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Rio South Zone

By John Clites



As mentioned in our introduction to Rio, most visitors to The Marvelous City will stay in Zona Sul – the South Zone – which includes the well-know bairros (city districts) of Copacabana and Ipanema, among many others. In future pieces we’ll talk about each of these bairros. Here we give you a general orientation to Zona Sul.

Zona Sul begins at the edge of the downtown district, rises up into Santa Teresa, wraps around Guanabara Bay through Flamengo and Botafogo, extends down along the coast through Copacabana and around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, doubles back through Ipanema and Leblon, and ends at São Conrado.

While Zona Sul may sound very large, in reality it is much smaller in area and population than the North and West Zones. Despite its small size, most of the wealthier neighborhoods of Rio are located in this swath, as are many of Rio’s best-known tourist attractions, including Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, and Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

Rio was born in what is today Urca, in Zona Sul, at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. Curiously, the first settlement wasn’t Portuguese, but French. Named “France Antarctique”, it was founded in 1555, but was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1566 and the area was renamed São Sebastião de Rio de Janeiro.




Still, much of Zona Sul is surprisingly young. Although almost everyone has heard of Copacabana (photo above) and its legendary beach, until the early 1900s it was little more than a sleepy fishing community. That changed with the completion in 1906 of the tunnel linking the Botafogo and Copa. In 1923 the legendary Copacabana Palace opened, putting Copacabana – and Rio – on the international map. The Copa Palace is a landmark even today, and a wonderful place to enjoy brunch.

Copa receives more tourists than any other bairro in Rio. Copa is one of the larger bairros of Zona Sul, and quite an interesting, eclectic place. Its New Year’s Eve celebration, called reveillon, is legendary and regularly draws two million revelers.

At Copa’s end, in the area of Arpoador – a favorite place to gather to watch the sun set – the coastline doubles back and leads into Ipanema, famous of course for the song “The Girl from Ipanema” written in a bar – now also know as The girl from Ipanema – on Rua Vinicius de Moraes.

Ipanema exudes cool chic. A nice plan for the day is to have a late breakfast and then stroll Rua Visconde de Pirajá from Praça General Osório to Leblon. Walking along you’ll soon cross Farme do Amoedo, a hub for gays. You’ll pass a variety of restaurants. Continuing along, you’ll encounter increasingly upscale shops selling clothing, shoes, and jewelry.

At the end of Ipanema you’ll encounter a canal. On the other side lies Leblon, generally considered to be the most upscale bairro in all of Rio. You’ll find many fine restaurants. Leblon Shopping, near the canal, is a very classy multi-level mall and a great place to mix with Rio’s upper crust.

Adjoining Ipanema and Leblon inland is the bairro of Lagoa, which is a wonderful place to get in some exercise. It gets quite congested on weekends, so visit during the week if possible. You can walk or jog the trail around the lagoon, rent a bicycle or paddleboat, hike a trail in Catacumba Park, and afterwards sit on a bench and enjoy a chilled coconut. (Note: The city is working to clean up the lagoon, but you should not go swimming here.) In December each year, a towering artificial Christmas tree is lit on the waters of the lagoon.

Another nice spot for exercising – or lazing – is the aterro (beach area reclaimed from the bay) in Flamengo and Botafogo. Walk, jog, try walking across a “slack line” stretched between palm trees, or treat yourself to a massage in the open air. Bet you can’t do that back home!

By the way, Botafogo has two large shopping malls, Rio Sul and Praia Shopping. If the weather turns rainy – not even Rio is sunny every day! – you can go shopping or take in a movie.
A wonderful place to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is Santa Teresa, which adjoins Centro and Lapa. Santa Teresa was at one time the upscale place to live. Situated on the hills above Centro, it has spectacular views and also receives wonderful cooling breezes, which are very welcome in Rio’s sweltering summers. You’ll find many fine restaurants, especially in the area around Largo de Guimarães. Be sure to pay a visit to Parque das Ruinas, which is the skeleton of an old multi-story mansion. The views from the top are wonderful and admission is free! When visiting Santa Teresa, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!

A top destination for visitors is the Botanical Gardens in the bairro of Jardim Botânico. It’s a lovely place to stroll and relax, especially on a hot day. Nearby is Parque Lage, which was once a private mansion and it grounds. Parque Lage offers brunch beside a reflecting pool. You can sit at a regular table, or on cushions Middle Eastern style. It’s a wonderful place for couples to share some special time together.

Not far away is the upscale bairro of Gávea. Gávea offers many fine restaurants and is also home to Rio’s planetarium. You might also enjoy a stroll through shady Parque da Cidade (City Park) and the grounds of PUC university. Afterwards, recharge with a bite to eat or a visit to Shopping Gávea mall.

Are you seeking something a bit more adventurous while here in Rio? Then head to Vidigal, a pacified favela (hillside shantytown) near Leblon. At the top of Vidigal is a trail leading up Dois Irmãos, the twin peaks visible from Ipanema and Leblon. To reach the trail head, you can take a van, but for added thrills, catch a ride on a mototaxi. Bring your camera, as the view of Zona Sul from atop Dois Irmãos is unsurpassed.

Zona Sul is fairly compact and easily explored. Metro Line 1 runs from Centro to Praça General Osório in Ipanema, and taxis can be found almost everywhere. And some areas of course are best explored on foot. You’ll discover that each bairro has its own distinct personality. You’re sure to find one that suits you!



Text: John Clites (contact)


(Any views or opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/opinions of the publishers/website)




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