From carnival to Copacabana, football to favelas, Brazil is a place we all feel we know, and yet how many of us have actually visited what is, after all, the fifth largest country in the world?
Given its unique history, geographical location and social mix, Brazil is invariably described as a country of contrasts - and nowhere is this more true than in its slightly ambivalent attitude towards public nudity.
On the one hand, Brazil is an overtly erotic place, and large expanses of bare flesh are openly on view in magazines, on TV and billboards, during carnival, and of course on the beach. The country has, after all, given its name to that smallest of swimming costumes, the Brazilian thong, and to the full bikini wax that goes under it. Most younger Brazilians seem perfectly happy flaunting their sexuality, and next to football, girl-watching is the nation’s second favourite sport.
And the girls (from Ipanema and elsewhere) give as good as they get. Many of them are indeed tall and tan and young and lovely, and there’s usually a man in their sights whenever they are parading their more-than-ample charms on the praia. Brazilians of both sexes are slaves to fashion, like to see and be seen, and spend a fortune on keeping up appearances: the people who live in those penthouse apartments looking out over the beach in Rio are invariably plastic surgeons, clothes designers or gym-owning magnates!
Surprisingly however, the country’s conservative side kicks in with regard to total nudity on the beach, which is nowhere near as common as it is in, for instance, the mother country of Portugal.
If you’re unlucky enough to have seen the dreadful Michael Caine movie Blame It On Rio, you might remember a very young Demi Moore running around the beach along with a crowd of other topless lovelies. Blame it on Hollywood. Rio’s main beaches aren’t topless, either now or back in 1984. True, the bikinis might be miniscule and almost gravity-defying, but they are still worn. Take a look at the photos of all those pneumatic dancers involved in the samba parades at the Rio carnival, and even though their costumes often contain less material than the average eye-patch, you’ll see the tell-tell tan lines, which means they haven’t been out catching the rays nu, as they say in Portuguese.
To get totally naked on the beach in Brazil, you need to go a little further afield. Topless bathing (although it’s often a matter of interpretation, given the brevity of a lot of the costumes) is only allowed in designated areas, and the majority of the true naturist beaches, official or otherwise, tend to be a considerable way from the main coastal cities of Rio and Sao Paulo.
The naturist movement is growing, and Brazil hosted the world congress of the International Naturist Federation in 2008. The Federacao Brasileira de Naturismo (FBN) however was only created as recently as 1988, and naturists had to fight long and hard before Rio declared Abrico as its first official naturist beach in 2001. And whilst according to the FBN there are around 350,000 naturists in Brazil, it’s a drop in the Atlantic in a country of over 192 million.
Which is a shame, given that Brazil not only has some spectacular beaches but a wonderful climate - and the advantages of celebrating summer when Europeans and most Americans are shivering in the northern hemisphere.
In addition to Abrico, Brazil’s other official naturist beaches are:
Elsewhere, there are plenty of non-official naturist beaches recommended by the FBN, where nudity is commonly practiced or where, due to their remote location, nobody really seems to mind. Again, most of these tend to be in the north-east, and include Taipe and Pitinga close to Porto Seguro, Ilha da Coroa Vermelha in Nova Vicosa, Ilha da Croa in Barra de Santo Antonio, Muro Alto in Ipojuca, Praia da Pedra Grande in Trancoso, Praia Princesa in Maiandeua, Praia das Fontes in Beberibe, and Praia de Americano in Fernando de Noronha.
In the Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo region, the options are fewer, but do include Praia do Alto in Ubatuba near Sao Paulo, and Praia da Figueira in Trindade, Praia Brava in Cabo Frio, and Praia Seca in Araruama, all in Rio de Janeiro state.
And take note: the meerkat is an endangered species in Brazil. Most of the naturist beaches tend to be for couples and families, not singles, and full nudity is expected. The phrase ‘clothing optional’ doesn’t translate well.
So, if you’re visiting Brazil and want to find a naturist beach on which to spend part of your holiday, you might have to travel some distance – but then again, you’ll be prepared for that, as it’s an enormous country.
If you plan on forsaking the diversity of the scenery, culture and sheer vibrancy of Brazil, you can of course opt for a stay in a naturist resort, of which there are several including:
As for international travel trends, visiting Brazil could soon be the next new thing. “The world has recognised that the time has come for Brazil,” said President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recently, talking about the fact that Brazil will become the first South American country to stage the Olympics, following the choice of Rio de Janeiro as host to the 2016 Games. The decision came hard on the heels of the announcement that Brazil will also host the 2014 football World Cup.
You can almost see the TV images now, can’t you, with the cameramen focusing on the stunning girls in the crowd, dancing to a samba beat and wearing skin-tight versions of the famous yellow-and-green Brazilian football shirts? It might be a cliché, like a lot of perceptions of this amazing country, but you’ve got to admit - they’ll look a whole lot prettier than Ronaldinho.
* Please quote www.NaturistTravel.net when making a booking or enquiry.