One of Rio de Janeiro's prettiest neighborhoods,
São Conrado is about 10 minutes away from Leblon.
To reach it you take the tunnel that goes through twin hills Morro
Dois Irmãos. It starts right underneath a large S-shaped building
in Gávea - they actually had to put down
a block of apartments during construction. Before you enter the
tunnel, you will see to your left the Planetarium and the
buildings of PUC, the Catholic University.
An alternative route is taking scenic Av. Niemeyer.
The road earned its name after Comendador Jacó Conrado de
Niemeyer, who owned much of what is today known as São Conrado.
He opened the road in 1916, connecting Vidigal to what was then Gávea Beach. The chapel of São Conrado was inside his farm, and
dates back to this period.
There are a number of excellent reasons to visit
São Conrado. Anyone with an interest in golfing will appreciate
the well-manicured greens of exclusive Gávea Golf Club. They
start on the mountains and stretch all the way to the beach. And
if you ever considered hanggliding, this is the spot for you to
get started. You may go on a dual flight with an experienced
professional, and the view is simply fantastic.
Conrado's skyline is dominated by Rio's table mountain,
named Pedra da Gávea. It can be seen from as far as Niterói,
across Guanabara Bay. The overlook in
Pedra Bonita will give you whole different perspective of the area.
You can see Copacabana, Lagoa,
and Ipanema to the East, and Barra,
Recreio and Jacarepaguá to the West.
São Conrado has two condominiums with luxury
apartment buildings. They are home to many of Rio's rich and
famous, including the mayor. There are also private streets
up the hills lined up with posh mansions. The area is served by
Fashion Mall. This sophisticated shopping center featuring
world-famous labels has movie theaters, and good restaurants and
In contrast to all the glitz and glamour, São
Conrado is where you will find Rocinha. Rio de Janeiro's largest favela, with over fifty thousand residents, is often visited by
international tourists on guided tours. They are always
favorably surprised to find the community counts on a number of
shops and services, and a view that will never quit.
Pedra da Gávea is a reference in Rio de Janeiro since 1502. It is mentioned on the
travel log of Captain Gaspar de Lemos, the commander of the first
Portuguese fleet to visit Rio. It earned its name for resembling the crow's nest
on a ship.
The most interesting feature of Rio de Janeiro's table mountain is that it is
decorated with the wind-sculpted face of a stone giant. The mountain is a
challenge to mountain climbers, and should only be explored with an experienced
Pedra da Gávea is surrounded by mistery. Legend goes that there are
Phenician inscriptions dating back to immemorial times. They would say something
something like Tyro/Phenicia/Badhezir/First-Born Son/Jethbaal. There have
actually been expeditions searching for the tomb of King Badhezir.
This story was used in the plot to a deliciously campy movie made in the
1970's, now remastered and available on DVD. Roberto Carlos e o Diamante Cor
de Rosa (Roberto Carlos and the Pink Diamond) is starred by the Brazilian King and his partners Erasmo Carlos and Wanderlea. They end up finding the diamond
hidden in the eye of the stone giant. The musical numbers and
psychedelic clothes are irresistible, and there are many nostalgic images of
Rio. Part of the action was shot on location in Japan and Israel.
Since climbing Pedra da Gávea is not for everyone, you may consider a visit
to Pedra Bonita that is right behind it. From the overlook you have a privileged
view to the face of the stone giant. To your left is the South Side of
Rio, past the Dois Irmãos Hills. On a bright day you can see all the way to the
mountain range of Serra
de Itatiaia, and its peak named Dedo de Deus (God's finger). To the right is
the west side of Rio, with Barra da Tijuca, Recreio dos Bandeirantes, and
Jacarepaguá. The beach reserve of Grumari can also be seen from here.
Pedra Bonita can be easily reached by car, going up a road named Estrada das
Canoas. Many experienced hanggliders in Rio offer dual flights, and this is the
spot where you jump from. They will pick you up and drop you off safe and
sound at your hotel. Flights land on a special spot at the beach, the experience
is really unforgettable. Even if you don't dare to try, you will
always have fun seeing others on their first flight.
Pepino was once the most fashionable beach in Rio, it is still one of the most scenic
spots in town. Just as you leave Av. Niemeyer the first reference is the
building of Hotel Nacional. This landmark structure is a project of renowned
architect Oscar Niemeyer. It was once one of Rio's most luxurious hotels, and
its theater was stage to shows with international attractions like Liza Minelli
and others. The group that owned the hotel eventually went bankrupt, though, and
today it is closed down.
The condominium with tall white buildings behind Hotel Nacional is named
Village São Conrado. Most units have four or five bedrooms. Past the hotel
there is the beachside portion of Gávea Golf Club. Later comes a small cluster
of ultra-luxury buildings, with a 360° postcard view. Despite all the beauty,
São Conrado beach is often unsuitable for swimming. When it rains polluted rain
water comes from Rocinha, and the results are always ugly. There is an ongoing
project to divert this rainwater to the existing sewage piping. Once the project
is concluded, Pepino Beach will hopefully go back to its former glory.
A city within itself, Rocinha started to grow in the 1970's. Specialists do not
agree on the current population, which is estimated between 50 and 150 thousand.
The favela was urbanized, and since it cannot grow to the sides anymore it
started to grow vertically. There are many 4 and 5-story buildings, and
satellite dishes are easily seen.
Rocinha can be visited on guided tours, and some of the money reverts to the
community. There are bars, cafés, gafieiras, and many other attractions. You
will even have the opportunity to enter a home, and meet a local family.
The relationship of Rocinha with its rich neighbors is mostly peaceful.
Across the street from the hill is the public school Brizolão, and the samba
court. Next to it is a well-equipped educational center was recently
opened, offering many technical courses to improve skills of residents. As in
most favelas in Rio, though, violence due to drug trafficking is a problem that
every know and then shows its ugly side.