Brazil (Rio de Janeiro State)
Quinta da Boa Vista
The area covered by the Quinta da Boa Vista (daily 7am–6pm) was once incorporated in a sesmaria held by the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Jesuits used the area as a sugar plantation, though it later became the chácara (country seat) of the royal family when the Portuguese merchant Elias Antônio Lopes presented the Palácio de São Cristovão (today the Museu Nacional) and surrounding lands to Dom João VI in 1808. The park, with its wide open expanses of greenery, tree-lined avenues, lakes, sports areas and games tables, is an excellent place for a stroll, best during the week as weekends can get very crowded. You may as well make a day of it, and see all the sights once you’re here.
Feira do Nordeste
The Feira do Nordeste, held every Sunday (6am–1pm) in the Campo de São Cristovão, close to the Quinta da Boa Vista, is probably the best of Rio’s regular outdoor markets. A replica of the great Northeastern markets, with stalls run by people in traditional costume, there are typical handicrafts, food, caged birds and tropical fish – while music from the parched Northeastern backlands fills the air. Best buys are beautifully worked hammocks, leather bags and hats, folk medicines and spices. Go as early as you can, on any bus marked “São Cristovão” – #469 from Leblon, #461 from Ipanema, #462 or #463 from Copacabana.

Museu da Fauna and Jardim Zoólogico

The Museu da Fauna (Tues–Sun 9am–4.30pm) in the Quinta da Boa Vista has organized a collection of stuffed birds, mammals and reptiles from throughout Brazil, worth a look on the way to the Jardim Zoólogico (Tues–Sun 9am–4.30pm; $3), close by. What was once a run-down and dirty zoo has been transformed recently – the animals look happier and the grounds are now kept scrupulously clean by zealous functionaries – but it’s still basically an old-fashioned place where animals are kept in small cages.

Museu Nacional

In the centre of the Quinta da Boa Vista park, on a small hill, stands the imposing Neoclassical structure of the Museu Nacional (Tues–Sun 10am–4pm), the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and certainly one of the most important, containing extensive archeological, zoological and botanic collections, an excellent ethnological section and a good display of artefacts dating from classical antiquity – altogether, an estimated one million pieces exhibited in 22 rooms.

The archeological section deals with the human history of Latin America, displaying Peruvian ceramics, the craftsmanship of the ancient Aztec, Mayan and Toltec civilizations of Mexico, and mummies excavated in the Chiu-Chiu region of Chile. In the Brazilian room, exhibits of Tupi-Guarani and Marajó ceramics lead on to the indigenous ethnographical section, uniting pieces collected from the numerous tribes that once populated Brazil. The genocidal policies of Brazil’s European settlers, together with the ravages of disease, reduced the indigenous population from an estimated six million in 1500 to the present-day total of less than two hundred thousand. The ethnology section has a room dedicated to Brazilian folklore, centred around an exhibition of the ancient Afro- and Indo-Brazilian cults that still play an important role in modern Brazilian society – macumba, candomblé and umbanda.

On a different tack, the mineral collection’s star exhibit is the Bendigo Meteorite, which fell to earth in 1888 (for sign-seekers, the year slavery was abolished) in the state of Bahia. Its original weight of 5360kg makes it the heaviest metallic mass known to have fallen through the Earth’s atmosphere. And beyond the rich native finds you’ll also come across Etruscan pottery, Greco-Roman ceramics, Egyptian sarcophagi and prehistoric remains – all in all, a good half-day’s worth.