Let’s look beyond Corcovado, hear more than just the samba of Carnaval and get a feel for life in Rio de Janeiro without setting foot on the beach. Here’s a guide to discovering the city with all five senses.
Text: Martín Echenique @martinechenique | Photos: Rafael Fabrés
Rio is a city that plays and cries, laughs and challenges itself in a roda de samba, in the sunsets behind the favelas of Tijuca, in the strains of a chorinho and in the faces of its people. So let’s forget about Pão de Açúcar and the “Girl from Ipanema” (for a while, at least) to discover a more intimate side of Rio.
Sight: Parque da Cidade
To really see Rio, you need to get outside of the city. Trekking up to the top of Corcovado – where you’ll wait endlessly in line to take pictures with more selfie sticks in the background than panoramic views – doesn’t do the setting justice. But I don’t give up. Searching high and low, I find the hidden treasure of Rio’s rich array of postcard-worthy views: Parque da Cidade, in Niterói, the favorite city of architect Oscar Niemeyer.
For 3.50 reais, the ferry crosses the Bahia de Guanabara and leaves us at Araribóia, in downtown Niterói. A taxi takes us to the neighborhood of Charitas along a winding street with steep drop-offs: nearly 900 feet up to the paraglide and hang-gliding launch ramp at the top of the park. From the height equivalent of an 82-story building, we’re treated to a great view. With ten minutes of sunlight left, we take a seat next to a dozen other visitors. Our feet dangle over the edge as we silently contemplate the sun sinking behind the otherworldly geography of Rio. Orange, violet, yellow and blue hues light up the beaches of Niterói, the hills of Rio, the statue of Cristo Redentor and Pão de Açúcar in an extraordinary display, pristine, free of charge and truly sublime.
Taste: From Lapa to Laranjeiras
On Avenida Mem de Sá – Rio’s bohemian epicenter – we meet Tom, a 38-year-old British gourmand who has spent nearly two years leading culinary walking tours of Lapa, Glória, Flamengo and Laranjeiras, four neighborhoods north of Copacabana. We get our first taste at Nova Capela, a restaurant that’s practically an institution and as popular as the caipirinha. Since 1923, cabrito assado (roast lamb) has been the signature dish at Nova Capela, but we start with bolinhos de bacalhau (codfish coquettes) and an energizing fresh pineapple juice with mint and lemon.
In Lapa, the Feira da Conde de Lages comes alive every Thursday at noon, with bustling stands selling fresh vegetables and fruits like acerola, graviola and cajú. Hungry? Grab a tapioca, a flatbread made with tapioca starch and stuffed anything from cheese to sweetened condensed milk and grated coconut. Thirsty? Have a caldo de cana – fresh sugarcane juice, ice and lemon – at Pastel do Mário. Sweet, tart and cool, it’s perfect when the temperature reaches 91°F at one in the afternoon.
After trying Amazonian food in Tacacá do Norte, we walk to Severyna de Laranjeiras, a restaurant serving cuisine from Brazil’s northeastern region. We sample pasteis (Brazilian-style empanadas), moqueca de camerão (a shrimp stew made with coconut milk, vegetables and aceite de dendê, or palm oil), dried meat with pumpkins and beans, fabulous caipirinhas made with tart acerola fruit and an icy glass of Therezópolis Gold, a beer from Teresópolis,
Touch & Smell: Tijuca
After a morning rain shower, we decide explore one of the 92 paths (trilhas, in Portuguese) inside Floresta da Tjuca, a trail that will take us to the park’s most famous waterfall: Cachoeira do Horto. We ask the taxi to leaves us at Estrada da Vista Chinesa, 1653, above the botanical gardens. As we climb over centuries-old roots and huge rocks, we begin to discover incredible scenery. A fruity, earthy smell fills the air after the rain. Gradually, we leave the city behind, and the path becomes narrower, the terrain more pristine and the sound of water closer.
After a 20-minute hike, we reach a deafening waterfall that ends in a circular pool, surrounded by large rocks where you can drop your bags and enjoy a well-deserved dip. Only a few other visitors join us in experiencing the solitude – and immensity – of the natural side of Rio.
Sound: Semente & Chorinho
The mandolin and drums resound dramatically, while Zé Paulo Becker – whose black-and-white portrait hangs behind our table – energetically plays the cavaquinho (a type of small guitar). His melody goes up and down, it vibrates and travels around the 12 tables of guests who listen, stunned, to this true virtuoso of chorinho, the first genre of popular Brazilian music to originate in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century.
Semente is open every day, and the most talented musicians from Rio, including legends like Chico Buarque, come here to enjoy live music and giant caipirinhas for 20 reais. Facing the Arcos de Lapa, this bar (a house that dates back to 1912) charms with its intimate decor, warm lighting and flirtatious atmosphere, where you can listen to Rio at its best.
I head outside for a cigarette. Becker is still playing at a breakneck pace, eyes closed, without stopping. Outside, a laughing couple dances on the sidewalk, in front of a mural by Selarón, a Chilean-Brazilian artist. When the music stops, the applause begins. But that applause is really for Rio, and no one else. in
Daily flights to Rio de Janeiro from Santiago and Buenos Aires.
For more information, lan.com
Daily flights to Rio de Janeiro from Buenos Aires, Santiago and Miami.
For more information, tam.com.br
Rua Monte Alegre, 316 – Santa Teresa
Rua Laurinda Santos Lobo, 311– Santa Teresa
Rua Santa Cristina, 132 – Santa Teresa
Dining & Nightlife
Avenida Mem de Sá, 98 – Lapa
Facebook: Nova Capela Restaurante
Severyna de Laranjeiras
Rua Ipiranga, 54 – Laranjeiras
Tacacá do Norte
Rua Barão do Flamengo, 35 – Flamengo
Bar da Cachaça
Avenida Mem de Sá, 110 – Lapa
Bar do Mineiro
Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno, 99 – Santa Teresa
Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 264 – Santa Teresa
Rua Evaristo da Veiga, 149 – Lapa
Facebook: Bar Semente
Rua Jardim Botânico, 414
Cachoeira do Horto
Estrada da Vista Chinesa, 1653 – Horto
Eat Rio (Culinary Tour)