By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – One of the greatest attributes of Rio de Janeiro is how it is embedded in rain forest, thick green carpet covering the dramatic hills. It is both pleasing to the eye and offers many accessible hikes where you can get great views and experience wildlife.Rio’s rain forest sits within “The Tijuca National Park”, the largest urban forest in the world. In the mid 19th century Manuel Gomes Archer foresaw an upcoming shortage of fresh water. His solution was to replant the Atlantic rain forest, which at that point was almost non-existent in the city of Rio. The emperor, Dom Pedro II, approved Gomes’ plan and in 1861 the project started. It was a big success.
It now is one of the few pockets of this particular rain forest left in Brazil. The flora and fauna is unique and a valuable resource for biologists and zoologists. In 1961 it was turned into a national park.
Following are three easily accessible hikes, each fantastic in their own way. On all these hikes require hiking boots or trainers, mosquito repellent and water. Keep your eyes open for snakes to.
Corcovado/The Christ Statue
From the lake side you can reach the top of Corcovado on a pretty steep trail in a few hours. Dense rain forest, streaming water and a rich animal life line the way to the top. The trail upwards is covered in foliage so the hiker is not rewarded with the amazing views of the city until reaching the top. Besides a few painted arrows there are no real signs, just follow the most trodden path upwards. The trail starts inside Parque Lage in the neighborhood Jardim Botánico. Robberies on the trail rare but do happen, so avoid bringing valuables – maybe one camera if you go with a group and some money for snacks. Since 2008 even hikers have to pay to enter the stature area at the top, it’s R$12.
Morro da Urca (Pão de Açucar)
This is a short hike of about 30 minutes. It offers nice scenery and free entrance to the first of the two hills that the famous Sugarloaf cable car connects – Morro da Urca. The entrance to the trail is along the walk way on the left hand side of Praia Vermelha. The path steeply enters the forest, and eventually reaches a ridge with a view of Botafogo and Flamengo. Veering left you will soon reach the midpoint cable car station on Morro da Urca. Veering right would take you to Sugarloaf Mountain, climbing gear and an experienced guide are necessary for ascending that hill.
Parque das Catacumbas
This is a short and rewarding hike of about 30 minutes. The top offers an excellent view of the Ipanema, Pedra da Gavea, Lagóa, the Tijuca Forest and Corcovado. The path is located inside the Parque das Catacumbas, the park can be found by circling around the Lagóa to the right from Ipanema. When you reach the BR gas station cross the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the road and you are at the entrance. The trail passes through dense forest and also the ruins of the Favela das Catacumbas. This shantytown of approximately 10,000 people was moved by the city of Rio as a part urban relocation project.
There are many more hikes available but none are recommended without the aid of someone who knows the way. A Carioca friend or a registered guide is the best option, as it is easy to get lost – and there are places in Rio you don´t want to end up in.
Hakan Almerfors is Swedish and has been living in Rio de Janeiro since 2003. He has been working with tourists ever since, in 2007 he created the Rio travel information site Gringo-Rio.com