Rio de Janeiro is celebrated for its beaches, and travelers often focus on them when planning their trips. The names Copacabana and Ipanema conjure up images of bronzed bodies, skimpy bikinis, and relaxing on the sand. It is true that Rio’s South Zone is blessed with miles of coastline, but the city is also surrounded by 46 square miles of Atlantic Rainforest called the Tijuca National Park, which offers opportunities for fantastic excursions.
Most of our clients visit a section of Tijuca without realizing it. Corcovado Hill, home of the famous Cristo Redentor Statute, is part of Tijuca National Park. At the top of Corcovado, visitors don’t just come face to face with the 70 foot statue of Jesus – they are also likely to see small, playful primates called marmosets. The marmosets serve as a reminder that the wild is never very far off in Rio, and that Tijuca Park is bursting with colorful flora and fauna.
If you prefer a little more activity than hanging on the beach and drinking caipirinhas (Brazil’s national drink), you might want to schedule some extra time in Tijuca. There are several areas for hiking in the park, and the effort is rewarded with excellent views of Rio.
One great option for hiking is the Pico da Tijuca, or “Tijuca Peak.” At 3,350 feet, this is the highest point in Tijuca National Park, but it is a relatively easy hike to the top. Visitors can drive up a large section of the peak and begin the trail at the Bom Retiro section of the park. The trail passes by the Taunay Waterfall, the largest in Rio. It takes a little over an hour to hike to the summit, with an altitude gain of about 2,300 feet.
For more of a challenge, you may opt to hike to the top of the Pedra da Gavea. Portugese explorers gave this rock the name “gavea,” or “crow’s nest,” because of its resemblance to the crow’s nest on a sailing vessel. Pedra de Gavea has a height of 2,762 feet above sea level. It takes about 2 hours to hike to the summit along a trail that extends for a little over one mile, part of which includes a 50-foot rock climb.
The rock climbing section is short but difficult. When I hiked Pedra de Gavea recently, my guide helped me choose my foot- and hand-holds. We had to find cracks in the rock to wedge our feet and small, natural shelves where we could place our hands and pull ourselves up. It is more common to complete this section with ropes, but it is still a trail best suited to people in good shape and with no fear of heights.
The view from the summit of Pedra de Gavea is stunning. From our perch we could gaze at all the iconic points of the South Zone: the Dos Irmaos Hill that crowns Leblon Beach, the golden sand of Ipanema and Copacabana, as well as the Cristo Redentor and Sugar Loaf Hill in the distance.
Rio is blessed by natural beauty, which includes its famed coastline as well as the Atlantic Rainforest. If you would like to spend some time being active and getting off the beach, ask us how we can include a hike in Tijuca National Park during your time in Rio.