By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With spring finally here, it’s time to get out and about and exploring not just the city of Rio but some places nearby that make for a day adventure. Each of these four destinations is easily reachable by car or public transport within two hours.
For a quick day out from Rio, the obvious choice is Niterói. The city is about a one-hour drive from Rio across the spectacular bridge that spans Guanabara bay, or a short ferry ride across the bay, and it is considered one of the richest and most highly developed metropolitan areas in the entire country.
Of course no trip across the bay is complete without visiting the famous contemporary art museum designed by Oscar Niemeyer. However, if the weather is good, it’s worth getting an uber or a bus to Praia de Itacoatiara, one of the most stunning beaches in the whole state of Rio de Janeiro.
While the waves on the 700 meter-long beach are ideal for surfing, they can be quite strong. However, there is also a ‘Prainha’ (little beach) on the far right side of the beach, which is perfect for children and young ones as it is sheltered from the elements.
Also known as ‘Cidade Imperial’ (The Imperial City) Petrópolis is located just over forty miles from Rio de Janeiro, nestled up in the state’s mountainous region that houses other idyllic destinations such as Teresópolis and Itaipava.
Chosen by Dom Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil, as his summer residence and de facto capital of the Empire of Brazil, Petrópolis has a wealth of regal architecture and historical sites that make it a popular destination for cariocas looking for a tranquil mountain retreat. Of particular note is the São Pedro de Alcântara Cathedral, which now houses the mausoleum of Dom Pedro II.
“Petrópolis is a nice, relaxing day trip.” explains American expatriate Jeff Wilkins, “It is a good escape from the city and from the heat. When we were there, I enjoyed visiting the Bohemia brewery, the house of Santos Dumont, and the Royal Palace, which gave me a better understanding of Brazilian history.”
Named after Empress Teresa Cristina, wife of Dom Pedro II (whom Petrópolis is named after) and located in the ‘Região Serrana’ mountain range, this city is known both as the national capital of mountaineering, due to the many trails and peaks that surround it, and as the home of the Brazilian football team, who have a training ground here.
For those who enjoy the great outdoors, the ‘Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgaos’ offers some of the most stunning natural beauty spots, including mountains, waterfalls, rock pools, and plenty of walking trails for all levels of proficiency.
Like its mountain neighbor, Petrópolis, Teresópolis also has a strong beer-brewing heritage as well as Germanic architecture and cuisine. But for something slightly out of the ordinary, there is Dona Irene, one of the most authentic Russian-style restaurants in the whole state of Rio de Janeiro.
Ilha de Paquetá
This island retreat is only around an hour’s ferry ride from Praça XV in the center of Rio. With no cars allowed, popular modes of transport include bicycle or even golf buggy. This island almost seems perfectly proportioned for a day out, with a small but beautiful park, a handful of beaches and some interesting local attractions.
Casa de Noca is a quirky local hangout, with excellent homemade food, generously mixed cocktails, and a gift shop stocked with artisan handicrafts. In the evenings they also host live music. Casa de Artes is the cultural center of the island, with their well-known youth orchestra often putting on concerts for the locals and tourists.