Narrow, winding streets, brightly painted walls and the rattling of the world's oldest tram characterise the easy-going Santa Teresa district in Rio's mountains.
Santa Teresa can be described as Rio's most colourful neighbourhood without thinking twice and is one of our top 10 places to visit in Rio de Janeiro.
Somewhat secluded in the mountainous hinterland of Brazil 's metropolis of millions, one encounters carefree artists' natures in the cobblestone alleys, who seem to give free rein to their talent on every street corner. Away from the tourist crowds of Copacabana and Ipanema, it is quiet and tranquil here, just like in "real" Brazilian life.
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PICTURES: Santa Teresa district in Rio de Janeiro
From Carmelite Convent to Artists' Quarter
In the mid-18th century, the neighbourhood grew around the Santa Teresa convent, which still gives the district its name today. In the 19th century, the upper class of Rio lived here, which included emigrated Europeans, many of them Germans. European embassies also settled in Santa Teresa for this reason.
Graffiti charm and coastal views from Santa Teresa
Today, Santa Teresa is no longer one of Rio's upscale neighbourhoods, but it has managed to retain its charm as an artists' quarter. Many of Santa Teresa's walls and houses are decorated with murals that are as artistic as they are colourful, giving the hilly neighbourhood its unmistakable flair.
The typical narrow, winding streets so popular with tourists are lined with Art Deco façades and filled with delicious aromas that waft around the neighbourhood's cosy eateries.
The Bar do Mineiro, a classic Brazilian bistro, the French-Brazilian Aprazivel with its tropical garden and the Espirito Santo restaurant with its panoramic terrace and dishes from the Amazon region are among Santa Teresa's best-known establishments.
The sensational view of the Rio coast is another reason why Santa Teresa is included in our top 10 sights of Rio de Janeiro. From Parque das Ruinas, a discarded mansion of which only the walls remain, the panoramic view is most spectacular. Right next to it, by the way, is the Museu Chacara do Ceu, which exhibits not only Brazilian artists but also international master painters such as Miro and Matisse.
Rio's neighbourhood full of colourful art
Decorated from top to bottom with colourful mosaics, the Escada Selaron is probably the most famous example of the skill of the artists in Santa Teresa. The elaborate staircase was created on 9 March 2012 by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron as a "tribute to the Brazilian people".
In addition to the numerous works of art, the many colonial buildings with studios, art galleries and small museums also contribute to the cultural flair of Santa Teresa. The tram, whose rattling at regular intervals fills the narrow streets, is also of cultural-historical value, as it is the oldest tram in the world.
Oldest tram in the world
The Santa Teresa tram, called "Bonde", has been taking its passengers reliably from A to B without interruption since 1877. This makes it not only the oldest tram in the world, but also the oldest electric means of transport on rails in South America. Its history is told in the Museu do Bonde.
In addition to the world-famous Copacabana or the statue of Christ visible from afar, the Santa Teresa tram is also repeatedly mentioned as a landmark of Rio. It is probably superfluous to mention that Santa Teresa may only be left again after a ride in the famous "Bonde".
On the road through Santa Teresa since 1877
In the early years, the tramway between Rio's centre and Tijuca was still pulled by horses, but as early as 1896 it was the first railway in South America to be electrified and transferred to rail. The tram network in Rio de Janeiro was successively expanded and then reduced again in the following decades.
Today, apart from buses, the tram is once again the only means of public transport that runs over the snow-white Carioca aqueduct from the Lapa district to Santa Teresa.
From 2011 to 2015, operations were interrupted due to a fatal accident. In the meantime, the tram has been renovated and the bright yellow wagons are on the road again. Together with the Braunschweig tram, the Santa Teresa tram is the last tram in the world to run on a track width of only 1.1 metres.
Free riders in Santa Teresa
Whoever gets on at the city centre stop has to buy a ticket, whoever simply jumps on at the doorless and windowless carriages on the way is allowed to ride for free - the street children of Rio quickly found this out. Without a valid ticket, however, there is no right to a seat or to have the tram stop at every stop.
If you jump on instead of getting on, you may have to jump off again instead of getting off. As a tourist, it is recommended to pay the ticket price, also to keep Rio's landmark alive.