By Oliver Bazely, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – On a clear Rio day, when the sun shines and the haze subsides, a mountain range is visible at the northern end of Guanabara Bay. The peaks form part of the Serra dos Mar mountain range and lie within the 110km2 Serra dos Orgãos National park.
Created in 1939, it is one of Brazil’s oldest national parks, its name derived from the dramatic set of peaks located on the Teresópolis side, which were thought by early settlers to resemble pipe ‘organs’ (orgãos). Nowadays, the park maintains a network of trails and shelters (abrigos), as well as visitor-centers that make it easy to explore the many peaks, valleys, caves and waterfalls.
For the casual visitor, it is possible to drive a few kilometers into the park on the Teresópolis side and take a short walk to one of several vantage points, for fantastic views of Rio and the iconic Dedo de Deus outcrops.
At over 2,000 meters high, clouds often sit in the valleys below the park, making for great sunsets and sunrises. There is also an abundance of nature, with layers of Atlantica forest, dense bamboo groves and tall grasslands at higher elevations. Sharp-eyed visitors might encounter snakes, armadillos or monkeys.
There are several pousadas making the most of the idyllic setting which can arrange a program of outdoor activities in and around the park. The Pousda Paraiso Açu, located near the Petrópolis entrance, offers canyoning, rafting, abseiling and even paintball.
For the more adventurous, there are several world class rock-climbing spots, with multi-pitch routes that lead to the top of the sheer granite peaks. The 2,050 meter high spire of Agulha do Diabo is considered one of the world’s most spectacular rock climbs. Again, there are several companies, such as Rio Climbing Adventures, that can help to organize these activities.
For a slightly less technical challenge, it is worth considering hiking the classic ‘Travessia’, a 35km trail that spans the entire park from Teresópolis to Petrópolis. The trail includes six peaks and over 2,000 meters of ascent. The views are consistently breathtaking, and there are some challenging climbs and scrambles. It is also possible to make some small detours to find remote waterfalls and caves, or climb to the top of Pedra do Sino, the highest point in the park.
The trail can be walked in two days, but for comfort and safety it is better to plan on three. Inexperienced groups should always hire a guide, who will be able to supply equipment and help to arrange the trip. Normally, the price depends on the group size, but expect to pay around R$200 per person.
It is possible to walk the trail without a guide, as the path is mostly well-worn and easy to follow, but there are several points where the trail disappears, as well as some steep scrambles that can be especially dangerous while carrying a backpack.
As the park is relatively high, the weather can also change very rapidly, so it is essential to carry good quality waterproofs and warm clothes. At night, the temperature regularly falls below zero. There is also a shortage of reliable maps, and certainly, the maps that are available are not to the standard of European and American maps.
In terms of accommodation along the trail, camping is only allowed at one of the designated camping areas. At the time of writing, only one shelter, Abrigo 4, is fully functioning, but another shelter, Abrigo 3, will be completed soon. This will make it possible to walk the trail in three days without a tent, though taking one is advisable.
So if the heat and noise of Rio get too much, the cool air and tranquil views of the Serra dos Orgãos are the perfect remedy. For those with limited time the easily accessible peaks on the Teresópolis side provide the best option, though the Petrópolis side is quieter, and has some stunning waterfalls that might be just the thing for washing the city out of your hair.