Santa Teresa is located not far away from Rio’s downtown (part of the city that deserve much more attention than it gets as it’s pretty great too!), outstretching on the beautiful, lush hills and offering great views of the city once you’re there. The name of the neighborhood comes from the convent dating back to mid 18th century, still one of the most famous landmarks in this part of Rio.Santa Teresa had its peak of popularity and best times around 100 or so years ago when it became the favorite place to live of upper middle class. This, however, is long gone and now the neighborhood is coming back to life as the bohemian heart of Rio de Janeiro.
Most tourists who visit the area come just to see the famous Selaron Steps – a true work of art created by the Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who was found dead right at this spectacular spot in the winter of 2013. There are 250 steps that stretch on 125 long uphill alley known officially as Manuel Carneiro Street. What first started as the renovation of the stairs in front of the house turned into an ongoing project and an obsession of the artist. There are over 2000 tiles from over 60 countries, around 300 of them were hand-painted by Selaron himself. I tried to find some evidences of Poland there but sadly couldn’t… (I saw pictures of Polish tiles online so there must be some!). The Steps are pretty amazing, so colorful and creative! The bottom is full of tourists from all over the world, police and questionable guys hanging out but the higher you go, the less people are around. And that’s when the real beauty of the Steps is revealed! The orgy of colors, the masterpiece of art! It is a truly wonderful place and, I dare to say, one of the highlights of Rio de Janeiro!
But the Selaron Steps is just the beginning of the creativity that can be found all over Santa Teresa. The whole neighborhood is covered in really good street art! Not just the random tags but a really amazing murals, some of the best ones I’ve ever seen! A lot of them refer to the old-fashioned tram that used to climb up the twisting, narrow streets of Santa Teresa and was one of the biggest attraction of the area. Sadly, after the tragic accident in 2011, the tram is out of service but its presence is seen not only with the street art – the cobbled streets still carry old tracks and rusty carriages stand on the former stops.
As most of the bohemian neighborhoods all over the world, Santa Teresa is full of quirky shops, small boutiques, lovely restaurants and art galleries. A lot of the houses still remember the golden times from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – they are great examples of the mansions from that time and looking at them is a pure pleasure. When I wandered around Santa Teresa I didn’t feel that I’m in a huge, bustling metropolis. The place felt like the small town, no one was in hurry, people took their time to enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the cozy cafes, neighbors chatted friendly with each other, cats were lazily hiding in the shadows…
My personal favorite and the highlight of Santa Teresa was Parque das Ruinas – a former mansion of the heiress Laurinda Santos Lobo. Until her death in 1946 the house served as the Rio’s center for artists and intellectuals. Now the place is in the complete ruin (hence the name), only the carcass is left but it’s easy to imagine how spectacular the meetings used to be there. The real reason to visit the place is not the mansion itself but the viewing platform on top of it. It offers magnificent and breathtaking view over Rio’s downtown, Santa Teresa, the Ocean and Sugar Loaf! I spent there at least hour just staring at the view in front of me, it was so incredible! And the best thing about Pargue das Ruinas? The entry is free!
Since it was my first day in Rio de Janeiro I was a little bit paranoid when it comes to safety. What’s more I’ve read that Santa Teresa can be pretty dangerous too, on the street leading from the Selaron Steps there were signs telling to be careful since this area is a robbers’ place. But I didn’t experience anything bad and actually my time in the neighborhood made me feel more confident about the infamous safety in Brazil. There were few streets that looked really lovely and ready to be discovered but there were also some weird teenagers hanging around and I just felt it’s not the wisest idea to go down there. I stayed on the main streets and I was more than fine. Maybe I’ve missed something from the true Santa Teresa experience but well, better safe than sorry!
Santa Teresa was the very first place I visited in Rio and possibly my favorite one. I spent much more time than I planned there – wandering around the cobbled streets, admiring the street art, sitting in the small cafe and watching the world go by… The bohemian vibe was undeniable, one of the best I’ve ever experienced. There were also hardly any tourists around which made everything even more authentic. If I happen to be in Rio again that will be the place where I want to spend most of my time in!
Do you like bohemian neighborhoods too? Where are you favorites?
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If you think of visiting Brazil or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
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- So Rio de Janeiro didn’t blow me away…
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