Rio de Janeiro has many more highlights than tourist brochures like you to believe. It would be a shame to miss out on them. Our off the beaten track will take you by metro, boat and a classic Volkswagen minibus to see, among other things, a jazz club in a favela, alligators in a lake, the biggest Portuguese library outside Portugal and one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city.
We meet at Caminhos Tours in Ipanema, from where we will walk to the General Osorio Metro station. There we hop onto the metro in the direction of the little explored western part of town, Barra da Tijuca, the location as well of the Olympic Park.
Barra, as locals call it, is not known as a cozy neighborhood, but is liked for its beaches. However, Barra also has an area with a natural lake, with several islands where people live, called Lagoa da Tijuca. Once we leave the metro in Barra, we’ll jump on a boat to explore the Lagoa of Tijuaca a bit. The eco-system of this lake is compared with the famous Pantanal region in Brazil. You’ll find mangrove around the lake, but also alligators, capybaras and herons.
After the boat trip, we’ll get back on the metro in the direction of Ipanema, where a classic Volkswagen minibus will be waiting for us. The VW will take us to the favela Tavares Bastos, for a short visit, which will include a drink at the famous jazz club the Maze, run by a former BBC-correspondent Bob. The Maze does not only offers great views, but also is beautifully decorated with a mosaic. This stop will be as well an introduction to life in Rio’s favelas.
From this experience, we’ll continue on to a different part of the city, the neighborhood of Gloria. Located in this area is the Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro church, built between 1714 en 1730, on the hill of Nova Sintra (named after the famous Portuguese hillside village Sintra outside Lisbon). In this church family member of the Portuguese imperial family were baptized, during the time the Portuguese emperor lived in Rio de Janeiro (1808-1821). Nowadays, because of its historical setting, it is a favorite location for celebrity weddings.
Having seen the church, we’ll be going to the historical center of Rio, to visit Real Gabinete Grandeza de Leitura, the library with the biggest collection of Portuguese books outside Portugal (350.000 volumes). Founded in 1837 by a Portuguese association in Rio, the library is one the most beautiful in the world, a recognized monument.
Since we’re downtown Rio, we walk towards Morro da Conceição, one of the oldest quarters in Rio, founded in 1590 as a Portuguese settlement, firstly with a small chapel to honor Our Lady of conception (conceição). Walking through the dwindling streets with its Portuguese cobblestones and houses, it is like being in Portugal. These days lots of artists, studios and other establishments call Morro da Conceição their home.
At the foot of the hill, we’ll also visit the historical location Pedra do Sal, where in the past the slaves would be working carrying bags of salt of the ships. Pedra do Sal was also the arrival dock for ships with new slaves, who from there on went straight to the slave market close by. Monday and Friday night this place is the scene for a big gathering of locals, to come to listen and dance to live samba music.
Close to Pedra do Sal is also Praça Maua, and the biggest street art wall in the world, made by Paulista Kobra. On Maua square, you’ll find the futuristic museum of Tomorrow and Rio’s Museum of Art (MAR).