By Karen Shishiptorova, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Within Rio’s vast urban sprawl of nearly half a million square miles, from beaches to mountains, favelas to highrises, a little over six million people live and work. The city is split into four zones, with Zona Norte (North Zone) the largest, and ironically perhaps the least known and explored by the Gringo community. The area is subdivided into five boroughs: Tijuca, Ilha, Leopoldina, Central and Irajá, consolidating approximately 95 neighborhoods.
Zona Norte is dotted by contrasts: The strictly commercial, the quiet and green residential areas where neighbors fraternize on sidewalk beach chairs, or the corner bar rocked by live samba and chorinho. There are also polluted, industrial areas, deserted at night, and the very low income, and violent or neglected neighborhoods.
As Rio´s second oldest area (the first was Centro/Downtown), Zone Norte is Rio´s cultural incubator, revealing the true Carioca spirit, where many of Brazil´s worshiped poets and songwriters, such as Noel Rosa and Cartola, were born.
Zé Carioca, the cartoon character created by Walt Disney, is based on Zona Norte. He has been described as dapper, musical, romantic and sporty, all characteristics that can be found in the area’s unique neighborhoods. Mangueira and Portela Samba Schools sprouted here, their samba sounds influencing all generations to date, and, of course, the Sambódromo Avenue where the Carnaval Parade takes place.
It also hosts Tom Jobim International Airport, Maracanã Soccer Stadium, and Mercadão de Madureira – a huge outdoor retail market. At Quinta da Boa Vista park, one finds the Jardim Zoológico do Rio de Janeiro (the City Zoo) and the Museu Nacional do Brasil (Brazilian National Museum). To experience a part of Brazil´s northeast regional flavor and culture without hoping on a plane, events held at Pavilhão de São Cristóvão won´t disappoint.
Fundação Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, or Fiocruz, one of Brazil´s renowned biomedical research centers with 71 labs, is also here, installed in the majestic Castelo de Manguinhos (Manguinhos Castle). Another notable scientific institution is Bio-Manguinhos, a state of the art vaccine production center installed in a striking modern building. Both facilities are surrounded by contrasting favelas.
Nearby is Parque Ambiental da Praia de Ramos, nicknamed Piscinão de Ramos, a giant man-made salt water pool created on land that was a sand beach many decades ago. Penned in to keep away the polluted waters of the Guanabara Bay, this lively park is a favorite summer playground for thousands, featuring live free concerts at night.
One of Rio´s busiest malls and the highest in retail revenue, Norte Shopping boasts custom-made stained class throughout, signed by renowned British artist Brian Clarke. Backed up by four thousand parking spaces, it features some of Rio´s charming bar franchises, such as Devassa and Botequim Informal, and popular restaurants such as Outback and Galeria Gourmet. Moviegoers enjoy ten screening rooms (including a 3D digital screen), and shoppers have over 300 stores to chose from.
Closer to Zona Sul, the neighborhoods of Alto da Boa Vista, Tijuca, Rio Comprido, Grajaú, Maracanã and Méier are more costly than most, with many exceptions.
Quite predictably, prices vary immensely. Starting as low as R$55,000, for one bedroom in Riachuelo, or R$70,000 in Vila Isabel, going all the way up to one million for large houses or estates in Alto da Boa Vista, Tijuca and Jardim Guanabara.
Rentals start at R$ 320 for a one bedroom in Cachambi and R$480 to R$850 in Méier. Two bedrooms start at R$400 in Rocha, around R$750 in Benfica or R$500 in Irajá. Houses range between R$500 and R$1,000. Again, prices vary dramatically according to location.