Rio’s world-famous Escadaria Selarón
We knew little about Santa Teresa when we booked two nights, but we really managed to land on our feet! I think both of us want to move to this eclectic haunt permanently now! The area is a mere 15 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Ipanema and Copacabana, but it couldn’t be more different if it tried. Old-worldy, charming and brimming with rich history, Santa Teresa is often referred to as the “Montmarte” of Rio.
Our first taste of the winding cobblestone streets and graffitied walls came when we visited the Lapa Steps (Escadaria Selarón) – the world-famous brightly tiled staircase of Rio, which connects Santa Teresa and Lapa (a well known party district). The stairs themselves are stunning, like something out of a film (not just a Snoop Dogg or U2 music video) and do more than provide a backdrop for millions of photographs every year – they mean the world to the locals. In 1990 the artist, Chilean-born Jorge Selarón, began renovating the rundown staircase with coloured tiles as a way of giving back to the community. He lived in a house along the walkway and, often broke and jobless, began selling his artworks to pay the bills. Initially, neighbours criticised the choice of colours he used on the staircase, but as the masterpiece grew, so too did his Selarón’s name. Soon people from all over the world were bringing tiles to add to the work. Sadly, Selarón committed suicide on the staircase in 2013, in the very spot he spent two decades bringing to life.
“Right here was where they found him,” our tour guide said while pointing to one of the steps. Although Selarón may be gone, his “tribute to the Brazilian people” lives on immeasurably and is visited by huge crowds every year.
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Behind the ageing mansions and bohemian crowds that pour out of Santa Teresa bars at night is another tragedy that still haunts the area. Santa Teresa has one of the oldest tram lines in the world, but in 2011 a derailment saw 6 people killed and more than 50 injured. All tram services have been suspended since the incident and locals blame the authorities for what happened. Many posters around the area remind passers-by about the deaths and want someone to take responsibility.
Despite some streets being a little unsavoury during the evenings (there is graffiti warning you and local people shouting at you to keep your camera hidden), Santa Teresa boasts a creative vibe that not many other places do. The people are wonderful, the colours are immense and some of the food will make even the hardened vegetarians sway.
- The Lapa Steps
- Walk the cobblestone streets and check out the amazing architecture
- Indulge in local cuisine (one of the best meals we have had so far was a steak dish at Bar do Arnaudo in the main strip. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but GO INSIDE AND FEAST!
- Stay at Casa Beleza. A beautiful old mansion down a winding street – you’ll get your own private bathroom (or if you’re lucky the honeymoon suite with a view!), amazing breakfasts and two old turtles nipping at your toes. Say hi to Antoine and Bindu for us!
We are producing these posts as participants in Lonely Planet’s Pathfinders community.
This may not look like much during the day, but by night bars like this are booming with punters spilling out onto the streetsI feel safe, don’t you? We were warned by our guide not to walk certain streets at night. Even the graffiti told us not to. Boy texts while on his skateboardMen playing cards in the street, Rio de JaneiroPosters alert passers-by to the tragedy that occurred on the tram line in 2011Stu still raves about this dish at Bar do Arnaudo, Santa Teresa – sun-dried steak with pumpkin, rice, black eyed peas and manioc flour. (It really was to die for)Pineapple stall, Rio de JaneiroThis street art was painted in anticipation of the World Cup earlier this year. The beautiful pousada where we stayed – “Casa Beleza” – we would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to stay in Santa Teresa. They even had two giant turtles lurking around the gardens!Chelsea’s hit breezy holiday mode Every street in Santa Teresa felt like a work of art