By Oliver Bazely, Contributing Reporter
NITEROI – If you ask a typical Carioca what is best about Niterói, they will probably answer, “The view of Rio,” while if you ask a resident of Niterói about Rio, they will likely shudder, check if you really need to go there, and tell you to watch your wallet. Stereotypes aside, and despite first impressions, the longer one weathers the frenetic energy of Rio, the more you might just welcome the relative tranquility of Niterói.
For the short-haul tourist, Niterói means the Museu de Arte Contemporanea (MAC), and while its clean curves and shimmering night-time reflections are required viewing, the art inside the gallery is less impressive, and it can leave the time-pressed tourist with little impression of its host city. For those with a less hectic schedule, it is worth considering spending a whole day in Niterói.
From the Praça XV ferry terminal in Centro, board the Rio-Charitas catamaran taking you to the far side of Guanabara Bay, near the outcrop known as Morro de Pico. Once disembarked at the Niemeyer-designed Charitas terminal, the number 33 bus towards Jurujuba is the goal, getting off at the last stop. Traditionally, fishing was the primary activity in this village, with materials and skills passed from generations of father to son. Recently, however, artisanal techniques have been superseded by modern methods and fishing has become a marginal activity.
If you have any interest in military history, it is worth taking the tour of the nearby Fortaleza de Santa Cruz (open 10AM – 5PM). Otherwise, you could spend some time on the secluded ‘Adam and Eve’ beaches, tucked into some tiny coves near the fort entrance. After your morning activities, it is a good idea to sample some shrimp or mocqueca in one of Jurujuba’s renowned seafood restaurants.
After lunch, take the 33 back towards Niterói. If you are interested in seeing the picturesque 17th Century São Xavier church, hop off at São Francisco, otherwise, stay on until Icaraí beach. The beach itself is pleasant but mainly used for sports, such as volleyball and fresco ball. The locals avoid swimming due to pollution, despite ardent counterclaims from the mayor of Niterói, who is no doubt keen to re-establish Icaraí as a competitor to the more popular Atlantic beaches.
From Icaraí, there are several options to follow. For visitors interested in the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, it is possible to continue along the Caminho Niemeyer, where you will eventually reach the underwhelming Praça Juscelino Kubitschek, followed by his more dramatic Teatro Popular.
If you are in need of some retail therapy, just take the 47B bus or taxi to the centre, where, despite the crowds and tatty buildings, there is a reasonable selection of shops. If you are more interested in local culture, there are several museums within walking distance, such as the Inga Museum, devoted to the art and history of Rio State.
Depending on your schedule, you may want to head back to Rio at this stage. If you prefer to travel by boat, then the ferry that leaves from the center will have you back at Praça XV in 15 minutes. If you prefer to travel by bus, or, if Praça XV is inconvenient for your final destination, then take a bus over the Rio-Niterói bridge, from which, on a clear day, the views are spectacular). The more modern, air conditioned ‘1001’ buses (761D, 751D and 741D) make stops all over Rio and cost R$5. However, during rain storms or rush hour, the bridge can become extremely congested, making the ferry comfortably the best option.
If, however, you are keen to spend the evening in Niterói, then you could head uphill towards the ‘Quiosque Cheiro de Mar’, near Boa Viagem, for a few sundowners. For late night maneuvers the best option is to head to São Francisco (back on the 33, getting off near the São Xavier church). Remember, if you stay out past 11:30PM the ferry service will have stopped, so night buses or a taxi are your only option back to Rio.