By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Nosing along lush mountains, humming past Christ’s fingertips before dipping down over the city’s beaches has to be one of the best ways to see Rio’s finest sites and to make sense of the landscape which makes this place so unique.
For many years a number of companies have offered helicopter flights over the city. With a choice of routes, priced according to length of time in the air and sites visited, passengers can take in the top tourist attractions high above the crowds below, as well as get a feel for the geography and the different neighborhoods of the city.
With heliports in Barra de Tijuca, on Sugar Loaf and beside the Lagoa in Zona Sul, there are a handful of embarkation points for tourists to pick from. Helisight has been operating since 1991 and offers seven different routes.
The shortest trip, for a mere six-seven minutes from Morro de Urca, takes passengers past Praia Vermelha to see Sugar Loaf, then Copacabana beach and fort, Arpoador, Ipanema and Leblon, for R$260 per person.
At the other end of the spectrum, with Rio Adventures you can take to the skies for a full hour and visit not only all of the beaches and tourist attractions of Zona Sul but pass over Vidigal and Rocinha favelas, Centro, the Sambódromo and Maracanã, as well as the beaches of Niteroi in east and Recreio and Grumari in the west. Prices vary according to the number of people in the helicopter. For one the trip costs R$4,190; for six it is R$890.
For those in a hurry a helicopter can provide the fastest and most reliable way to get to São Paulo, for example, or out to the airport. Terrible traffic congestion and a booming off-shore oil industry has made helicopters a staple of the skies in Brazil and as a result it is the world’s biggest helicopter market. According to NetJet LLC, there are 360 helicopters registered in São Paulo and Rio combined, compared to 215 in the whole of New York state.
However as the economic situation worsens and the price of fuel rises, the industry is beginning to suffer. “Nobody is spending money,” Rafael Dylis, the sales manager for Helimarte Taxi Aereo in São Paulo, told Bloomberg Business recently. “Everybody who needs to save money saves on our service. They prefer to go by car, by bus, by other transportation, but not helicopters.”
For visitors however, this might mean a reduction in the hefty price of a sight-seeing tour. Viewing Rio from the air is highly recommended, particularly for those with a short amount of time or who are celebrating a special occasion, such as a honeymoon or birthday. It is usually not necessary to book as flights can be weather dependent and you will want to fly on a bright, clear day. Some operators have a two-person minimum per ride.