Recreio translates in English to “school recess” and is an old town that used to be out of the way, from Rio. Favorite area of surfistas is now a prime zone for real estate development and becoming a bedroom community of Rio with Barra de Tijuca just 10 km up the road.
There are 2 short roads that connect Leblon and Ipanema (districts of Rio) to this open region of land called a “barra” (sand bar), one of those roads cuts straight through the mountain by 2 lane tunnel and the other is a twisty 1 lane cliff-hanger that circumnavigates the tall pointy mountain, above the sea. That single mountain is all the separates the big crowded city of Rio from the big, wide-open barra and ultimately from the bitter-end, where I find myself writing this travelogue today, at Macumba Beach.
The contrast of leaving Ipanema and driving, either through or around the mountain to reach the barra is extreme, partly because when you get to the other side, to Sao Conrado, you arrive at the foot of the biggest, most famous favela (slum) of all Brazil, called Rocinha, where the shacks of some 160,000 inhabitants stretch up the steep mountain. Sometimes stone, sometimes dirt (often mud) roads go either straight-up or zig-zag back-n-forth like the nightmare of an urban planner but they say the view from the top is awesome.
After you pass Sao Conrado (home to the Rocinha favela) the area opens up to create a wide open plain which is the barra, the road is a modern highway that whisks you past new shopping malls and high-rise apartment buildings. Every where there is signs of development and growth. I was surprised by how much had been built in the 10 years since my last visit. All the way along the highway there are signs to mark the exits which will lead you to the long, wide, clean and popular beaches of Barra de Tijuca but we keep driving until the mountains move back in to close out the barra and then form the spit of land where Recreio sits.
To mark the spit and end of the barra there’s a most unusual geographical formation. It’s a small mountain 50 meters off the beach, all by itself, connected to the land by a narrow isthmus. Perfectly round and jutting up from the sea to form what looks like the nipple of a woman’s breast or “bico de seio” (in Portuguese). The main street of the town Recreio aligns with the spit of land and comes to an end, with the small mountain like the dot of an exclamation point. On one side of the isthmus you can face towards Rio and even see the city way up the coast. On the other side of the isthmus you face south and towards Praia da Macumba, which is a fairly short beach and divided almost in half by a rock formation that juts out to create Rico’s Point, this point causes a nice surf break for surfers when the Atlantic swells are favorable.
If you walk down Praia da Macumba and follow the path up and over Rico’s Point, from the top of the hump of the rock formation, you’ll be looking at what I call “the bitter end”, as the mountains rise-up sharply to define an abrupt end to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. On the side of the hill a narrow twisty road cuts precariously into the rock, surrounded by vegetation, curves out of sight, up and around the cornice. This road is one of the best I’ve ever driven but that’s another story.
One other thing you’ll need to know about this beach is that the word “macumba” is frequently used in Brazil to refer to any ritual or religion of African origin (similar to Voodoo in Jamaica). In several places around the rock formation at Rico’s Point and at the bitter-end of the beach, where a small river estuary can be found, you’ll see signs like ritual offerings, from the modern-day practice of Macumba. Don’t be alarmed but also don’t touch.