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 (photo above) 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 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
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,
At the end of Ipanema you’ll encounter a canal. On
the other side lies Leblon, considered by most 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! Be sure to wear comfortable
A top destination for visitors is the Botanical
Gardens in the bairro of Jardim Botanico. 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 Gavea. Gavea
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.
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 Praca General
Osório in Ipanema, and taxis are 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
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