On the far side of the Lagoa (across from Ipanema) is the lush upscale neighborhood of Jardim Botânico. While wealthy residents may lack sea views, they are handsomely rewarded by being in between the jungly slopes of Corcovado and the exotic flora of one of the world’s best botanical gardens. Aside from possessing some of the city’s chicest restaurants and bars, Jardim Botânico is where the Globo television network has its Rio headquarters, ensuring the presence of lots of celebs (and paparazzi).
A 138-hectare (340-acre) urban oasis (it has been scientifically proven that the temperature is always a bit cooler here than elsewhere in this often humid city), Rio’s botanical garden, also called Jardim Botânico (Rua Jardim Botânico 1008, tel. 21/3874-1808, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$5), offers an unparalleled green mix of native Atlantic forest, lagoons covered with giant lily pads, and over 8,000 plant species. Many of them—pineapples, cinnamon, and tea among them—were introduced here prior to their cultivation in the rest of Brazil. Created by Dom João I, who planted the park’s signature double row of imperial palms, the Jardim Botânico is a wonderfully tranquil refuge during the week (on weekends, it fills up with Cariocas and their kids). Highlights include the scent garden, the cactus garden, and the fabulous orquidário, featuring over 1,000 species of wild orchids. Kids (and adults) with a fondness for the mildly gruesome will enjoy the carnivorous plant collection. Near the entrance is a pretty café and a great gift shop with lots of eco-souvenirs.
Adjacent to the Jardim Botânico is the Parque Lage (Rua Jardim Botânico 414, tel. 21/3257-1800, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, free), designed by 19th-century English landscaper John Tyndale. Its winding paths snake around small ponds and through the lush tropical landscape that covers the lower slopes of Corcovado. In the midst of the greenery is the early-20th-century mansion of Henrique Lage, a wealthy industrialist who built the stately abode for his opera singer wife, Gabriela. The internal courtyard with its arcades and turquoise pool reflecting the mountains is Alhambra-esque. Even better is the fact that you can throw yourself onto a tatami mat and indulge in cakes and coffee at the Café du Laje. The palace houses the Escola de Artes Visuais, an art school where temporary exhibits are often held.