In recent years, Rio de Janeiro has earned a reputation for high-priced, low-quality hotels, and any visitor who has coughed up big bucks for a boxy room along the beachfront would agree that the reputation is deserved. But savvy travelers are waking up to the fact that sacrificing a beachfront location can mean finding seriously stylish locations elsewhere in the city, such as in Santa Teresa.
Scenic Santa Teresa is home to some lovely guest houses — Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
The breezily bohemian hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa offers unique lodgings in reformed former mansion houses, with leafy gardens and palm-fringed pools more than making up for the lack of proximity to the beaches.
While many of Rio's chain hotels garner many grumbles among online reviewers due to their perceived poor price to quality ratio, online review boards are full of praise for the characterful lodgings to be found along Santa Teresa's steep and winding cobbled streets. These small guest houses (known in Portuguese as pousadas, or "rest stops") win points for their lovely setting, attentive personal service and prices that compare very favorably with beach destinations such as Ipanema and Copacabana.
One standout is Quinta Azul Boutique Pousada, which aims to combine the relaxed, informal ambiance and personal service of a pousada with the high quality and stylish design of a boutique hotel. Harboring one end of Rio's buzzing bar and restaurant strip, Quinta Azul is set back from the main drag, and it feels like a real oasis of calm thanks to its lush tropical gardens, tweeting birds and chattering monkeys.
Garnering praise from the international travel press as well as online reviewers, Quinta Azul is a reformed colonial townhouse whose 13 rooms and suites have all been stylishly decorated with luxurious touches such as 400-thread-count cotton sheets.
The pool and sundeck are a major boon when the sun beats down on the city. Lavish breakfasts of fresh fruits and juices, fresh breads, coffee, cheese and meats can be enjoyed al fresco each morning in the lovely gardens. Small tamarind monkeys often make their way down from the trees at breakfast time, and they will happily accept any offerings of fruit.
The neighborhood itself is known as the artistic heart of Rio, and it's packed with boho bars, arts and crafts stores and some of the best independent restaurants in Rio. It's a few minutes by bus or cab ride to Centro and the more hedonistic nightlife of Lapa, while beach lovers can grab a cab and be at Copacabana or Ipanema in less than 20 minutes.