The Sugarloaf, Above the City

By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter

View of the Sugarloaf from Morro da Urca, photo by Hakan Almerfors.

View of the Sugarloaf from Morro da Urca, photo by Hakan Almerfors.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Pão de Açucar, Sugarloaf in English, is one of the more famous tourist attractions in the world. Perhaps the best marketing was made when James Bond fought Jaws on top of a cabin in the film “Moonraker”.

The origin of the name Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) has two versions – One is that it was the similarity a cone of sugar, another that it is from the native indian language Tupi-Guarani: “Pau-nh-açuquã” meaning high isolated hill.

In 1912 the cable car to Sugarloaf was inaugurated, it was a daring project transporting building material and work force up the hills. Today millions of people have gone with the cable car to the top. The full ride is 1400 meters and takes you to two green hills made of granite – Morro da Urca and Morro do Pão de Açúcar, the latter rising 396 meters above sea level.

The latest modernization was in 1972, and today each cable car cabin holds 75 passengers. At the top you are offered spectacular views of the center of Rio, the Christ statue and Niterói. There are shops selling snack food, drinks, and souvenirs. Bringing a sweater is a good idea since the altitude can make it quite chilly.

The first cable car going up leaves at 8:10AM and the last one going down from the second hill leaves at 8:40PM. In April 2009 the price for the whole round trip was R$44, children 6-12 pay R$22 and under 6 go for free. If you hike up the first hill you will pay less since you can pay for each of the four legs separately.

View from the Sugarloaf at sunset, photo by Hakan Almerfors.

View from the Sugarloaf, photo by Hakan Almerfors.

The Sugarloaf is more than just the ride to the top. Both hills are covered in green and offer great hiking and climbing. The first hill, Morro da Urca, is easily accessible on foot – the trail that starts on the left hand side of Praia Vermelha and will take through some nice rain forest, and offer beautiful views, it is about 30 minutes of easy hiking.

For rock climbers the area is well known and in particular the actual Sugarloaf, together the area has more than 270 routes. Companhia da Escalada and Rio Hiking are two companies specialized in climbing these hills, on amateur and professional level.

Around Carnival every year concerts are held on the first hill, featuring famous Brazilian artists. The concerts are at night and the cable car operates until later, the ride up and down is included in the ticket price. If you are interested in seeing Rio de Janeiro from above you have helicopter rides leaving from Morro da Urca. Different itineraries are available, the shortest and most popular will take you around the Christ statue, currently that ride is R$150.

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