In the heart of the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro, there is a calm and beautiful neighborhood called Jardim Botânico. It is located at the division between the lagoon Rodrigo de Freitas and the Tijuca Forest, at the foothill of Corcovado, host of the Christ the Redeemer statue. The neighborhood is named after the Botanic Garden, a natural park in Rio built in the colonial period. Along with Parque Lage, this place is one of the best ones to relax and be in touch with nature in the whole city.
The Garden has a total of 540 thousand square meters of cultivated area and more than 3.500 different plant species (native and exotic), coming from all over the world. Its symbol is the Imperial palm trees, planted at the main entrance, at the time the Garden was being built. In this article, I will drive you through the best tourist spots of this nice and peaceful place.
The Botanic Garden was built by order of the prince regent of Portugal, Dom João, in 1808. But for you to understand the importance of the park, first let me explain what was happening back then. This year was critical because it was the same year the Portuguese court came to Brazil. And historically, this was the first time that a colony hosted a European capital: this happened because of the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon Bonaparte's legions. Lacking in military power to face the enemy, the Portuguese court decided to travel to Brazil, and get protection by the English naval force: that way, they settled far away from the French army.
In Brazilian lands, the prince lifted Brazil from its colony position to become a united kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarves. With this decision, a whole new infrastructure was built in the city and capital of Rio de Janeiro. The Botanic Garden was one of these constructions, aiming to power the economy by cultivating spice plants from the East Indies, like nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. Before its construction, all the lands around the lagoon Rodrigo de Freitas were a plantation of sugar cane. Still, by royal decree on June 13th, 1808, the prince regent ordered the creation of the Jardim de Aclimação (or, Cultivation Garden). It was just in 1822, with the proclamation of the independence of Brazil, that the garden became public, and remained up to nowadays.
Today, the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro functions as an important research institute and is considered a national heritage site and a biosphere reserve of the Atlantic Forest by UNESCO. As the park is huge, in order to see everything, spare an entire day for this trip. Also, my advice here is to bring a backpack with a reusable bottle of water and fruits (you also can buy those at the restaurant in the park, but the price will be a bit more expensive). Wear comfortable sneakers and also bring insect repellent. Plus, keep in mind that there are free drinking fountains and restrooms all over the park.
Once you get inside the park, you will have to walk a bit to reach the information office. On the way, you will see the Visitor Center and the Environment Museum - both with free admission (save at least one hour to see these attractions). The Visitors Center, for example, is a colonial house built in 1576: it functioned first as a mill for the sugar cane plantation and today holds an exhibition on the history of the Botanical Garden. If you are like me, a fan of history, you will definitely enjoy it: there you will find an interactive room to understand the context of the park's creation. Also, at this space, you will find a turtle pond (in front) and a little store of the Association of Friends of the Botanical Garden, which has handmade souvenirs, such as gardening kits, jewelry made with seeds, and organic teas and spices.
At the entrance, you will get a free map of the park, but my advice here is to get inside the Garden and simply get lost. This is the best way to really get to know and appreciate the nature around you. If you are a technology enthusiast, there is a free App (available for iOS and Android), called Jardim Virtual, with a map indicating the main points of interest and information about plant species. Honestly, I am not a big fan of this, mainly because I prefer to look at nature and not on the screen of my cellphone, but you should be free to decide for yourself.
Walking around the park, you will see two immense corridors of imperial palms, the symbol of the park. The main one, called alley Barbosa Rodrigues, boasts a beautiful fountain, made in England in the 19th century, and by the way, it is one of the most photographed places in Rio, after the Christ Statue and the Sugar Pan Hill.
One place you also have to save some time to explore is the orchids greenhouse, built in the late 19th century, and restored in 1998. It has more than 700 species of orchids, and for me, it is the most beautiful collection in the whole Garden. Not too far, there is one of the largest bromeliads in Brazil, with more than 1.700 specimens from South and Central America. They are located at the Roberto Burle Marx Greenhouse.
On your walk, you will admire the contrast created among the vegetation. This is because there are different sectors, like the Amazon Rainforest area, that evokes the dense vegetation, where you can find specimens of rubber trees, babassu, and cacao trees. Or the Japanese Garden, created in 1935, from a donation of 65 species of plants typical of Japan. There you find a typical Japanese spot, with a rock garden, and specimens of bonsai, bamboo, cherry, bridal bouquets, and weeping willows. In the two ponds, inhabited by carp, lotus flowers stand out.
Other spaces that you cannot miss are the Frei Leandro lake and its adjacent elevation "Comodoro Leandro," the Levada Aqueduct, and the Casa dos Pilões, which host an archaeological site of the Research Institute.
Getting to the Botanical Garden is not difficult. There are plenty of public options to bring you there - take any bus which passes through "Rua Jardim Botânico." If you are in Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon, there are the lines "Troncal 10" and "Circular" 1 and 2 passing through there. For those coming from "Barra da Tijuca," you can take line 309, and from the city center or the North Zone of the city, the best option is to take the subway directed to Botafogo Station and from there take the bus to Gávea. Or, you can always go by Uber or Taxi.
The park is open every day for visits. The open hours are from Tuesday to Sunday from 8h to 18h, and on Mondays from 12h to 18h. Even though the park is public, there is a fee at the entrance. The ticket costs 15 reais (or so, 3 euros). Still, there is a half-price ticket for students, disabled people, youngsters up to 21 years old (you need a photo identification document to prove), and elderly over 60 years old. It is free of charge for children up to 5 years old.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the Botanical Garden, which is definitely one of the best places to relax to while in Rio de Janeiro.
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