By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The very name of Rio conjures images of its famous tourist attractions and landmarks; Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf), the Carnival Sambódromo, and of course the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are usually forefront in the minds of visitors. Yet those interested in digging a little deeper will find that many of Rio’s most interesting features are just off the beaten trail.
Prainha: Even with over ten miles of coastline, Rio’s more popular beaches in the Zona Sul (South Zone) can often feel crowded, especially on weekends. Prainha, or the “little beach”, is hidden away on the Zona Oeste (West Zone) of the city past Barra da Tijuca, and offers 700 meters of sparsely populated white sand.
Due to being located about an hour car drive away, the tranquil beach is rarely visited by tourists, instead being a preferred hangout for surfers and the occasional celebrity. There is a designated Surf Bus that takes people to Prainha, and sunbathers are advised to go early as the sun is obscured by mountains from mid-afternoon.
Pedra do Sal: Considered by some as the birthplace of samba, Pedra do Sal in Rio’s central district is a must see for anyone wanting an authentic samba experience. Samba is the musical essence of Carnival and although not remotely as famous as the Sambódromo’s colorful parade, the little square in the Saúde neighborhood fills up every Monday from 7PM with Rio locals (and also on Friday evenings around Carnival).
The small square draws a big crowd and may not be as family-friendly as some of Rio’s music events. What it lacks in amenities and easy access is made up for in authentic Carioca samba music and charm. The easiest way to get there is by taxi, but having someone with you speaks Portuguese is recommended.
The Tijuca Forest Waterfalls: In such a large city it is easy to forget that the world’s largest urban forest sits right in striking distance of the city. The twelve square mile mountainous jungle is home to endangered plants and birds as well as a series of small waterfalls.
“The falls are one of the best ways to escape the busy city and the bustling beaches. Having a massage from the waterfalls is a great way to relax and is an experience that must be had,” Rio resident Emanuel Costa told The Rio Times.
The easiest way to get there is to take a taxi to the Horto neighborhood. Once there an artificial waterfall marks the start of the twenty minute trail that leads to natural falls. Make sure to take some insect repellent as some of the mosquitoes can be tenacious.
The Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) Peaks: Anyone who has sat on Ipanema beach will have seen the awe-inspiring looking pair of mountains known locally as the Dois Irmãos. Despite their apparent steepness, the peaks are actually easily accessible by a twenty minute walk from the pacified favela of Vidigal.
“The top of the Dois Irmãos peaks offers a unique and fantastic view of Rio and will provide some great opportunities for photos that most tourists simply don’t get,” Donald Young, who has been visiting Rio de Janeiro for six years told The Rio Times.
Once at the Vidigal neighborhood, the start of trail can be reached by taking one of the many motorbike taxis from the bottom of the hill.
The Sao Cristóvão Market: Part market, part live music event, this sprawling shopping hub located in the neighborhood of the same name, is an excellent destination on weekends. With enough space to accommodate 250,000 people the fair is a celebration of all things from Northeastern Brazil.
Peruse arts and crafts shops, food stalls and sit down for a relaxing beer while listening to some traditional live forro music after a hard day’s shopping. later in the evening the massive fair turns into a large party that goes well into the night, with plenty of local flair.