Seeking respite from Rio’s hedonistic side? The city has no shortage of world-class day spas, which are just the ticket to soothe aching limbs after all that samba dancing hiking around the city’s many hilltop sights and exploring the best things to do in Rio. Residents love pampering themselves in sleek neighborhood salons – fitness and beauty are, after all, both big business in Rio – while the spas at luxurious five-star hotels give non-guests a taste of the celebrity lifestyle. On a serious shoestring? Even on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, skilled masseurs work their magic, setting up massage chairs right on the sand.
Best Rio spas
What is it? This historic beachfront hotel still leads the pack for luxury, and its spa is no exception, boasting a sauna, steam room, relaxation area, boutique and five treatment rooms.
Why go? Its signature Belmond Experience is one of the most indulgent treatments in town: a five-hour session that includes an exfoliation, face mask, aromatic bath and even a special healthy meal to conclude. If you’re not chilled after that, there’s no hope. Natural native ingredients such as acai berries and white Amazonian clay take a starring role in the therapies.
What is it? Proving the hotels don’t have a monopoly on impressive spas, São Conrado’s Lavanda is an all-round healthy living hub.
Why go? This place really runs the gamut of wellness services: Pilates and yoga classes to themed treatment packages – ‘energy stabilization’ or ‘after-party detox’ could come be just what the doctor ordered. Its dizzying array of alternative therapies includes Ayurvedic massage, New Seita (oriental spine alignment) and ion foot detox.
What is it? Enter the hallowed halls of Ipanema’s most luxurious hotel and shoulder through the celebrities (Madonna, Kate Moss and the Beckhams have all stayed here) to hit the first floor ‘holistic wellness’ sanctuary.
Why go? Reset after the plane with the legendary jet-lag-relieving treatments, savor the hammam and sauna areas, and don’t forget a visit up to the rooftop Vichy Shower Room. Extra points for its sustainability ethos, which includes all-organic products and recycled bamboo-fiber staff uniforms.
What is it? ‘W’ stands for wellness at this Barra da Tijuca retreat, as it aims to address the health of mind, body and spirit – the whole package.
Why go? Forget your standard lavender oil, each of the unique massages on W’s menu use rare, exotic ingredients with healing properties – examples include uncaria tomentosa, a woody vine grown around Latin America, or thanaka powder, a derived from Burmese tree bark.
What is it? Drag yourself from Ipanema’s powdery sands and you’ll find a favourite pampering parlour of the neighbourhood’s glam residents, close to the Rodrigo des Freitas lagoon.
Why go? Follow the lead of famous Brazilian actresses Adriana Esteves and Cynthia Howlett by letting HBD’s expert therapists work their magic on you too. The invigorating skin cleansings or spiritually-healing reiki sessions are popular, while hair treatment, makeup application and cosmetic procedures can also be booked.
What is it? Up in charming, bohemian Santa Teresa, the whole five-star hotel has the air of a relaxing rural retreat. The secrets within its walls include one of Rio’s best spas.
Why go? Brazilian essential oils and natural ingredients – think: green coffee oil and tropical fruits – are applied by skilled hands in a gorgeous setting decked out in natural wood, inigenous artworks and woven fabrics. The extensive massage menu includes pre-natal, shiatsu and hot stone options.
What is it? Between Ipanema beach and upmarket Leblon, this large gilded spa really looks the business, and has the services to match.
Why go? Massages, facials, hairstyling and make-up services are all on offer, so you can be beautified from head to toe. From the marbled entrance to the orchid-strewn relaxation room, it’s easy to feel like a VIP here. But the view from the glass-fronted treatment rooms is the real star – just look at that brilliant turquoise sea.
What is it? A hilltop haven set within a boutique hotel, offering everything from Day waxing and pedicures to meditation and Pilates.
Why go? There’s a lot to love about Vila’s cozy treatment rooms, but if you prefer al fresco they can set up a table in the hotel’s lush gardens. Only naturally and ethically produced products are used, and there’s a steam room plus outdoor pool for relaxation time before your treatment.
What is it? A hot stone's throw from Ipanema beach, this dreamy little spa help you unwind with head massages, shiatsu, reflexology or sports massages.
Why go? Its half-day packages are a great way to experience all manner of soothing treats, with prices more accessible than others in the neighborhood (it offer discounts for cash payments, too). The jet-lag sessions are brilliant when you’re feeling spaced out in the unfamiliar time zone.
What is it? Circulation-boosting massages or deep cleansing facials – take your pick at this off-the-beaten track retreat.
Why go? As it’s further away from the tourist hotspots, on the other side of the Christ Statue, the spa’s prices are much lower than you’d find in the South Zone. The quality is still excellent though, especially the romantic couples’ packages.
Another way to relax in Rio
Few cities boast as many beaches as Rio. These stretches of golden sand are a backyard and playground for cariocas (aka residents), whether they’re sweating over a volleyball match or strutting their stuff in those infamously tiny bikinis (fio dental – fittingly, it means dental floss) and budgie smugglers (sungas).