Lapa, Rio – Brazil’s Bohemia (18.09.15)
In twelve months the Rio 2016 Summer Games of the XXXI Olympiad (4 – 21 August) and Paralympics Games (7 – 18 September) will have finished. The world’s first South American city to host the Olympics will no doubt have thrown, as with the 2010 World Cup, one of the biggest parties of all time.
For the duration of that party you can guarantee that the district of Lapa, as famous for its nightlife as for its historical monuments, will be at the centre of it all. This should not be taken for granted however, as over recent years this neighbourhood – once grand, then latterly dilapidated, drug-ridden and dangerous – has experienced one mother of a makeover.
Thanks to local engagement from all stakeholders from the ground up, a new vibrancy and energy has developed on the back of its bohemian past, giving Lapa a fresh, positive reputation. The degeneration into a no-go zone over recent decades has now been replaced with purpose. Local residents, who initially started the campaign of ‘I am from Lapa’, have seen their neighbourhood slowly morph into one of Latin America’s most sought-after urban visitor locations.
As a result, anyone seriously looking for the true spirt of Rio should now put a marker down to visit Lapa. A 24/7 neighbourhood that comes particularly alive during the midnight hours. The area has been given a serious facelift, with an array of new bars, restaurants, street cafes and clubs, but has not lost its soul: its bohemian free-spirit is very much alive. Dominated by eccentric and colourful graffiti-art, a tough, yet engaging, local street culture with an unswerving devotion to music has emerged.
Visitors today can celebrate an area more akin to its 1950s roots when it was known as the ‘Montmartre Carioca’, attracting artists, musicians, intellectuals, politicians and all manner of party goers. Certainly we at Nomadic Thoughts are recommending our clients visit the region. For example when I last visited Lapa, two years ago, I was instantly reminded of East London’s similarly exciting regeneration in Brick Lane and Shoreditch (ref. my blog: Brick Lane, London’s Graffiti Scene).
I took all these photos of Lapa during a hot and balmy Rio night. The sense of edginess was matched by the engaging welcome of the locals, as they served street-stand caipirinhas to a backdrop of pounding music, colourful graffiti and impromptu pavement parties. The newly refurbished cafes, bars and restaurants welcomed the evening visitors as enthusiastically as locals offering hot food, cold cocktails and exotic on-the-spot dance routines. Cross-legged students perched on steep favela-style steps, impromptu musicians, travellers, tourists, street-vendors and locals were all revelling the hedonistic street vibe.
So whether, when visiting Rio, you are aiming to attend the 2016 100m Final, climb Corcovado, chill at Copacabana or gawp from atop Sugar Loaf, make sure you steer a path through Lapa. You are guaranteed a heart and soul Rio experience to remember for many a long night in the future.