For Rio de Janeiro first-timers, staying in a favela may seem counter-intuitive. Yet Vidigal happens to be the city’s most up-and-coming area since its 2011 pacification, with vibrant bars and renowned restaurants. From a growing street art scene to memorable nightlife, here’s a glimpse into impossibly cool Vidigal, including the best places to stay nearby – bookable with Culture Trip.
Vidigal clings to the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) hillside, the two egg-shaped hills that can be seen at the far end of Leblon, located between two of Rio’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Leblon.
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Vidigal was once one of the most dangerous favelas in Rio, notorious for its high levels of violence and presence of powerful drug lords. However, the Brazilian police force was ordered to crack down on criminality in Rio, and Vidigal was one of the first favelas to be successfully “pacified.” Unlike shaky attempts in other local favelas, Vidigal flourished under its new peaceful status and gradually became an attraction for tourists looking to understand what a Brazilian favela was like.
The upmarket Sheraton chain has a reputation for top-level hotels, and the Grand Rio does not disappoint. The setting scores high as well, sandwiched between the dramatic Dois Irmãos Mountain and scenic sands of Vidigal Beach. The five-star resort hotel delivers on facilities, too, with a huge beachfront pool, a trio of very decent dining options and the Shine Spa where you can get fully pampered while gazing over the Atlantic Ocean.
Just a block from the song-famous beach, the Che Lagarto is the place to stay if you’re after low-cost, good-vibes lodgings. Pick from mixed-gender or female-only dorms. Alternatively, there are private rooms, too, if you’re not into sharing. Prepare your own meals and snacks in the communal kitchen, and hang out with like-minded travelers in the chilled bar. What’s more, it’s just a 20-minute bus journey from the edge of Vidigal.
Towering just along the coast from Vidigal, you certainly can’t miss this vast black-glass cylinder of a hotel, set on the swanky São Conrado seafront. It soars up 34 floors and has over 400 rooms; views from the floor-to-ceiling windows become increasingly eye-popping the higher you go. It’s five-star facilities all the way here, including two fabulous circular swimming pools, plus a swish, serene spa zone. The beach is just a few steps away.
Vidigal is becoming the hottest spot in Rio for travelers looking for an alternative experience in the city. Once considered off-the-beaten-track, Vidigal is nowadays a well-trodden path among backpackers, and bars have sprung up to accommodate them. Regardless of this fact, it is still an altogether different vibe than any other region in the city, and the nightlife here has its own unique edge.
For food, head to Restaurante Sabor Carioca, a small, colorful restaurant that serves some of the best Brazilian food in the area – expect hearty portions of rice, beans and tender meat. For cocktails with an unforgettable view, try Bar da Laje. Its hilltop location provides broad views over the coastline and the city that can be admired from the comfort of a spacious terrace while sipping on a smooth cocktail.
For the after-party, go to Alto Vidigal which has popular all-night parties with reggae or funk being the favorite music choices, though sometimes international DJs also play sessions here. The sunsets from Vidigal are spectacular, but don’t miss the sunrise from Alto Vidigal.
What to see and do
Don’t be scared to get to know Vidigal better – the friendly locals and safe environment should be enough to make you feel welcome.
One of the most common reasons for visiting Vidigal is to do the Dois Irmãos hike. The base of the hike is at the high point of the Vidigal community, so you will need to get a van or motor-taxi to the top to reach the entrance. From there, the hike is about 40 minutes to the peak, with several viewpoints along the way where you can stop, rest and appreciate the views. From the top, enjoy the sweeping vista over Ipanema, São Conrado Beach and Rocinha favela. It’s one of the best views in Rio.
Another great thing to do is to visit Vidigal Beach. Mostly enjoyed by locals, the small beach remains hidden off the main road, and you need to go down the winding stairway by the Sheraton Hotel to get there.
Keep an eye out for the vibrant street art. Whole walls are free canvases for talented Rio artists who use Vidigal as a creative outlet. Marcelo Ment’s artwork featuring a woman with a flower in her colorful hair, is a particular highlight.