Exploring Santa Theresa in Rio

Rio de Janeiro, the Cidade Maravilhosa, the Wonderful City. Perched atop a hill in this wonderful city is the neighbourhood of Santa Theresa. Narrow winding streets, a community of artists and bohemians, and colourful mansions covered with beautiful street art fill this neighbourhood and make it come alive. 

Our first accommodation, Discovery Hostel, was a short 15 minute walk from the centre of Santa Theresa. We didn’t realize until halfway through, though, that this 15 minute walk was all uphill. These stairs were a behemoth to conquer, but the trek rewarded us with stunning views. 

I tricked Milos into splurging on our first meal at Espirito Santa, a gorgeous restaurant set in the hillside. Elegantly dressed servers, a beautiful mostly-empty patio, and a table protected from the rain greeted us. It was lightly spitting, turning the rainforest around us an even more saturated shade of green. 

Caipirinha’s are the national cocktail of Brazil (they’re pretty much the only cocktail of Brazil) so we each ordered one – passion fruit for me, tangerine for Milos. 

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t prepared for the sudden rush of this unbelievably boozy drink. So. Many. Shots. Espirito Santa wasn’t the only place that served Caipirinha's like this either – everywhere in Rio, they add at least 6 shots of Cachaça (sugar cane liquor), muddled fruit, and sugar. There's very little (if any) mix added. 

I love meat, and so do Brazilians. Most plates are topped with 90% meat, 5% vegetables, and 5% of grains, which is right up my alley. Since my second love is cheese, I opted for the Guerreiro, “Grilled filet mignon served with a crust of garlic bread stuffing, layered with brie, thin-sliced potato chips and the wine -based beef gravy” along with a side of rice. 

M ordered Espírito da Terra, “Pork ribs slow roasted and served with a mild hot sauce and caramelized onions, accompanied by slices of fried sweet potato.” At $20 per plate, Espirito Santa falls into the $$$ category in Lonely Planet, but it got ★★★★★ in deliciousness from me. Just writing about this meal makes me want to travel back in time and eat it all over again. 

I usually skip out on dessert, but when I travel, I love tasting the different sweets in different countries. Here we ordered the Rosita, “Spring rolls stuffed with apple and bacuri fruit jelly perfumed with cumin and ginger.” It was light and flavourful, sweet but not too sweet. 

Next up, we headed to Bar do Mineiro. Rio is full of these small open-air bars called “botecos”, and each “Carioca” (resident of Rio) has their go-to spot. 

Boozy drinks round 2.0. This is when Milos and I discovered that strong alcoholic content is the norm in Rio. Just embrace it!

On our last night in Rio, we Ubered (yes, Uber is a thing in Rio and it’s so cheap and so convenient!) to a restaurant called Cafecito. I didn’t bring my DSLR out with me, so this grainy photo is the best I have, but this place was adorable! There’s floors and floors of patios, and on each level you sit amongst the trees and look down over the road. The food and drinks were amazing too, and once again, my plate consisted of 95% meat. I love you Brazil! 

Santa Theresa is a neighbourhood full of colour and energy. Walking down the streets is like walking through an art gallery in a rainforest. 

Though we stayed in Discovery Hostel for three nights, I decided to splurge a little and spend our remaining two nights in a restored mansion in Santa Theresa called The Villa Rio. Though it was really, really out of the way (nothing was in a walkable distance!), the views were oh so rewarding. It's no wonder the wealthy decided to settle in this hilltop community. 

Santa Theresa is a wonderful neighbourhood to explore for a day. There's many delicious eateries, both high-end and moderately priced. The street art is inspiring, and the views are remarkable. 

One word of caution: Santa Theresa is lined by favelas, which are essentially shantytowns that can still be run by drug lords and run rampant with crime. It's almost impossible to accidentally walk into one, but if you're wandering around at night, just be a bit more cautious. Don't worry too much, and don't let it scare you away from these beautiful views!