Go West, young man!
Think Rio, think beaches. Think beaches, think Ipanema and Copacabana. Those who restrict themselves to these world famous stretches of sand are missing out.
Taxi, bus, cycle or hop west from Ipanema and some spectacular, secluded – and often deserted – beaches lie in wait.
After an arduous traverse of the condominium car park that acts as an entry point, then a five minute clamber down steep, jagged rocks, the beautiful sight of Joatinga looms into view like a mirage. With the tide in, getting to Joatinga is a most challenging pursuit. But well worth it.
Compared to the Zona Sul beaches, Joatinga feels like removing a debilitating weight from one’s shoulders, and taking a long, deep breath. It feels like Rio’s long, lost secret. Although, granted, not on a weekend.
Despite being less than 300 metres long, Joatinga – in the neighbourhood of Joá – can be packed wall-to-wall with surfers on a weekend. The surf reciprocates, tossing a wall of ferocious white water towards surfistas cariocas, who do their best to showcase their surfing prowess to the flocks of people on the beach.
The force of the water – and the incoming tide – on this slice of Brazilian paradise can prove hazardous. If calm and serenity sound more appealing, Recreio dos Bandeirantes may be more appropriate.
One hour from central Rio, Recreio dos Bandeirantes lies in the wealthy to middle class neighbourhood of the same name.
Similarly crowded on weekends, cariocas seems apathetic to the daily travails of living in such a city as Rio de Janeiro when strolling the beach, sunbathing or playing volleyball (Brazil’s second most popular sport, after football).
Two kilometres of powdery, white sand lines Avenida Lúcio Costa, with its luxury condos and holiday lets. A large rock acts as a natural breakwater, creating a clam bay. The setting is truly spectacular.
Further west begins Brazil’s gorgeous coastal road that travels through the region known as the Costa Verde, highlight of which is Ilha Grande.
With a multitude of picture-perfect bays and jungled hills, this captivating island – almost on the São Paulo state border – was once a penitentiary, home to political prisoners and some of Brazil’s most violent criminals, incarcerated in Cândido Mendes prison.
It was from this prison that Rio’s most violent and dominant criminal gang was spawned in the 1970’s – the Comando Vermelho (Red Command).
Now, mercifully, tourists abound alongside cariocas, the birds sing, boats ferry back and forth all over the island, and beachside restaurants and bars throb with energy and life.
All the more reason to head west out of Rio de Janeiro…
Written by Graham Vincent