Gruta da Imprensa, Rio de Janeiro’s Off-Road Grotto

The Atlantic Ocean as it meets the Gruta da Imprensa

photography by: Omri Westmark

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As we all know, the scenic coastline along Rio de Janeiro boasts some of the world’s best-known beaches, including Ipanema and Copacabana. Far eclipsed by the string of famed beaches are the derelict attractions of Avenida Niemeyer, slightly west of Rio’s downtown area. Originally built as part of a large-scale infrastructure project, Gruta da Imprensa is home to a series of manmade grottos as well as a scenic point where intrepid visitors can gaze at the formidable Atlantic Ocean.

When the ambitious plan to construct a rail link between Botafogo neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro to Angra dos Reis was scrapped, the partially built track was purchased by the municipal authority which in 1920, redeveloped the site into a coastal road. In order to make the avenue wide enough for the upcoming visit by King Albert of Belgium, a massive stone bridge was built along the way, significantly mitigating the previously curvy route.


The aptly named Rei Alberto Viaduct soon became the monumental centerpiece of the brand-new avenue, which stretched from Leblon to São Conrado. Featuring an ocean lookout alongside artificially-made grottos, the viaduct’s lower section was a popular stop for joggers and fishermen alike, both of whom were drawn to the site’s mesmerizing setting.


From 1933 to 1954, the sumptuous viaduct along with the entire seaside avenue were part of Circuito da Gávea, an urban circuit which hosted Rio’s Grand Prix. With more than 300,000 people gathering to watch the world-class event, the many journalists who covered the car race opted at one point to make the empty space under the Rei Alberto Bridge as their base of operations. For that reason, the place earned its current moniker, “Gruta da Imprensa” (Grotto of the Press).


Following the last Grand Prix race in 1954, the grotto complex fell into a state of disrepair, with graffiti artists using every inch of its dilapidated walls as a canvas for their political slogans or murals. As Rio de Janeiro was about to host the Olympic Games in 2016, a modern, elevated bicycle lane was built along the Avenue, which by that point was named Avenida Niemeyer. Only three months after the lane’s flashy inauguration, the section over Gruta da Imprensa collapsed during a heavy storm, killing two people.


While the bicycle path was restored the following year, the grottos as well as the nearby observation deck have remained neglected for the last couple of decades. In spite of its sheer decrepitude, the place offers an intriguing encounter with the unrestrained forces of nature, accompanied by stunning vistas of the ocean.


As you move downwards through the narrow staircase to the Gruta, you’ll be greeted by strong roars of the ocean pummeling its way, mercilessly and incessantly, through a crevice between the rocks. Instead of camera-armed tourists, you’ll find here a few plucky fishermen perilously perching atop the rugged surface, trying to make ends meet. Suffice to say then, that visiting the grottos requires a great deal of caution, and yet, the mind-boggling views worth every bit of it.