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Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro
Brazil's insider take:

Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro's up-and-coming artists' quarter, is a quaint and charming—if slightly oddball—kind of paradise. It's a world away from both the statuesque sun-worshippers who strut the Ipanema waterfront and the middle-aged European men who search for kicks in Copacabana's less salubrious nightclubs—but that's the point. Santa, as it's known to locals, bases its bohemian-chic reputation on its serpentine streets, rash of artists' ateliers, and imposing, if slightly shabby, architecture. Moreover, in a city where most hillsides sprout grim favelas, Santa Teresa is the rare exception: Safe enough to stroll around, its altitude gives the visitor unparalleled views of the Sugarloaf, Corcovado, and glittering Guanabara Bay. Santa grew up around an 18th-century convent, its mansions erected by aristocrats and businessmen. It remained a wealthy enclave until the 1960s, when rising crime sent the rich fleeing to Rio's southern suburbs. Artists led the area's revival in the mid-1990s, snapping up low-cost studio space in the grandiose but abandoned villas. More recently, a slew of stylish hotels and restaurants—along with security cameras and better policing—have brought foreign tourists to the area, many drawn by Santa Teresa's artistic heritage and village-like feel. Shopping highlights include La Vereda, which sells rugs, paintings, and clothing from local artisans (428 Rua Almirante Alexandrino; 55-21-2507-0317), and HB-195, a contemporary art gallery (195 Rua Hermenegildo Barros; 55-21-2508-9148).

Linking Santa's disparate attractions is a rickety tram—the last in Rio—that clatters between Largo dos Guimarães, Santa's hub, and the Centro district downtown (the station is not far from the Catedral Metropolitano). Known as the bonde, it was built in the 1890s by British engineers and has changed little since. Its doorless carriages are equipped with aged wooden seats; to request a stop, passengers tug on a length of string tethered to the ceiling.

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