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Ever head of Rio’s west zone? It barely registers on the tourist radar as most travelers head straight to the south zone and that’s where they stay, enjoying the best of Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer and the Sugarloaf Mountain. While these are must-sees, take time out to visit the west for untouched natural gems, alternative cultural activities and a new perspective on Rio. Here are ten reasons why you should check it out.
One of the highlights in the west is the collection of untouched beaches that have yet to succumb to any type of man-made development or activity. Some of the beaches are so wild that you can only access them by following a forest trail and the beach itself has no vendors, no kiosks and no bars. They are refreshingly empty and natural, a world away from the nearby city. The best ones to visit are Praia Funda and Praia do Meio, which can only be accessed by hiking. Others accessible by car are Praia Grumari and Prainha. The latter two attract more visitors due to their accessibility and amenities, though they never get crowded and offer a peaceful beach day in tranquil, stunning surroundings.
The mangroves near Barra de Guaratiba are teeming with life and as an area that is rarely visited, it offers ample opportunities to appreciate the natural surroundings without being disturbed by flocks of tourists. The best way of exploring the mangroves is on a stand-up paddleboard so you can gently glide through the water at a leisurely pace. It helps if you have done stand-up paddle before to keep your balance on the board, but it’s not a requirement. Look out for animals such as capybaras, burrowing owls and the occasional snake.
Nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts will be in their element with the barely trodden forest trails in the west zone. Head to Barra de Guaratiba on the other side of Recreio to begin part one of the 180-kilometre TransCarioca hike. The hike is divided into segments of no more than eight kilometres each so you can do a section at a time. Enjoy exquisite views, trekking through dense forest, and wildlife spotting along the way. It’s common to hike for miles without seeing another soul in sight, offering a totally off-grid retreat.
Barra de Guaratiba is a small neighborhood in the west zone of Rio that mostly gets by on local fishing. As an area that doesn’t expect many tourists, the restaurants reflect the old-fashioned strategy of a dining establishment – simple interior, no fancy frills, just good, honest food. The result is outstanding with a simple seafood menu that reflects the daily catches served up in the best possible way; using few ingredients and letting the delicious seafood speak for itself. Wash down with a simple cup of extra cold beer for a true taste of the simple, good life.
The ‘City of Arts’ is located in Barra da Tijuca, the beginning of Rio’s west zone. Cidade das Artes is a magnificent cultural centre, set apart by its unique, striking architecture. As the largest modern concert hall in South America, it is the perfect venue to get lost in the symphonies of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra who are housed there or any one of the other classical music performances. Save time to explore the terrace at the complex to take in the panoramic views of Barra.
Barra da Tijuca is the shopping haven of Rio de Janeiro with several large shopping malls dotted throughout the region. Shopping malls make up a large part of the Brazilian social culture and are not just places to shop; they are places to get dressed up for, to eat out, watch the cinema, go dating or hang out with loved ones. Village Mall in Barra is the most upscale mall in Rio with brands such as Armani and Gucci setting the standard. There is also a fine selection of restaurants and a wonderful cinema with sofa seats for two. Barra Shopping and Shopping New York City are more affordable malls with hundreds of shops, eateries, bowling and cinemas.
For those who have done stand-up paddle a few times, then how about paddling to a nearby island from the coast of Barra? ‘Nearby’ is actually about four kilometers so it will be a challenge to tackle the open sea to get to the island (known as Ilha das Tijucas), but the journey is worth it. Hire a board from Barra da Tijuca beach and ask the instructors there for details as they will plan your route accordingly. Once you get to the island, you can swim in the shores surrounding it, keeping an eye out for turtles, shoals of fish and large flocks of seabirds.
From typical Brazilian barbeque restaurants to seafood restaurants set on a hidden island, the west zone has a wonderful selection of eateries for a memorable wining and dining experience. Some of the best restaurants are actually in the shopping malls and provide cosy, sophisticated and safe areas to enjoy exquisite food and fine wines.
Along the hikes in the west zone are a handful of incredible viewpoints offering a different perspective of Rio. Linger on the endless sea views from Pedra da Tartaruga for a moment of contemplation or head to the famous Pedra Telegrafo for views of the coastline with the forest to the left, the sea to the right, and without any sign of man-made development.
Currently KM de Vantagens Hall – it changes its name every few years – this huge concert hall has a capacity of 6,000 and plays host to incredible music performances from both well-known international and Brazilian bands and musicians. Besides this, the hall is also the venue for opera, ballet and Broadway shows, making it the perfect spot for an evening of unforgettable entertainment.