Looking down at the multiple coves, bays and peninsulas that make up Rio de Janeiro’s spectacular coastline left us speechless. Long, white sandy beaches separate the azure-coloured ocean from the tall granite spires. The city’s buildings climb up and down the verdant hills giving the city a natural look. Rio de Janeiro is set in one of the most picturesque spots on Brazil’s coast and has so much to offer its visitors. Below are descriptions and pictures of our favourite places in beautiful Rio de Janeiro.
Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain)
One of the best views of Rio is from the top of the granite peak called Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) (396 m/1,299 ft). Set on the edge of Guanabara Bay, the unique shape of the peak is what led to its name. Apparently during the height of the sugarcane trade, sugar was piled in large mounds on the decks of ships. The shape of the mountain resembled these piles of sugar and so it was named Sugarloaf. We were lucky to see this mountain almost everyday on our daily walks along Copacabana Beach and knew we wanted to see the city from its top.
Two cable cars are needed to get you to the top. The first one reaches Urca Hill, below Sugarloaf. From there you already have amazing views of the city and Guanabara Bay. Take your time and enjoy the scenes from this lower peak, but they’re only a preview of what you see from above.
After admiring the views from Urca, we took the next cable car up to the top of Sugarloaf. Looking across the city we could see the famous statue, Christ the Redeemer, standing atop the shear Corcovado Mountain. Clouds were constantly forming, breaking up and reforming around the statue allowing us only quick glimpses. But when it did, it was a sight worth waiting for.
In addition to the views of the Redeemer, the remaining vistas from the top of Sugarloaf are outstanding. We could see the perfect arc shape of Copacabana Beach and the rocky point between it and Ipanema. The jungle covered hills on one side of the beach and azure coloured water on the other made this view unforgettable.
On the other side of Sugarloaf, the views of Guanabara Bay are equally stunning. Sailboats were anchored in the blue water of this convoluted shaped bay whose edges are defined by white, sandy beaches.
When Portuguese explorers first sailed into Guanabara Bay on January 1, 1502, they thought the bay was a river and called the site Rio de Janeiro. This translates in English to January River. Even though it’s a bay, not a river, the name stuck.
The views of the bay would steal the show from any other place but from Sugarloaf, they are overshadowed by the other famous landmarks. Plan to spend at least an hour on Sugarloaf’s summit so you can have enough time to enjoy these views.
Once you’ve returned to the base of the mountain, walk towards the bay for more fantastic views. From this side of Guanabara Bay we could see that the clouds were still hovering around Corcovado Peak, our next destination. We weren’t too convinced we’d have a good view but since it was the day with the best weather forecast, we decided to continue with our plans.
How to visit Sugarloaf Mountain
Most people will reach the summit of Sugarloaf by taking the two cable cars. It will first stop at Urca Hill where you change to a second cable car to reach the top of Sugarloaf. Tickets can be purchased in advance on-line or at the ticket office at Praia Vermelha cable car station. Cable cars leave every 20 minutes from 8 am until 9 pm. The other alternative is to hike to the top of Urca Hill. From there you will need to take a cable car to reach Sugarloaf.
Cristo Redentor (Christ The Redeemer)
Standing high above the city on Corcovado Mountain is one of the most famous sites in Rio, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). We saw this iconic statue from many places in Rio as we traveled throughout the city. We probably could have seen it from many more except that it was very cloudy and rainy for our first few days in the city. On these days the statue would poke out through the clouds from time to time letting us know it was still there.
One of the most popular things to do in Rio is to see Christ the Redeemer up close. The sky around it is notoriously cloudy so you must chose your visit carefully. On the day we visited the forecast was for a mostly sunny sky. That was true for most of the city except for the one large cloud that continuously hovered around the top of the mountain.
We boarded the slow moving train that took us through a dense forest as it climbed its way to the mountain’s top, 700m (2,296 ft) above. The trip started in the sun but we soon turned cloudy. Our expectations were lowering.
As we stood inside the clouds on a platform in front of the statue we slowly saw it emerge and then just as quickly, it hid behind a thick sheet of cloud. The crowd cheered every time the clouds lifted and cameras and phones quickly came out to capture the moment. We knew that this mountain top was often cloud covered, but we thought that having a week in Rio would assure us of at least one day of clear weather. Unfortunately for us, a few quick glimpses were all we got.
We visited the tallest Christ statue in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The setting for Christ the Redeemer is much more spectacular.
Not only did we go to the top of Corcovado mountain for a closer look at the statue we also wanted to see the view of Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf. Thick clouds prevented us from seeing anything beyond the ridge. We waited and waited and were briefly entertained by a coati who came looking for food. Richard visited Rio a few years ago and was able to show Maggie the view that she missed.
How to visit Christ the Redeemer Statue
- Vans leave from three different places in the city. They’re quite convenient because they can be reached by subway. Tickets can be purchases in advance on-line.
- The Corcovado Train runs every 30 minutes. This is the way we went up. The slow moving tram travels through the trees so there not much of a view but it’s very convenient. Just take Uber to Corcovado Train Station. Tickets can be purchased in advance on-line which is recommended during busy season. Or you can purchase from the ticket office when you arrive.
- There are many tour agencies in town that offer day trips to Christ the Redeemer. It usually includes a pick up at your hotel.
- There is a walking trail that leaves from Parque Lage. It takes at least 3 hours to hike to the top. There are plenty of warnings that thefts occur on the trail and it is often closed.
You can’t visit Rio without checking out its most popular beach. Copacabana Beach is set in a cove with a view of Sugarloaf and Ponto do Leme Mountains in one direction and the historic Copacabana Fort in the other. The clean beach has courts for beach volleyball and tennis and is a popular spot for runners. A long walkway separates the beach from the busy Avenue Atlântica. The pathway is also home to number of beach bars, restaurants and small kiosks and is a popular place to go for an evening walk and has made Copacabana a favourite city beach for years.
We stayed near Copacabana Beach and spent many hours walking up and down its length. Although you can see favelas on the hills above, Copacabana neighbourhood felt very safe day and night.
Our first few days in the city were cloud covered and stormy. We could see the effects the storms had on the ocean. The water was wild with large waves crashing on the shore.
Overshadowed by its neighbour Copacabana, Ipanema Beach is actually the prettier of the two. Above Ipanema the double peaks of Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) gives the beach a distinctive look. From the rocky point, Pedra do Arpoador, on one end you can enjoy the views of this picture-perfect beach.
Spending our days walking between Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches I found myself constantly singing or humming a combination of Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’, Frank Sinatra’s ‘Girl From Ipanema’ and of course ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran. Since I barely know more than the chorus for any of them, Richard was more than happy when the singing stopped at our next destination.
Not far from the Ipanema Beach is Praça General Osorio Market. Held on Tuesdays, the fruit and vegetable market is unlike other Brazilian markets we’ve been to. It’s held outdoors and the fruit sellers offer copious amounts of samples of their fruit, with no pressure to buy. We sampled delicious mangos, pineapples, cherries, and then tried more exotic fruits like graviola, guava, acai and jaboticaba berry. One of our favourite items to buy in Brazilian markets were avocados. Unlike the Hass avocados we buy at home, in Brazil the avocados are three times the size with a juicy pulp that spreads like butter.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas
Commonly called Lagoa (Lagoon) this large body of water is a peaceful place in the middle of the busy city. Walled in on one side by shear granite spires and the other by the Tujica Forest, there are pedestrian and bike pathways around its circumference. We even spotted Christ the Redeemer from our walk along the lake. It can be reached by walking from Ipanema or a long walk from Copacabana or by Uber/taxi.
Don’t worry, there’s a lot more to see in Rio including its historic downtown.
Where to stay in Rio de Janeiro
The best areas in the city are in very close proximity to each other. Leme and Copacabana are side by side on the same cove. Ipanema and Leblon are right next door. All of these four communities have many options for hotels and restaurants, are easy to access and safe.
How to travel to and around Rio de Janeiro
Rio is very accessible. It has a large international airport, bus terminal and is easily reached by road if you have your own car. Getting around Rio is also easy. The metro is a cheap and efficient way to get to many destinations. Or if you prefer, Uber and taxis are widely available throughout the city.
To read about our other adventures in Brazil click here.
Coming Next – Rio de Janeiro’s Historic Downtown
For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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Rio is a gaping hole in my travel history, and your photos and words remind me that we need to get there!
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You really do Lex, Rio is often rated as the most beautiful city in the world and I have to say I agree. 😊 Maggie
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Thank you, Rio is a beautiful city! Maggie
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