Suddenly it was clear to me why we fall in love. A clumsy encounter and an eternal
postponing of our life, putting off what we fear the most. It could only be that.
By Brazzil Magazine
The Southeast region, known in Brazil as the Sudeste, comprises almost 11% of
the country’s land area and is home to a whopping 44% of Brasileiros
(Brazilians)90% of whom live in cities. The region is made up of the states of Rio
de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, São Paulo and Minas Gerais.
Geographically, the Southeast contains the most mountainous areas of the Planalto
Atlântico: the serras da Mantiqueira, do Mar and do Espinhaço, making it popular with
hikers and climbers.
Most of the region was once covered by the lush Mata Atlântica, but this has been
devastated since the arrival of the Portuguese. Inland, Minas Gerais also contains areas
of cerrado and caatinga. Two great rivers begin in the mountains of the
Southeast; the Paraná, formed by the Paraíba and Grande rivers, and the São Francisco,
which begins in the Serra da Canastra in Minas.
The Southeast is the economic powerhouse of Brazil and contains 60% of the country’s
industry. This wealth attracts migrants from all over Brazil, who flock to the three
largest cities of BrazilSão Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizontein search
of something better.
Attractions of the Southeast include the cidade maravilhosa Rio de Janeiro;
historic colonial towns (Parati, Ouro Preto and many others in Minas); national parks
(Serra dos Órgãos, Itatiaia and Caparaó); and the people themselvesthe
hard-working Paulistas (from São Paulo), the fun-loving Cariocas (from
Rio), the strong-willed Capixabas (from Espírito Santo) and the spiritual Mineiros
(from Minas Gerais).
RIO DE JANEIRO CITY
Rio is the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city). Jammed into the world’s most
beautiful city settingbetween ocean and escarpmentare more than seven million Cariocas,
as the inhabitants are called. This makes Rio one of the most densely populated places on
earth. This thick brew of Cariocas pursues pleasure like no other people: beaches
and the body beautiful; samba and cerveja; football and cachaça.
Rio has its problems, and they are enormous. A third of the people live in the favelas
that blanket many of the hillsides. The poor have no schools, no doctors and no jobs. Drug
abuse and violence are endemic. Police corruption and brutality are commonplace. The
breakdown in law and order recently forced the state government to ask the President to
send federal troops into the favelas, in an attempt to curb drug trafficking.
Nevertheless, in Rio everything ends with sambafootball games, weddings, work,
political demonstrations and, of course, a day at the beach. There’s a lust for life, and
a love of romance, music, dance and talk that seem to distinguish the Cariocas from
everyone else. For anyone coming from the efficiency and rationality of the developed,
capitalist world this is potent stuff. The sensuality of Carnaval is the best-known
expression of this Dionysian spirit, but there are plenty more.
Rio has its glitzy sideits international tourist crowd and the lives of its rich
and famous. But happily it’s also a good city for the budget traveler. There are plenty of
cheap restaurants and hotels. The beaches are free and democratic. There’s a lot to
explore in the city center and in several other neighborhoods with their parks and
museums. Mass transportation is fast and easy. And if you can meet some localsnot
nearly so hard as in New York, London or Sydneywell, then you’re on easy street.
Gaspar de Lemos set sail from Portugal for Brazil in May 1501 and entered a huge bay in
January 1502. Mistaking the bay for a river, he named it Rio de Janeiro. It was the
French, however, who first settled along the great bay. Like the Portuguese, the French
had been harvesting brazil wood along the Brazilian coast, but unlike the Portuguese they
hadn’t attempted any permanent settlements until Rio de Janeiro.
As the Portuguese colonization of Brazil began to take hold, the French became
concerned that they’d be pushed out of the colony. Three ships of French settlers reached
the Baía de Guanabara in 1555. They settled on a small island in the bay and called it
Antarctic France. Almost from the start, the town seemed doomed to failure. It was torn by
religious divisions, isolated by harsh treatment of the Indians and demoralized by the
puritanical rule of the French leader, Nicolas de Villegagnon. Antarctic France was weak
and disheartened when the Portuguese attacked and drove the French from their fortress in
A greater threat to the Portuguese was the powerful Tamoio Indians, who had allied with
the French. A series of battles occurred, but the Portuguese were better armed and better
supplied than the French, whom they finally expelled. They drove the Tamoio from the
region in a series of bloody battles.
The Portuguese set up a fortified town on the Morro Castelo in 1567 to maximize
protection from European invasion by sea and Indian attack by land. They named it São
Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, after King Sebastião of Portugal. The founding 500 Cariocas
built a typical Brazilian town: poorly planned, with irregular streets in medieval
Portuguese style. By the end of the century the small settlement was, if not exactly
prosperous, surviving on the export of brazil wood and sugar cane, and from fishing in the
Baía de Guanabara.
In 1660 the city had a population made up of 3000 Indians, 750 Portuguese and 100
blacks. It grew along the waterfront and what is now Praça 15 de Novembro (often referred
to as Praça Quinze). Religious orders camethe Jesuits, the Franciscans and the
Benedictinesand built austere, closed-in churches.
With its excellent harbor and good lands for sugar cane, Rio became Brazil’s third most
important settlement (after Salvador da Bahia and Recife-Olinda) in the 17th century.
Slaves were imported and sugar plantations thrived. The owners of the sugar estates lived
in the protection and comfort of the fortified city.
The gold rush in Minas Gerais at the beginning of the 18th century changed Rio forever.
In 1704 the Caminho Novo, a new road to the Minas gold fields, was opened. Until the gold
began to run out, half a century later, a golden road went through the ports of Rio. Much
of the gold that didn’t end up in England, and many of the Portuguese immigrants didn’t
return to Minas, but stayed on in Rio.
Rio was now the prize of Brazil. In 1710 the French, who were at war with Portugal and
raiding its colonies, attacked the city. The French were defeated, but a second expedition
succeeded and the entire population abandoned the city in the dark of night. The occupying
French threatened to level the city unless a sizeable ransom in gold, sugar and cattle was
paid. The Portuguese obliged. During the return voyage to an expected heroes’ welcome in
France, the victors lost two ships and most of the gold.
Rio quickly recovered from the setback. Its fortifications were improved, many richly
decorated churches were built and by 1763 its population had reached 50,000. With
international sugar prices slumping, Rio replaced Salvador da Bahia as the colonial
capital in 1763.
In 1808 the entire Portuguese monarchy and courtbarely escaping the invasion by
Napoleon’s armiesarrived in Rio. The city thus came to house the court of the
Portuguese Empireor at least what was left of it. With the court came an influx of
money and skills that helped build some of the city’s lasting monuments, like the palace
at the Quinta da Boa Vista and the Jardim Botânico (a pet project of the king). The
Portuguese court was followed by talented French exiles, such as the architect Jean de
Montigny and the painters Jean Baptiste Debret and Nicolas Antoine Taunay.
The coffee boom in the mountains of São Paulo and Rio revitalised Brazil’s economy.
Rio took on a new importance as a port and commercial center, and coffee commerce
modernised the city. A telegraph system and gas street lights were installed in 1854.
Regular passenger ships began sailing to London in 1845, and to Paris in 1851. A ferry
service to Niterói began in 1862.
At the end of the 19th century the city’s population exploded because of European
immigration and internal migration (mostly ex-slaves from the declining coffee and sugar
regions). In 1872 Rio had 275,000 inhabitants; by 1890 there were about 522,000, a quarter
of them foreign-born. By 1900 the population had reached 800,000. The city spread rapidly
between the steep hills, bay and ocean. The rich started to move further out, in a pattern
that continues today.
You can expect some rain in Rio. In the summer, from December to March, it gets hot and
humid. Temperatures in the high 30º Cs are common and there’s more rain than at other
times, but it rarely lasts for too long. In the winter, temperatures range from the 20ºCs
to low 30ºCs, with plenty of good days for the beach.
Rio is divided into a zona norte (north zone) and a zona sul (south zone)
by the Serra da Carioca, steep mountains that are part of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca.
These mountains descend to the edge of the city center, where the zonas norte and sul
meet. Corcovado, one of these mountain peaks, offers the best way to become familiar with
the city’s geographyfrom it you have views of both zones.
Rio is a tale of two cities. The upper and middle classes reside in the zona sul,
the lower class, except for the favela dwellers, the zona norte. Favelas
cover steep hillsides on both sides of townRocinha, Brazil’s largest favela
with somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 residents, is in Gávea, one of Rio’s richest
neighborhoods. Most industry is in the zona norte, as is most of the
pollution. The ocean beaches are in the zona sul.
Unless they work in the zona norte, residents of the zona sul
rarely go to the other side of the city. The same holds true for travellers, unless they
head north to the Maracanã football stadium or the Quinta da Boa Vista, with the national
museum, or the international airport which is on the Ilha do Govemador.
Rio’s center is all business and bustle during the day and absolutely deserted at night
and on weekends. It’s a working citythe center of finance and commerce. The numerous
high-rise office buildings are filled with workers who pour onto the daytime streets to
eat at the many restaurants and shop at the small stores. Lots of essential services for
the traveller are in the center. The main airline offices are here, as are foreign
consulates, Brazilian government agencies, money exchange houses, banks and travel
The center is the site of the original settlement of Rio. Most of the city’s important
museums and colonial buildings are here. Small enough to explore on foot, the city center
is lively and interesting, and occasionally beautiful (despite the many modern,
Two wide avenues cross the center: Avenida Rio Branco, where buses leave for the zona
sul and Avenida Presidente Vargas, which heads out to the sambódromo and the zona
norte. Rio’s modern subway follows these two avenues as it burrows under the city.
Most banks and airline offices have their headquarters on Avenida Rio Branco.
We found sightseeing was safer here during the week, because there are lots of people
around. On weekends, you stand out much more.
At the southern edge of the business district, Cinelândia’s shops, bars, restaurants
and movie theatres are popular day and night. There are also several decent hotels here
that are reasonably priced. The bars and restaurants get crowded at lunch and after work,
when there’s often samba in the streets. There’s a greater mix of Cariocas here than in
any other section of the city. Several gay and mixed bars stay open here until late.
By the old aqueduct that connects the Santa Teresa trolley and the city center is Lapa,
the scene of many a Brazilian novel. This is where boys used to become men and men became
infected. Prostitution still exists here but there are also several music clubs, like the
Circo Voador and Asa Branca, and some very cheap hotels. Lapa goes to sleep very late on
Friday and Saturday.
This is one of Rio’s most unusual and charming neighborhoods. Situated along the ridge
of the hill that rises from the city center, Santa Teresa has many of Rio’s finest
colonial homes. In the 1800s Rio’s upper crust lived here and rode the bonde (tram)
to work in the city. The bonde is still there but the rich moved out long ago.
During the ’60s and ’70s many artists and hippies moved into Santa Teresa’s mansions.
Just a few meters below them the favelas grew on the hillsides. Santa Teresa was
considered very dangerous for many years and is now heavily policed. It’s still necessary
to be cautious here, especially at night.
Catete & Flamengo
Moving south along the bay, you’ll come to Catete and Flamengo, two areas which have
the bulk of inexpensive hotels in Rio. Flamengo was once Rio’s finest residential district
and the Palácio do Catete housed Brazil’s president until 1954, but with the new tunnel
to Copacabana the upper classes began moving out in the 1940s. Flamengo is still mostly
residential. The apartments are often big and graceful, although a few high-rise offices
have recently been built among them. With the exception of the classy waterfront
buildings, Flamengo is mostly a middle-class area.
There is less nightlife and fewer restaurants here than in nearby Botafogo or
Cinelândia, which are five minutes away by subway.
Parque do Flamengo
Stretching along the bay from Flamengo all the way to the city center, the Parque do
Flamengo was created in the 1950s by an enormous landfill project. Under-utilised during
the week, with the exception of the round-the-clock football games (joining a few hundred
spectators at a 3 am game is one of Rio’s stranger experiences), the park comes to life on
The museum of modern art is at the northern end of the park. At the south end is Rio’s,
a big outdoor restaurant that’s ideal for people and bay watching. The park is not
considered safe at night.
Botafogo’s early development was spurted by the construction of a tram that ran up to
the botanical garden linking the bay and the lake. This artery still plays a vital role in
Rio’s traffic flow and Botafogo’s streets are extremely congested. There are several
palatial mansions here that housed foreign consulates when Rio was the capital of Brazil.
This area has fewer high-rise buildings than much of the rest of Rio.
There are not many hotels in Botafogo but there are lots of good bars and restaurants
where the locals go to avoid the tourist glitz and high cost of Copacabana.
This is the famous curved beach you know about. What’s surprising about Copacabana is
all the people who live there. Fronted by beach and backed by steep hills, Copacabana is
for the greater part no more than four blocks wide. Crammed into this narrow strip of land
are 25,000 people per sq km, one of the highest population densities in the world. Any
understanding of the Rio way of life and leisure has to start with the fact that so many
people live so close together and so near to the beach.
Only three parallel streets traverse the length of Copacabana. Avenida Atlântica runs
along the ocean. Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, two blocks inland, is one way,
running in the direction of the business district. One block further inland, Rua Barata
Ribeiro is also one way, in the direction of Ipanema and Leblon. These streets change
their names when they reach Ipanema.
Copacabana is the capital of Brazilian tourism. It’s possible to spend an entire
Brazilian vacation without leaving it, and some people do just that. The majority of Rio’s
medium and expensive hotels are here and they are accompanied by plenty of restaurants,
shops and bars. For pure city excitement, Copacabana is Rio’s liveliest theatre. It is
also the heart of Rio’s recreational sex industry. There are many boates (bars with
strip shows) and prostitutes; anything and everyone is for sale.
From Christmas to Carnaval there are so many foreign tourists in Copacabana that
Brazilians who can’t afford to travel abroad have been known to go down to Avenida
Atlântica along the beach and pretend they are in Paris, Buenos Aires or New York. As
always when there are lots of tourists, there are problems. Prices are exorbitant, hotels
are full and restaurants get overcrowded. The streets are noisy and hot.
Ipanema & Leblon
These are two of Rio’s most desirable districts. They face the same stretch of beach
and are separated by the Jardim de Alah, a canal and adjacent park. They are residential,
mostly upper class and becoming more so as rents continue to rise. Most of Rio’s better
restaurants, bars and nightclubs are in Ipanema and Leblon; there are only a few hotels,
although there are a couple of good aparthotels.
Barra da Tijuca
Barra is the fashionable suburb with Rio’s rich and famous. The beach is beautiful, and
apartments in the closed condominiums are expensive. Like fungi in a rainforest, hundreds
of buildings have sprung up wherever there happens to be an open space. Whether condo,
restaurant, shopping center or disco, these big, modem structures are, without exception,
Tourist Offices Riotur (541-7522) has a tourist information hotline. Call them from
9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, with any questions. The receptionists speak English and
more often than not they’ll be able to help you.
Riotur (297-7177) is the Rio city tourism agency. The main office is at Rua da
Assembléia 10, 8th floor, Centro, but the special `tourist room’ is in Copacabana at
Avenida Princesa Isabel 183. There, you’ll find free brochures (in Portuguese and
English), which include maps.
For more on information and foreign consulates, guidebooks, and bookshops read the
Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by
Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro, and Robyn Jones. For more
information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications.
Used by permission.
Buy it at
Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit
by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,