Thursday, 27 January 2011

Around Brazil – Praia do Pontal, Macumba, Prainha & Grumari: Rio de Janeiro

 The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are possibly the most famous in the world, Copacabana and Ipanema especially. The city does have many more miles to explore as well though, principally those heading south and west along the coast. There are more beaches to explore heading up the north-east from Rio too, although these belong to the city of Niteroi across the bay.

Praia do Pontal, Recreio dos Bandeirantes
After passing the Dois Irmaos mountains at the end of Ipanema, you reach Sao Conrado, landing point for hang-gliders from Pedra Bonita above. The beach is also known as Praia do Pepino, after one of the pioneers of the sport in Brazil. Around more rocks and you come to Barra da Tijuca, the start of Rio’s longest stretch of sand at 20km. The first 5km of it are backed by the high-rises and condominiums of Barra, the next 10km known as Praia da Reserva by the nature reserve of Lagoa do Marapendi which makes it the quietest beach in Rio. Another 5km and you arrive at Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes. The beach is named after the Gibraltar-like Pontal headland, which can be climbed reasonably easily for stunning views down the beaches and to the mountains behind. The headland also helps provide wonderful conditions on at least one of its two sides for some of the best surf in Brazil.

View from Pontal Headland Top
The beach used to be almost exclusively for surfers and many stayed in the area permanently. Their simple houses on the sand roads are now being swallowed up by condominiums and new developments, but the beach remains a relaxed pleasure, even when busy at weekends with people coming from all over Rio. The Pontal headland provides a little protection and calmer water so tends to be popular with families. The currents are still strong here as well as all the other beaches. High summer brings many tourists from the interior of Brazil who are not so used to strong seas. A helicopter fishing strugglers out of the sea with a net is not an unusual sight.

During the week many local surfers and body-surfers are in the waters of Pontal and Macumba next door, and the warm evenings can also be full of the religious ceremonies that gave Macumba its name. Candles in the sand, offerings of flowers, food and drink litter the beach, and the music, singing and dancing add some rhythm to the evenings, especially in the run up to New Year. There are regular kiosks, a running/cycling path and a skate ramp, all being very well populated on dry nights in Rio’s safest beach zone.

Praia do Pontal, Rio de Janeiro

 The far end of Praia da Macumba is the end of the city. After this, the mountains reach the sea and the Municipal Ecological Park of Prainha has prevented any construction. Prainha and Grumari hide amongst the mountains, more similar in aspect to beaches of the Costa Verde than those of Rio de Janeiro, hemmed in by mountains covered in green jungle. Frequented by surfers and a younger crowd, Prainha has no buses unlike Praia do Pontal, so you need to either drive or walk up the final half an hour from Macumba. From here to Grumari, there are excellent places to eat seafood. A steaming dish of moqueca or an entire corvina or linguado eaten on the sand as the sun drops behind the mountains, or amongst the trees watching the surfers below can make it worth the journey out from the city.

Prainha, Rio de Janeiro

Praia do Grumari, Rio de Janeir
If driving or even cycling, you can climb out of Grumari on the Serra road, and before passing Sitio Burle Marx – the gardens of Roberto Burle Marx, the renowned Brazilian landscape architect – you will enjoy a view from the top that shows you more of the Litoral Fluminense. On a clear day you can see all the way down the Restinga da Marambaia (military controlled and closed to the public) and even to Ilha Grande. The mountain peaks of the true Costa Verde, perhaps Brazil’s most spectacular coastal stretch, are there in the distanced too, tempting you like a group of green sirens. 

A day or two exploring the beaches of Pontal, Macumba, Prainha and Grumari will give you a taste of the emerald treasures that await you on the Costa Verde.

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