If it weren’t for a hotel mix-up that left me stranded in the middle of Rio, I would have never visited Santa Teresa. After learning that our original hotel had no record of our reservation, my Russian and I were forced to book a last minute room away from Copacabana for the remainder of our stay. At the time it felt like a disaster that I feared would overshadow our trip, but what I thought was a travel disaster turned out to be one of the highlights of the visit. Below is a quick guide to exploring the beautiful town of Santa Teresa.
This small hillside neighborhood sits just a few miles from Copacabana, but it feels worlds away. Though close in proximity, these two areas of Rio could not be more different. Unlike the frenzied pace that pulses through the city streets, Santa Teresa’s winding cobblestone roads are quiet, secluded and feel more like Italy than Brazil. Even though the area was primarily populated by tourists, it felt like a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.
Although it feels secluded, Santa Teresa is quite easy to get to. It takes just 30 minutes by car from the airport or Copacabana, but the best way to reach this charming town is by trolley. Monday through Saturday from 8am-6pm, the Santa Teresa tram runs every 20 minutes between the neighborhood of Lapa and downtown Santa Teresa. The tram is completely free, allowing you to hop on and off along the scenic route. It is definitely a must do!
Boutique hotels and cozy bed & breakfasts are abundant in Santa Teresa. We lucked out with a beautiful room at Villa Teresa. It felt like our own private residence and offered a bird’s eye view of Brazil.
There are numerous dining options in Santa Teresa serving up scrumptious Brazilian cuisine. For fine dining, head to Aprazivel. I celebrated my birthday there and it was lovely. This elegant establishment is nondescript from the outside, but inside you discover it is literally built into the hillside and offers breathtaking views of the city. Don’t miss out on their signature caipirinha cocktails. As far as main dishes, you can’t go wrong as each entrée is seasonally inspired and mouth-wateringly delicious.
If you’re in need of a quick bite, the colorful Café do Alto is a great option. Their Santo sandwich of jerked beef, caramelized onions and melted cheese is to die for!
You also cannot miss Cafécito (pictured above). This was our first stop after checking into our hotel. Sitting among the treetops adorned with glittering lights felt like we had stepped into a fairy tale. It also served up some of the best pizza I have ever had. Perhaps it was fatigue or the whimsical ambiance, but that pizza tasted better than any I have had in New York, Chicago or even Italy. I typically don’t like to repeat restaurants, but this is one I would have returned to day after day…it was just that good!
I could have spent an entire day strolling along Santa Teresa’s winding cobble stone streets marveling at the gorgeous architecture of the chateaus and villas that abound there. The architecture is simply stunning. Every building was photo worthy and I found it hard to keep myself from constantly snapping away!
If you can peel your eyes away from the breathtaking architecture, you’ll be treated to some stunning views of Brazil. The vistas alone are worth the visit. From sunrise to sunset, Santa Teresa offers sprawling panoramas of the city below. Take a moment to absorb it all and marvel at the terracotta rooftops, glistening harbors and majestic mountains all of which can be seen from high on the hilltop.
Although Santa Teresa wasn’t originally on our itinerary, I am thrilled that I got to experience this area of Brazil. If you find yourself in Rio, I highly recommend carving out at least an afternoon to spend some time in this enchanting neighborhood. You won’t regret it!
Have you ever visited Santa Teresa? What were your impressions? Have you ever had a travel mishap that turned into a positive experience? Share your comments below!