Situated at the heart of Zona Sul and all but completely separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the upscale district of Ipanema, Rodrigo de Freitas Lake has been among Rio’s most distinguishing natural landmarks since the city was first established in the 16th century. In the shadow of Corcovado and covering nearly a square mile in surface area, the lagoon lends its name to the adjacent garden district of Lagoa and serves as a recreational area and beauty spot for local residents, with nearly 3 miles of bike and jogging trails, boathouses for rowing, and several exclusive social clubs located along the edge of the lagoon.
Named for a young Portuguese army official who lived in the area in the early 1700s, the history behind the glassy lagoon wasn’t always placid. The first Portuguese settler in the area, Rio governor Antonio Salema, slaughtered the indigenous Temoio Indians with smallpox-infected clothing when he arrived on the scene in 1575 to build a sugar mill. Subsequent conquests have been as recent as the 1960s, when residents of a favela built on a neighboring hillside were forcibly removed and the hill, along with the ramshackle dwellings, was flattened to make way for some of the high-class high-rises that exist today.