Thursday, October 04, 2012

Bohemian Santa Teresa in Rio de Janeiro (sem Bonde)

How is it that you can travel seven thousand miles and arrive in a place that feels like home? For me, driving up to our hotel in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro was just like driving in Echo Park and the Los Angeles Hills, which is where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. Santa Teresa is known as the bohemian neighborhood of Rio, with art, culture, and tourism, finding a home in the former mansions of the upper crust of society. The narrow streets wind through the lush hillsides of the neighborhood and the temperature here is just right: Under the shade and with the breeze that comes with the hills, this is a wonderful place to be (just like Echo Park in Los Angeles).

While Santa Teresa is decidedly my kind of place, there was a certain gloom that hung over the neighborhood. This is actually a neighborhood in transition, sparked by the loss of a beloved icon of the neighborhood: The classic, yellow streetcars called the "Bonde". Late last year, there was an accident and since then the government has shut the tram down, leaving a neighborhood without one of the key pieces of its identity (and without one of its top tourist attractions). The question right now in Santa Teresa is how long will they be without their iconic tram (and what to do if it never comes back)? Everywhere in the neighborhood, Santa Teresa is marked now with the absence of the tram. There is a hole in the community that even a visitor from the outside can see.

After the break, lots of pictures and more about Feijoada at Bar do Mineiro, a random house party, and cakes from the cake lady of Santa Teresa...

While the tram being out of service was a disappointment, Santa Teresa itself is a fantastic and welcoming place. Walking around the neighborhood was perfectly fine, and all of the restaurants we tried were excellent. The best evening of the trip was without a doubt here in Santa Teresa. We started out at a local restaurant, Bar do Mineiro, where we started the evening with caipirinhas and Feijoada (a Brazilian stew with rice and greens). Caiparhinas here (and everywhere in Brazil) were excellent and cheap, and the feijoada was a delicious meal.

After that, on our way back to the hotel, we happened to come across a party with live music in the remains of a mansion. After checking it out (and the signs claim that it is a bookstore during the day), it turns out that cover was $3 and included a beer with the price.

We were as out of place as possible compared to everyone else there, but it was a great time. Then afterwards, on our way back to the hotel, we came across something that I can't resist: Street food. Three doors down from the hotel, there was a little gated area with an older woman behind a counter stacked with cakes. Grandma selling cakes out of a garage late at night to passerby? How could you not want to try her carrot cake? As it turned out, it was great and the hotel staff later recommended that we try the "cake lady". They were surprised to hear that we had already swooped in on that and given it a try.

Overall, Santa Teresa was a great surprise. We opted to stay here over staying by the beach, and do not regret it one bit. Our pousada, the Quinta Azul, was certainly better than most of the mid-century hotels down by the beaches and getting around from Santa Teresa was pretty easy. We used taxis to get around to most of the places we needed to go, and the subway is about 20 minutes by foot from where we stayed. There are also VW buses that have started serving the subway/Santa Teresa connections that the locals need (and these are super cheap). I don't think that I'd want to stay anywhere different when I come back next time.


  1. Excellent report, SeattleFlyerGuy. But I'd like to point out a correction: it's "caipirinha" (which literally means "little country girl", as you probably know). Greetings from Brazil.