By Sam Green, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Most people traveling along the Costa Verde (Green Coast) between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo stop at the most well-known beautiful spots such as Paraty, Angra dos Reis and Ilha Grande. However, there are other, more hidden gems to be discovered, such as Itacuruçá, a small, unassuming town about one-and-a-half hours south of Rio by bus, in the municipality of Mangaratiba.
Surrounded by low, mist-shrouded mountains, covered in the lush vegetation that gives this stretch of coastline its name, Itacuruçá itself has few obvious attractions for non-residents.
But that is where the appeal lies. It is a town that has not bothered itself too much with attracting tourists. One is unlikely to meet other travelers here, but given some Portuguese language skills, one is likely to find themselves in conversation with locals.
At the center of the town is a charming white church in a state of elegant decay, which is where the four daily buses to-and-from Rio arrive and depart. The town’s beach, while offering entertainment with its constant football (soccer) and footvolley games, is not one for connoisseurs.
The good news is for R$7 you can take a taxi boat across to Ilha Itacuruçá (Itacuruçá Island) and its Praia Grande (Big Beach). Last December the beach had been neglected and was scarred by rubbish on the sand and in the water. But by March it had been cleaned up and was back to its best.
With a handful of bars serving food and drinks, plus one enticing but rather expensive pousada (guest house), it is the perfect place to spend a day or two with minimal disruption.
It can get mildly busy at the weekends, but during the week it is possible to have the beach to oneself, aside from a few chatty waiters.
For food and drink back in town, there are numerous simple kiosk-bars lining the beach, serving garrafas of cerveja gelada (bottles of ice-cold beer), pastels, fish and carne seca with aipim (dried meat – far more tasty than it sounds – cooked with onions and tomatoes and served with the potato-like vegetable).
There are plentiful padarias (bakeries) serving sandwiches and salgados (yet more pastries) and various different presentations of the wonderful acai (the deep purple fruit of palm trees, packed with healthy properties and delicious with granola).
The best restaurant is Calabria, a more up-market Italian local on Avenida Santana. The gnocchi, pizzas and filet mignon steaks are fantastic, as are the choppes (tap beers) served in frosted German-style beer glasses.
The main hotel in town is the Gaivota (Seagull) on Rua Ceci. Its rooms are of varying quality (ask to see rooms first) and have satellite TV, (weak) wifi access and a good Brazilian breakfast, cakes and all.
If you want a change of pace from the big city, and an authentic Brazilian experience, you could do a lot worse than spending a day or two in Itacuruçá. It is the epitome of that most lovely of Portuguese words: tranquilo.
For more information visit: http://itacuruca.com.br. For bus times from Rio visit: http://www.costaverdetransportes.com.br. If you want to explore further afield, Mapograf’s ‘Mapa de Praias Rio de Janeiro’ is an excellent guide to 368 beaches in the region.