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Head out to the beautiful beach wilderness
It may be only a 45-minute drive from Ipanema, but arriving in Prainha you could be mistaken for thinking you have just hopped of a plane in Bahia and wended your way to a remote beach near Itacaré. Of course, the crowds will tell you otherwise if you come at the weekend, hoards of surfers and families alike descending onto the sands, but even when holiday-busy the whole area behind Barra da Tijuca the feel of a (badly-kept) carioca secret.
For those without a car, probably the only alternative is the Surf Bus, a Rio institution that has been whisking pros, amateurs and sun-seekers up the coast since 2003. Kitted out with DVD player for the constant rotation of surf movies and room for twenty boards, the air horn nestled atop the roof signals its arrival all the way from Largo do Machado along the downtown beaches and out along Barra to Macumba and eventually just shy of Prainha, leaving a fifteen minute amble down to the golden sands.
The emphasis is very much on the boarding and for good reason – beyond the initial wash the rapid run off from the beach creates some dangerous currents and particularly at the far end these can whisk you out to trouble in a matter of seconds. The remoteness of the place makes fir fewer lifeguards and it is not unusual for surfers to be called upon to ferry hapless bathers back to shore in times of crisis.
If the beach gets a little too much, the protected forest behind makes for a perfect retreat. Created in 1999 thanks to the surf association who had impressively already warded off plans for a condominium and hotel to be built on the beach during the ’80s, here now sits the 145-hectare Parque Natural da Prainha.
Walking through the vegetation that covers the bay flanked by Morro do Caeté and Morro da Boa Vista adds to the sense of a world removed. Deep within are sections of primary forest dating back hundreds of years and now covered in bromelia and orchids as well as Maçaranduba trees now rendered almost extinct following over-harvesting by the construction industry for their extreme durability. Grab a guide and head up to the hilltop for a stunning view across Recreio and the cove.
Before heading back (and double check return times with the friendly folk on the Surf Bus if need be) a trip to the Mirante da Prainha Restaurant (Av. Estado da Guanabara 689, Recreio das Bandeirantes, 9964 1220) is an absolute must whether for a few ice-cold beers and the impeccable pasties de camarão (R$3.50) or a full grilled anchova fish (R$62).
The latter comes in its entirety, sharp teeth to the fore, so ask for it to be removed before hand if that kind of thing ruins your appetite. In season, there is an impressive array of fish to be grilled or fried and served with salad, fries, rice and sticky pirão (thick fish sauce), including robalo, vermelho and namorado, and the fried squid (R$25) is delicious. Just slap on a bit of bug repellent so as not to incur the wrath of the local mosquitos.
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