Lapa is a beautiful and rundown historic gem of Rio, full of dilapidated architecture and pulsing with character. It’s not the safest area to be just strolling around though and so most will only come here at night when the main drag comes alive to the sound of samba.
The Lapa street parties are among the best of Rio nightlife and whilst there are samba and forro bars open all week, it’s Thursday til Saturday that the crowds gather from around 10 am til 4 or 5. Thousands of people mill up and down the street, drinking beer at street bars and just going with the flow.
At one end of Lapa you’ll maybe find a rock band playing in the street, opposite the women who sells plastic cups of hot soup. Then you’ll pass a couple of samba clubs and find a hip hop sound system blaring in the middle of the street. Further down still and you’ll find a roda de samba (a samba circle) with a guitarist sat at a table in the street, whilst everyone else at the bar plays percussion and sings along.
A little further on the party dies out but you have the famous Lapa staircase. This is several flights of a work of art as a Rio artists collects tiles from all round the world and cements them into the steps. He only has so much room though and so keeps changing the order of the tiles in a continuously changing art project.
The downside is that occasionally the police in Rio de Janeiro get the word that they’re to put the pressure on all the marijuana crowd by occupying the street. They situate their police cars every twenty metres and leave the lights on flashing. They march up and down the street, searching anyone they don’t like the look of and cost the local merchants and vendors their livelihood.