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Introducing Barra da Tijuca & West of Rio

The Miami of Rio, Barra – as it's known locally – is a sprawling suburb with huge malls and entertainment complexes, long traffic corridors and very little pedestrian movement. The beach here is the real attraction, a wide and lovely 15km-long stretch of shoreline.

The commercial area feels quite different from other parts of Rio, as Barra's development happened relatively recently. The middle classes first began moving here in the 1970s, when cariocas (residents of Rio) fled crowded, crime-ridden streets to live on an unpopulated stretch of beachfront. Today, the influx of new residents has created crowded, problematic conditions once again.

While first-time visitors to Rio don't always make it to Barra da Tijuca, there are some intriguing sights here, aside from the beach. The Sítio Burle Marx contains some of the city's most picturesque gardens, while the Casa do Pontal houses a fascinating collection of folk art.

Once you get beyond the development of Barra, the region gets less and less urban, and you'll soon feel like you're deep in the tropics. Some of Rio's best beaches lie out this way. There are also some great restaurants in idyllic settings – feasting on seafood while watching crashing waves – all of which seems a far cry from busy downtown Rio.