By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Astonishingly beautiful yet relatively unknown, Pedra Bonita is a hidden gem, towering above the forest of Tijuca National Park and offering a bird’s eye view across the city. Standing at 2,283 feet, this mountain lies between the districts of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca with a road leading to the Estrada das Canoas; a famous and favorite take-off point for Hand Gliders. From here a path can be taken through the forest, affording a glimpse at some fantastic natural wildlife, complete with the occasional monkey swinging through the trees.
Not only is this one of Rio de Janeiro’s most beautiful spots, as the name would suggest, it is also one of its best kept secrets. Only a handful of visitors know of its existence and even fewer have made the pilgrimage to its granite top.
Portuguese language teacher Fernando Almeida of Lingua Solta says “I always bring my students to Pedra Bonita for a field trip. It’s not as well known as other famous spots here but it is so beautiful I think it is something that every visitor should see.”
Indeed views from the top are exceptionally breathtaking, immediately dispelling any reservations hikers may experience during the steep climb. The west side of the city can be seen spread-out beneath like a blanket, along with most of the Zona Sul (South Zone), Tijuca National Forest, Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf) and even the statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) in the distance.
Directly in front of Pedra Bonita sits its sister mountain, Pedra de Gavea. An even bigger mass at 2,762 feet it is the world’s largest block of stone by the sea. This mountain can also be climbed but the incline is steeper and therefore not advisable for the average visitor looking for a leisurely amble, or without a qualified guide.
Pedra Bonita regularly attracts thrill seekers looking to take the plunge at the paragliding station situated 1,700 feet above the Zona Sul. On a clear day, visitors can watch as they queue-up beside the wooden runway which has been cleverly built with a seating area underneath, allowing those with weaker stomachs to watch the take-off process.
Brendan Haigh, an Australian traveler, recently experienced hang-gliding from Pedra Bonita. “It’s an amazing experience, and not as scary as you think. The people who run it are really professional and I felt very safe. You just can’t beat the quality of the views you get from a hand gliding position.”
Rio is a popular place for hang-gliding since the warm, clean air allows the gliders to fall slowly and safely to the soft sand of Copacabana beach. A hang-gliding experience usually costs around R$300 and for an extra R$65, one can re-live the experience by ordering the ride to be filmed via a camera fixed to the wing of the glider.
Hiking Pedra Bonita is best attempted when the heat is less extreme and the weather forecast is favorable. Not only will rain spoil the views, it will also turn the dirt track in to a perilously slippery mud slope. The hike itself can take anything from thirty minutes to an hour and the trail can get steep in some places so regular breaks may be advisable.
It is also important not to stray too far from the path, the undergrowth is particularly thick and people have been known to get lost whilst attempting some off road exploring. Nevertheless the view is certainly worth the trek, just remember to take a bottle of water and most important of all, a camera!