By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A visit to Santa Teresa is like traveling back in time. Little has changed in this idylic area in the past 100 years. Part of the neighborhood’s charm lies in its location, as barring the favelas it is Rio’s only community to be settled on a hillside.
This guarantees not only spectacular views but also a comforting feeling of isolation from the buzzy areas of Centro and Zona Sul. It has long been a popular hangout for Rio’s bohemian set, and hippie types with smoking pipes and paint stained clothes are common sightings.
Getting There The tram station in Centro is a located just behind the Petrobrás headquarters building, and is a few minutes walk from the metro station Carioca.
History It all began in the late 19th century, when prosperous Cariocas started the construction of the neighborhood’s characteristic mansions, which can still be admired today. In the early 20th century, Parisian culture represented the ultimate in avant-guard. The young and wealthy living in the area started to imitate the new art of the Old Continent.
Soon poets, writers and painters from all over Brazil started to gather in Santa Teresa’s bars to contemplate the more profound aspects of life. When the rest of the world moved on to more capitalist ideals, the free spirit and curiosity of the neighborhood’s intellectuals remained intact. In fact, the area’s first internet cafe opened just last year, and there are still no banks in the area.
The Tram The ride up from Largo da Carioca on the ancient tram, which locals refer to as the bonde or bondinho is a trill-seeker’s attraction in itself. Snaking up the winding streets, it offers stunning views as well as a nice drop into the neighborhood’s slow and relaxing pace. Largo de Guimaraes is the center of village life, with its scattering of bars and restaurants as well as shops selling handicraft, second-hand clothes and herbal teas.
Parque das Ruinas Just a few minutes walk from Largo Guimaraes are the ruins of what must have been an incredible residence in its heyday. The views of Rio’s Centro and Zona Sul and as well of Rio´s little brother Niterói across the sparkling waters of Baia de Guanabara are fantastic. It is open every day from 10 AM until 5 PM, and hosts cultural events throughout the year. The Parque is located on Rua Murtinho Nobre 93.
Chacara do Céu Businessman Raymundo Castro Maya dedicated his life to the fine arts as both a patron and collector. Upon his death, he bequeathed his estate to display his collection to the public. The museum, now incorporated into the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Heritage, features paintings by Picasso, Dali, Di Cavalcanti, Miró and Portinari.
Located on Rua Murtinho Nobre 93, it is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 12 AM until 5 PM. For further inquiries, the museum can be contacted by phone at 2507-1932. Site: Museu da Chácara do Céu (www.museuscastromaya.com.br/chacara.htm)
Eating Around Largo de Guimaraes there are many good restaurants with unique interior design. Perhaps the most popular is Bar do Mineiro on Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno 99. The menu features traditional Carioca cuisine. It is closed on Mondays. Another is Bar do Arnaudo on Rua Almirante Alexandrino 316, with a menu favoring Northeastern delicacies and an ample selection of cachaça.
Caution Last but not least, a Gringo warning must be issued. Santa Teresa is a neighborhood with quite a reputation for petty crime. It is surrounded by favelas, and taking the wrong turn could mean losing that camera with all the nice photos of your trip. Stick to the main streets and do not attempt to walk either to or from Lapa.
Hakan Almerfors is Swedish and has been living in Rio de Janeiro since 2003. He has been working with tourists ever since, and in 2007 created the Rio travel information site Gringo-Rio.com