By Esmee Verbeek and Ségolène Poirier, Contributing Reporters
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For both short-term visitors and those living in Rio, a nice day trip escape from the crowded beaches of Zona Sul (South Zone) is the sweeping coastline of Barra de Tijuca and Recreio Beach in Zona Oeste (West Zone). Tranquil nature and serene beaches, as well as restaurants and shopping malls can be found just thirty minutes away, depending on the traffic.
Perhaps the most pristine and idyllic beach on this end of Rio is Prainha. This white sandy “little beach” is unique with its plush green, tranquil surroundings and mountain landscape.
Few tourists visit the place; as there are no bus stops nearby and taxis don’t come by often. Walking from Recreio beach is not recommended as the hilly roads are long, so hiring a rental car may be the best option.
Another attraction drawling Rio´s locals, beyond surfing, is some hiking along the trail in Parque Municipal Ecologico da Prainha, surrounding Prainha beach, which is open 8AM – 5PM.
Another of the most famous beaches in Zona Oeste is Praia do Pepê, named after Pedro Paulo Guise Carneiro Lopes, aka Pepê, hand gliding world champion and skilled surfer. It is a fifteen minute walk from Passarela da Barra, which you can easily access by bus.
Very popular with young crowd and sporting enthusiasts, Pepê beach is a playground for surfing, windsurfing, kite-surfing, body-boarding and many other beach sports. Even with all those activities, Praia do Pepê remains a much quieter beach then Ipanema or Copacabana in Zona Sul.
For lunch, Barraca do Pepê is a pleasantly convenient option. Sitting directly on the beach, under the shade of surrounding trees. The restaurant offers healthy and fresh dishes; hot and cold sandwiches, salads and juices.
Barraca do Pepê also organizes sporting events, little concerts, movie screening and even art exhibitions on the beach. A waiter of the restaurant explained: “I prefer Zona Oeste over Zona Sul. It is way calmer here, and more comfortable to work and live.”
Another way of enjoying Zona Oeste is the massive Barra Shopping mall, which used to be the biggest shopping center in South America. With more than 600 shops, restaurants, a movie multiplex and hair-nail-wax salons, it is easy to lose track of time while wandering in front of the windows (open 10AM – 10PM and Sunday: 1PM – 9PM.).
After a laid-back day on the beach and some super-size shopping, just behind the mall is the Parque das Rosas (Park of Roses), always packed with Brazilian merry-makers. Either for sushi, Mexican, tapas or just beer, crowds frequently gather to take in a football (soccer) game on the TV screen.
While there is no question Zona Oeste is not the heart of what many think of as Rio, it has several hidden treasures that the locals no doubt are happy to keep as is. There are several bus options to get there and back, and a taxi will normally cost around R$45 depending on the time of day and traffic.