Covering eleven blocks of downtown Rio between Rua Uruguaiana and Avenida Presidente Vargas, sits the Saara (Sociedade de Amigos das Adjacências da Rua da Alfândega – the road on which it centres), a dazzling collection of stalls and shops selling everything including, literally, the kitchen sink. Also known as the Arab Quarter thanks to the influx of immigrants who turned a once-busy shipping supply region into a thriving, sprawling market now consisting of over 1,200 shops, it is a rewarding slice of old-world South American chaos for those prepared to fight the crowds.
At its busiest in the weeks before carnival thanks to block after block of shops selling glittering bags of accessories and huge rolls of gaudy materials, it isn’t for the faint-hearted, but grab an iced calda de cana (sugarcane juice) from the snack shop and dive in. The biggest concentration of all that glitters and sparkles can be found on Rua Alfândega and Rua Senhor dos Passos, where ready made getups from pirate wear to ballerina skirts are avilable or go DIY and a little more creative by picking up some lengths of material (rolls and rolls pour out of the shops) and a few bags of sequins and sew-ons. For once you really are only limited by the outer reaches of your imagination.
There is also an official Haviana shop (Rua da Alfândega 176), more fake Nike gear and football shirts than you can shake a stick at, party shops galore, and several devoted entirely to the weird world of fridge magnets. The covered market area towards Rua Uruguiana is chock-full of mobile phones, watches and gadgets going for a song.
Aidan, Rua Senhor dos Passos 193, Centro (21 2242 0353/www.aidanfesta.com.br)
Big Saara, Rua Senhor dos Passos 107, Centro (21 3045 3667/www.bigsaara.com.br)
Casa Turuna, Rua Senhos dos Passos 122, Centro (21 2509 3908/www.casaturuna.com.br)
Rodrigão, Rua Senhor dos Passos 164, Centro (21 2508 8230/www.rodrigaokids.com.br)
Super Festas, Rua Senhor dos Passos 153, Centro (21 2215 0734/www.superfestas153.com.br)