Almost as ubiquitous as Havaianas on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro are the men and women who wade across the sandy expanses, bent under the weight of what look like dozens of fringed flags. Pro tip: Those are not flags (though some of them are emblazoned with Brazil's green-and-yellow one) — they’re cangas, a.k.a. the thing you should be sitting on instead of your beach towel. Any beach bum worth her salt knows that beach towels are a must-have for shoreside getaways. When it comes down to it, though, beach towels are, well, towels: They get sandy when you lay them down, they get soggy when you dry yourself off after a dip, and at day’s end, they’re heavy to carry and they trail sand all the way back to your closet, even after you've shaken them out.
Maybe it’s time to take a cue from beachgoers in Brazil's top seaside spots, where towels are nowhere to be found, and use a canga instead. Cangas — large, saronglike squares of fabric — are the alt-beach blanket, an all-in-one lightweight sheet, quick-dry towel, and chic cover-up. Thin enough to let the sand’s warmth seep through to your back, and quick to shed sand when you want to dry off, cangas are, in our humble opinion, superior to towels in every way. Our favorite part? When it’s time to pack up, you can tie two corners of your canga behind your neck, halter-style, and tuck it around your waist, and — bam, you have a figure-flattering beach dress to wear on your trip home. (If your canga is still damp, this will also give it time to air out.) Canga vendors may not be as omnipresent here as they are on Brazilian beaches, but tapestries from American retailers can be more than adequate substitutes. In general, you’ll want to make sure that a tapestry you plan on converting into beach gear is made of cotton, rayon/viscose, or polyester; machine-washable; and practically weightless when dry, which will usually mean it’s sheer enough to let light through if you hold it up to the sun. Rather get an “authentic” Brazilian canga? Take a trip to Rio — or take a gander at Brazilian Bikini Shop, which carries cangas in many of the same distinctive prints you’ll see laid out for sale on Copacabana's beachside sidewalks.