By Nacho Doce

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - As hundreds of thousands of tourists begin descending on Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics that start Aug. 5, the headlines have focused on the street violence, the Zika virus, the water pollution and the rush to finish venues and transport.

But Rio, known by Brazilians as the "Marvelous City," glistens despite it all.

The beach is a way of life here. It is at once catwalk, sports arena, spa, and marketplace. It slows the city down, offering an escape from the chaotic metropolis of 6 million people.


Here, during the height of summer as temperatures surpass 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), parasols stretch like a floating Technicolor carpet from one end of the beach to the other.

It is also where most tourists will stay during the Games, with hotels in Copacabana and Ipanema nearly full and thousands more renting apartments through websites like Airbnb.

During the soccer World Cup in 2014, fans from all over the world rendezvoused on Copacabana's promenade, drinking and strutting on the famous wave-like mosaic paving stones. The same party atmosphere is expected for Rio 2016.

One big attraction will be the beach volleyball arena, built on Copacabana's sand with stunning views of the Atlantic. The matches will go late into the night, with the head of the beach volleyball federation saying he expects a party.

Away from the Olympics, Rio's other leisure sports that have not made it into the Games carry on too.

On the beach of Arpoador, squeezed between Copacabana and Ipanema, spotlights allow surfers to ride waves all night in one of the world's best urban surfing spots.

Impossibly sculpted bodies play "futevolei," a game using a beach volleyball net and rules but in which players use their feet and heads, like in soccer, rather than their hands.

(Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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