expensive, but worth it on the hottest days.
Ipanema and Copacabana are the center of Rio de Janeiro’s gay nightlife. Nights out for people usually begin at friends' houses, in cocktail lounges, or over dinner, before they hit the dance clubs after midnight. Though Ipanema has no big dance clubs, there are plenty of small and chic ones here. Watch out for circuit parties too. They might be anywhere, from the beach to an old industrial building or on a farm outside the city, but most take place in the downtown district.
What to do
Rio’s Carnival, is held each year, 40 days before Easter. Here and across Brazil, normal business is suspended for a week. It all began in Rio, in 1641, following the style of European balls and masquerade parties. Over time locals adapted and creolized the pageant with elements of native and African cultures, and it grew to become one of the biggest street parties in the world. Each year revelers attempt to outdo the lavish excesses of the year before; costumes and floats are a year in preparation. Neighborhood Blocos, much like the Krewes of New Orleans, include percussion or music groups, with amusing themes and elaborate parades - in a small area, or through the streets of Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, downtown Rio, and elsewhere. Events might begin as early as January, and gay people are fully integrated into the affair from exotic drag to buff bodies. Besides all the outdoor celebrations, there's plenty going on at the clubs too.
The Gay Pride Parade takes place each November, along Copacabana Beach, and parties continue all night long. Over a million people of all kinds typically participate in the street party.
Currency and Money
The Brazillian real (meaning “royal”) is the local currency. The coins are divided into the same denominations as most currencies, so getting to know the local money is easy. Online websites like XE provide exchange rates that are close to what credit or debit cards scales will be. Plastic is widely accepted, so you won't need to risk carrying a lot of cash. As always when going abroad, inform your bank of travel plans (avoid anti-theft protocols), find out if they have local partner banks (save on ATM charges), and get phone numbers - other than 800 codes that won't work outside the US - just in case.
Media & resources
Gringo-Rio.com is the English language guide and blog of a eight-year straight expat in Rio, with advice on many things; from hotels and apartments to restaurant tips, sights, museums, sports, travel, language, and festivals.
Veja Rio, a good source of information on what's going on in town, also has listings of almost every restaurant in the city. The Rio Times, a locally published English language newspaper, will keep you up to date with news and local listings.
The mainline papers O Globo and Jornal do Brasil have entertainment supplements with a gay section. All are in Portuguese, so if you "não falar a lingua," use google translate, or break the ice with a local by asking. Event flyers are left in gay-frequented places, handed out in the streets, and on the beach.
Most gay-frequented clubs and cafes are mixed, so for men-only venues it's a sauna you're looking for, and there are plenty of those. Some clubs have dark rooms, but if you duck inside to play, make sure your wallet stays in a safe place. Lock up the passport at the hotel - a photocopy with you will do for ID. When bar hopping after dark, it's best to take a taxi. Most dance clubs and circuit parties go late into the wee hours, and there's after-hours dancing to keep folks busy until past sunrise. See our map and listings tab above for locations and web links.
Boite 1140 (Rua Capitao Menezes, 1140 -Placa Seca/Jacarepagua) long-time Rio favorite gay nightclub, 3 areas to choose from, patio, big crowd, elaborate drag performances.
Buraco da Lacraia (Rua Andre Cavalcanti, 58 -Lapa), aka Star Club, very cruisy dark room, wacky drag shows, karaoke, mostly young, friendly locals, eclectic crowd -not the ritzy Zona Sul types.
Cabaret Casanova (Av Mem de Sá, 25 -Lapa), CLOSED - long famous for irreverent drag performances, strippers, charming old building in Bohemian district. See O fim de uma era!
Caroline Cafe (Rua J.J. Seabra, 10 -Jardim Botânico) home-style food, cosmopolitan atmosphere, bar and lounge, Sushi, Sunday brunch Brazilian and American style.
Casa de Matriz (Rua Henrique de Novais 107 -Botofogo), house-cum-nightclub, dancing, games, movies, alternative party people escaping the standard club scene.
Cine Ideal (Rua da Carioca, 64 -downtown), electronic music nightclub in refurbished old cinema, roof deck has great views of the city.
Dama de Ferro (Rua Vinicius de Moraes, 288 -Ipanema), late night dancing until sunrise, lounge and gallery on two floors.
Devassa (Rua Prudente de Moraes, 416 -Ipanema) after-beach mix, three level bar and restaurant, craft house brand beer, snacks and full meals, the former Lounge 69.
Expresso Carioca (Rua Farme de Amoedo, 76 -Ipenema), small gay bar/cafe, rustic brick and wood interior, fruity champagne cocktails, beer, bruscettas, sidewalk seats.
Fosfobox (Rua Siqueira Campos, 140-22a/down -Copa) small, fashionable, mixed crowd, basement dance club in shopping center, alternative, funk, indy, techno music.
Galeria Cafe (Rua Teixeira de Mello, 31/E-F -Ipanema), tiny busy very chic dance bar and lounge, good-looking crowd.
La Cueva (Rua Miguel Lemos, 51/down -Copa) popular with bears and older guys (and those seeking them) on weekends; younger crowd weekdays, Tuesday nights in particular, with popular DJ's.
Le Boy (Rua Raul Pompeia, 102 -Copa) nightly dancing, drag shows, go-go and rent boys, theme parties, international celebrity guest DJ's, women pay higher cover. Also with sauna, and smaller Le Girl women-only club next door.
Papa G (Travessa Almerinda Freitas, 42 -Madureira), off-beaten-track locals' dance and show bar, Wednesday through Sunday divas, theme parties, go-go boys and girls, men and women mix.
Pipper (Av. 13 de Maio, 23 -Cinelândia), trendy young crowd, cocktails and dance club, resident DJs, go-go boys, next to Theatro Municipal, downtown.
Pizzaria Rainbow (Av Atlantica, kiosk 8 -Copa), beachside stand, look for rainbow flag, 17 varieties of pizza, beer, until 1am.
Tô Nem Aí (Rua Farme de Amoedo 57 -Ipanema), Caipirinhas (the national cocktail) and draft beer, snacks and light fare, just off the beach, mixed crowd, patio tables on lively street.
Turma OK (Rua do Rezende, 43 -downtown), drag amateurs and pros, pageants, Mr OK hot older guy contests.
Up Turn Bar (Av das Americas, 2000 -Barra) small locals' party bar at shopping center.
The Week (Rua Sacadura Cabral, 154 -Saúde) dance club of the moment in Rio and Sao Paulo; top DJs, shows, many go-go boys; gayest on Saturdays and packed with circuit party people, higher cover charge for women.
Zero Zero (Av Padre Leonel Franca, 240 – Gávea, at Planetario da Gávea), daytime restaurant, trendy dance club, garden patio with comfy sofas, cosmopolitan Zona Sul crowd. Big Sunday nights.
Among circuit parties, BITCH (Bitch.com.br) is an ongoing regular, coming around every 3 months or so.
There are perhaps 20 gay saunas in Rio at any given time; most are busiest 6-10pm, and close by midnight, but a few stay open later. None requires membership. Pay the entry fee, massage charges, and bar tab as you leave; self-employed escorts require cash. Many have a social club atmosphere, and men often come just for drinks, to play cards, to relax and chat. For those wanting sensual diversions, most places have private cabins, and some have those independent lads who romp for pay. Masseurs however are house-employed, offering deep muscle therapeutic relief. Bring your own lube and condoms, but flip-flops and towels are provided. A few are listed here and in our map & listings section.
Bonsucesso (Rua Bonsucesso, 252/A -Bonsucesso), cabins, steam and dry sauna, dark room, tanning room, masseurs.
Club 117 (Rua Candido Mendes, 117 -Glória), dry and steam saunas, erotic videos, dark room, hotel-style rooms, bar, bath robes; massage, "sensual" shows, go-go boys and friendly, sexy escorts in red towels who vie for your favors. Open 3pm-1am.
Club 29 (Rua Prof. Alfredo Gomes, 29 -Botafogo), cabins, dry and steam saunas, masseurs, cyber cafe with WiFi, open until 4am (except Sundays, midnight).
Club Gayligola (Rua Ubaldino do Amaral, 50 -downtown) gay sex club, dark room, video room, erotic lounge, no escorts.
Copacabana Sauna (Rua Dias da Rocha, 83 -Copa), cabins, dry and steam saunas, swimming pool, beauty spa, dark room, masseurs.
Kabalk (Rua Santa Luiza, 459 - Maracanã), cabins, dry and steam saunas, beauty salon, dark room, masseurs.
Le Boy Fitness (Rua Raul Pompeia, 102 -Copa), cabins, dry and steam saunas, workout area, dark room. Open 3pm - 4am, free access to Le Boy dance club.
Sauna Carioca (Av. Mem de Sá, 329/331), steam, dry sauna, bar, private cabins, videos, dark room, maze, massage services.
Termas Leblon (Rua Barao da Torre, 522 - Ipanema), cabins, dry sauna and steam, beauty spa, dark room, masseurs.
Termas Meio Mundo (Rua Teófilo Otoni, 18 -Centro), sauna facilities, private cabins, food & drinks cafe, erotic male strippers; plus a wide variety in rentboy types to satisfy most any preference.
Point 202 (Rua Siqueira Campos, 202 -Copa), dry and steam sauna, cabins, TV/video lounge, snack bar, massage, VIP Boys escorts.
Projeto SB (Rua Dezenove de Fevereiro, 162 -Botafogo), comfortable modern facilities, cabins, dry and steam saunas, Jacuzzi, dark room, cyber cafe, therapeutic massage. Weekend open-end hours.
Rio G Spa (Rua Teixeira de Mello, 16 -Ipanema), all-modern steam/sauna, spa facilities, therapeutic massage, facials, dark room, cinema, internet.
Spa 73 (Rua Pereira de Almeida, 73 -Bandeira), sauna, massage, Perfect Man contest, erotic boys shows, Bingo Boys. Open 3-midnight Monday-Saturday.
Studio 64 (Rua Redentor, 64 -Ipanema), private cabins, dry sauna, steam room, dark room, gym, masseurs, open until 1am.
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