Santa Teresa: Hilltop Charm

By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – With its stunning views, colonial era mansions, thriving cultural scene and small town feel incongruous with its city center location, Santa Teresa is one of Rio’s oldest and most charming areas. Sitting atop the hill overlooking Centro and Lapa on one side and Botafogo bay on the other, Santa Teresa is antique Rio with a creative character.

Santa Teresa´s famous bonde tram, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The neighborhood grew around the convent of the same name in the eighteenth century. During the following century the area was one of the first parts of the city to be developed and was the stomping ground of Rio’s upper classes.

They built elaborate French-inspired mansions and traveled into the city on the neighborhoods most famous symbol, the rattling yellow bonde tram. The mansions still stand and the bonde still serves tourists and locals alike with its two lines running from Centro to either Dois Irmãos or Largo das Neves.

As the city expanded out towards the south in the early twentieth century, the upper classes moved to the new beach-side neighborhoods of Zona Sul. Attracted by falling rents and beautiful, view-laden setting, Santa Teresa became home to a new community of artists, writers and intellectuals.

While the mansions have faded a little over time, Santa (as it’s locally dubbed) remains a draw for creative types and the bairro boasts the city’s most concentrated cultural scene, acting like Rio’s mountain village bursting with ideas and colors.

Contributing to the neighborhoods uniquely creative flavor are galleries such as: Centro Cultural Laurinda Santos Lobos and Museu de Chacará de Ceu, vibrant street art and events throughout the year including the annual Open Doors Festival where the area’s artists open up their houses to show their work.

Largo de Guimarães at the centre of Santa Teresa. Photo by Rodrigo Galindez/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The neighborhood stretches from Lapa and Glória right up to the peak facing Christ the Redeemer, but most of the amenities and entertainment are along the tram line between Largo do Curvelo and Largo das Neves with the concentration of bars, restaurants, shops and a cinema at Largo de Guimarães. Quality restaurants include seafood at Sobrenatural and SanSushi plus great bar food and street-spilling atmosphere at Bar do Mineiro, Simplesmente and Bar do Gomes.

The hilltop location means transport options aren’t great. The area is serviced by two bus lines from Centro (206 to Silvestre and 214 to Paulo Mattos) and of course the bonde, but to get to anywhere else in the city requires another bus or metro.

Security is also a consideration. The neighborhood is flanked by favelas that climb the hillside on all sides. Gun fights can often be heard breaking out and the tourist appeal of the area means that muggings are common.

However the small town community feel, intriguing architectural character, bohemian vibe and plethora of breath-taking vistas make it a popular residential option and house prices are rising. Currently, one bedroom apartments can be found from around the R$150,000 mark, or rental from R$700 per month. Two bedroom apartments start at R$170,000 and average around R$230,000 to buy, with rents for the same around R$2,200. Three bedroom apartments are average between R$250,000 and R$300,000 with rentals around R$4,000.

Due to the range of properties in the neighborhood, from apartment condominiums to the nineteenth century mansions, prices can vary wildly. If your budget is big, there are some fascinating properties available from luxury apartments for R$650,000, to houses with gardens, swimming pools and of course a Santa Teresa view from R$900,000.

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