Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Rio and Sao Paulo, Go North

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Rio and Sao Paulo, Go North

Article excerpt

The northern areas of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have much to offer adventurous travelers.

On a quaint square of Sao Paulo, Brazil, across from a tiny 112- year-old church, a bar called Frango offers worn wooden tables in cozy nooks, a 500-label beer list and a celebrated version of the popular Brazilian chicken croquettes called coxinhas.

Yet when my pal texted a friend to join us, the response was curt and dismissive: "I generally don't frequent those parts of the city."

"Those parts" means the Zona Norte, or North Zone, roughly the regions of Sao Paulo north of the filthy Tiete River. There's a parallel geography at work in Brazil's second biggest city, Rio de Janeiro, where the Zona Norte is largely ignored in favor of Zona Sul, home to the Copacabana and Ipanema neighborhoods.

Yet in my traveling calculus, any place with millions of residents must have something worth doing. So on a recent trip through Brazil, I set out to the north to see what everyone was missing.

Rio de Janeiro

Denizens of Rio's Zona Sul cannot entirely ignore the north: they'd never attend a soccer game at Maracana, the stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup final, or watch the city's samba schools' exuberant parades in the Sambadrome.

But the Zona Norte has much more to offer. Those same samba schools hold weekly "rehearsals" -- festive dance parties featuring the schools' bands -- and many of the most famous are in poor neighborhoods in the north. Even more fun can be found on a 24-hour clock on weekends at the Sao Cristovao fair (, with food and live music.

The parties don't stop on Mondays. The Renascenca Clube ( has a weekly "Workers' Samba," which began as an informal gathering of musicians on their day off. The group sits around a table, playing guitars, singing, drumming out the beat on tamborims and surdos, surrounded by hundreds of Brazilians who pay a bargain 10 reais, or about $4. …

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