Botanical gardens aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I think I’ve only been to a handful in my life and I’m pretty sure I was dragged to all of them by my parents.
So, why, you ask, did I make the trek halfway across one of the biggest cities in South America to see the Botanical Gardens in Rio?
The honest truth? I’d intended to see Christ the Redeemer that day with some friends, but it was so damn cloudy we’d have been squandering our reais. The Botanical Gardens are just a short bus ride away from the base of Corcovado, so we decided to make the most of being in that part of town.
So, is it worth the trip?
If you’re actually into plants and all that jazz, you’ll love it. There are 54 hectares of greenery, made up from about 6500 different species – many native to Brazil and others imported from other countries. What struck me most was the lack of colourful flowers. It’s really just one big forest of odd shapes, but beautiful nonetheless.
Then there’s the wildlife. I saw a fair few interesting bird species, and there are often sightings of howler monkeys and marmosets, which come and go as they please. But my absolute favourites had to be these ugly buggers. Leaves no question in your mind about where the phrase turtle neck came from…
If the resident species aren’t enough to hold your interest, you can always people watch. There was a woman having her wedding photos taken as she strutted around in the world’s most vile dress. Tell me, is this the face of a proud new husband? I think not!
And then there was this girl, who appeared to be having a sexy photo shoot done by none other than her parents as she wrapped herself around tree trunks and leaned seductively against anything vertical…
Interspersed among the plants are a multitude of statues. On entrance to the gardens, you’re handed an elaborate map showing hundreds of paths running from one artistic monument or fountain to the next. It would be very easy to get lost if it weren’t for one major landmark towering above the gardens. That’s right, Christ made an appearance after all! But I’ve got to say, I still think I made the right decision to save him for another day.
Where to stay in Rio
I tried out a few hostels in Rio and my favourite, by a long shot, was Books Hostel in Lapa. In fact, it was one of my favourite hostels in South America. I went back to it twice after visiting other parts of Brazil, and I visited it in the evenings when I made the mistake of trying out a hostel near Copacabana Beach for a few nights. The guy who runs is – Felipe – is awesome, and there is a sense of homeliness to it that makes almost every backpacker extend their stay. Decorated with quirky graffiti murals and left-behind shoes, and with a small bar serving cachaca and beers every evening, it’s the perfect place to socialise with new friends before checking out the famous street parties of Lapa.