A Real Life Secret Garden Exists in this South American Country and Travelers Can Actually Visit It

The Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx
The Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx | © Halley Pacheco de Oliveira / WikiCommons
Sarah Brown

With tall evergreens, tropical palm trees, and sun-dappled ponds, this secret garden could be a setting from a Hollywood film. Far from the tourist spots in Rio de Janeiro, the Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx hardly registers on a typical holiday itinerary, making this garden one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

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The estate was once a former banana plantation, which Burle Marx – one of Brazil’s most celebrated landscapers and artists – bought in order to install his plant collection that he’d built up since childhood. Nowadays, the 100-acre garden contains more than 3,500 different species of plants collected from different regions in Brazil and across the globe, especially Asia and Europe. The result is a surreal mix of indigenous and foreign trees, bushes, and flowers, all of which have been carefully cultivated and positioned to create a botanical wonderland that is arguably among Burle Marx’s best works and one of the most important plant collections in the world.

The ‘secret garden’ – Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx in Rio de Janeiro

Burle Marx’s former home also lies within the grounds where he lived from 1973 until his death in 1994. His home is perfectly preserved and contains collections of furniture, paintings, and sculptures designed by the gifted artist. Just outside his home is a large patio with a stone-oven and an artificial waterfall that creates a thin wall of droplets, along with a 17th-century chapel that Burle Marx’s restored and now has displays of sculptures and impressive views across the garden.

The views of the gardens from the restored chapel

In 1985, Burle Marx donated the garden to the Brazilian government in an effort to preserve the estate and its monumental gardens and plant collection. Today, the site is looked after by the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute and was declared a cultural heritage in 1985 and a national heritage in 2000.

The garden and the pond in the Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx

The site is found in Barra da Guaratiba, a neighborhood on the extreme western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. To get there, take the subway to metro Jardim Oceanico in Barra da Tijuca and then take the BRT (Rapid Bus Transport system) to the Alvorada bus stop in Barra and change BRT to one that is heading in the direction of Recreio Shopping. Get off at the Ilha da Guaratiba station and then take the 867 bus directly to the Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx. It’s a long way out of Rio’s main tourist spots, which is one of the main reasons this magnificent estate is Brazil’s most secret garden.

Sitio de Roberto Burle Marx contains one of the world’s most important plant collections

Tours of the estate have to be booked in advance through the website and take place Tuesday to Saturday between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm. The entry fee is R$10 (less than US$3). The tours booked through the site are conducted in Portuguese. For an English version, book through Bromelia Rio which includes the complete tour of the Roberto Burle Marx estate.

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