By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – There a fewer more ideal spots for a weekend in Rio de Janeiro than the dreamy hilltops of Santa Teresa. Known for its iconic tram and colonial-era architecture, Santa Teresa’s isolated location has lent it to adopt a uniquely self-contained atmosphere, with cobbled streets, charming bars and beautiful views.
For a short weekend getaway, there are plenty of amazing hotels in Santa Teresa, such as the ultra-chic ‘Hotel Santa Teresa MGallery’ by Sofitel, where late singer Amy Winehouse stayed before her Brazilian tour. Or there are the independently run boutique hotels such as Casa Cool Beans or Casa Beleza.
Bindu Mathur, Canadian owner of Casa Beleza, explains why Santa Teresa is so popular with international tourists and cariocas (residents of Rio) alike. “At Casa Beleza we get plenty of visitors from all around the world, but we’ve also gotten people from as close by as Niterói and Ipanema, who just to get away from it all. Because once you come up the hill it’s like visiting a different town.”
“Santa Teresa has got all of its own local, bohemian qualities, and the weekend is super lively. There’s a lot of live music, bars, cultural events. People can book in with me, at Casa Beleza, and we often have last minute discounts, which is good for people feeling spontaneous at the end of a busy week.” Mathur suggests.
She also isn’t short of recommendations for things to do on a weekend stay in Santa Teresa. “I would start by recommending you visit the ‘Parque das Ruínas’ (Park of the Ruins). They often do events and music on the weekend. Plus there’s a really nice view over the Sugarloaf Mountain.”
An extra dose of culture isn’t far away. “Right next door is the ‘Museu da Chácara do Céu,’ which has a great little permanent art collection.” The museum has works by European artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Miró, “It’s also famous for being the site of one of the biggest art thefts in the history of Latin America.” Mathur adds.
“For music on Saturday nights, there’s a great clothing shop called ‘Favela Hype.’ Its very spirited and party-loving owner has a Cuban band playing live most Saturday nights, and people are always dancing, with a great local vibe that spills out into the street. Another local tip, where all the Santa Teresa bohemians go is ‘Bar de Fatinha.’ They put on a samba at the weekends, which is really authentic and great for making friends with the locals.” Mathur concludes.
Swedish-Brazilian Tavi Noren, founder of the boutique tour company, Rio Love Story, is another fan of a hilltop getaway. “It’s an absolute must to go up to Santa Teresa with the historic tram, the ‘Bonde,’ that rises from Rio’s city center and passes over the iconic Lapa Arches, and then up the Santa Teresa hill.”
Noren also has a tip for the evening, “At night, for dinner and music, I recommend Mama Shelter, which has a very diverse food and drink menu and has a bar where a DJ plays every Friday and Saturday.” Visitors won’t find themselves short of options for a great night out. The two most iconic bars of Santa Teresa are Bar do Mineiro – which offers one of the best fejoadas in the city – and Armazém São Thiago – the bar visited by Anthony Bourdain and local chef Danni Camilo when he filmed his guide to the ‘Cidade Maravilhosa.’
Finally, there is Aprazível Restaurante, a perfect spot for a romantic dinner date, offering contemporary organic Brazilian cuisine in a unique setting, coupled with unparalleled views over the city.
Getting around the steep hillside of Santa Teresa does have its challenges. However, there is a reliable local taxi service, Santaxi, and most uber drivers are also willing to make the trip, with an average journey time of thirty minutes and an average fare of around R$25-R$35 from Copacabana or Ipanema.
Other options available are local moto-taxis, and, of course, the Bonde. It is possible to walk up from Lapa, but visitors are advised to exercise caution when exploring Santa Teresa at night, as some streets become dark and deserted and muggings do occur.