Useful tips before you go:
- Take food and water with you as there is often few to no places en route to pick up supplies. Make sure you have plenty of water – Rio gets hot and the humidity can make your dehydrated quickly. Have some change with you though in case you run out water and happen to meet someone selling some – it’s best to have small notes as they may not have a lot of change.
- Most hikes can be done independently, although we would always recommend going with at least one other person. We have both done several hikes in Rio and have never had any problems. However, there have been news of muggings on the trails with groups of robbers taking mobile phones and other items. Whilst it is more likely nothing will happen, these unfortunate incidents can and do occur. For this reason, we recommend leaving your valuable belongings at home. The worst case scenario if you are approached by criminals, hand over your belongings calmly and always cooperate. It’s a good idea to always have a bit of cash on you so if you do get robbed, you have something to give them. This simply saves you the need of trying to explain you don’t have anything which could get misinterpreted due to language barriers.
- It’s best to go on a hike early in the morning – such as 7 am – to avoid the relentless heat of Rio’s tropical days. It’s good to finish the hike before the hottest points of the day, which are between 11 am and 3 pm, so either go really early or later in the evening if you want to catch the sunset.
- During the week is the best time to go as many hikes get crowded on the weekends, especially ones such as Pedra Telegrafo (we talk about this below).
One of best hikes in terms of its low difficulty to amazing view ratio, Pedra Bonita is an ideal option for those looking for something that is not too strenuous yet provides vistas that will take your breath away. The summit of the hike is like a large table top with ample space to sit down and take in the sweeping views that stretch from Ipanema right round to the West Zone of Rio.
Tip #1: The entrance of the hike is in the Tijuca national park and is best accessed by taking a bus to Sao Conrado and then a take the 448 bus in the direction of Alto da Boa Vista, getting off in front of the well-signposted entrance to Pedra Bonita.
Related: Did you know that the ramp near the entrance of Pedra Bonita is the main hang gliding spot in the city? If you want to experience Rio from a bird’s eye perspective, then check out “>this great tour that offers hang gliding with multi-lingual professionals.
This is one of our favourite hikes as it combines so many exciting experiences in one go. To get to Dois Irmaos, you need to head to favela Vidigal. Don’t worry, it’s one of the safest ones in Rio! The entrance of the hike is at the very top of the community so you will need to take a van or moto-taxi to the top which costs between R$5 and R$10. If you take the motor-taxi, you’re in for a hairy ride as the experienced drivers whip through traffic and tackle corners at breathtaking speed. Once there at the entrance, it’s a 40-minute forest trail, yielding to tropical scenery and exotic wildlife before opening up at the peak to panoramic views over Rio’s coastline.
Fun Fact: the photo below was taken on Christmas Day 2015 (time flies!). My friend Andrew (owner of the blog What About Sao Paulo?) and I are both expats in Brazil and decided that for Christmas that year, he would come from Sao Paulo to spend the festive week in Rio. At the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, we took the bus to the entrance of Vidigal and negotiated a motor-taxi. Our bleary-eyed drivers urged us on the back of their bikes, their bloodshot eyes suggesting their night out had only just come to an end. After a few minutes of clinging on to my driver like a newborn koala bear as he swerved up the hill with far too few cares in the world for my liking, we made it to the top of the community and the entrance of the Dois Irmaos peaks. Once we reached the top, we cracked open our bottle of sparkling pink champagne and toasted to a Very Merry Christmas (and prayed for a less dramatic motor-ride back down!). This photo was taken at about 8 in the morning.
Pedra da Gávea
For those looking for a hike to really sink their teeth in, then Pedra da Gávea is an ideal challenge. The peak is one of the world’s highest in the world that ends directly in the ocean, standing at 844-metres high. It takes about two and a half hours to get to the top yet offers one of the most rewarding views in Rio.
Tip #1: There is one hair-raising moment on the trail that requires a short climbing part. Some people do it without ropes, yet we would recommend using the extra support. Usually, there is someone there with equipment that you can use to get up and back down. Because of this tricky part of the trail, this is one hike where it is definitely better to go in a group.
Morro da Urca
This is one of the gentler peaks and is a 25-minute amble to the top. The trail leads through the forest where you’re more than likely to encounter skittish marmosets, scurrying lizards, and blossoming vegetation. At the top of Morro da Urca is a collection of bars, restaurants, and shops so grab a chilled fruit juice (or a caipirinha for a strong kick!) and a refreshing acai to enjoy the pleasant views of Guanabara Bay.
Related: Morro da Urca is the smaller hill in front of the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain. You can take the cable car over there from the top of Morro da Urca, just make sure that you get the tickets at the bottom first. There are several great “>Sugarloaf tours like this comprehensive one to make this famous landmark your next stop!
Pedra Telegrafo is famous for its apparent death-defying photos where people seemingly hang off the ledge in the name of a perfect selfie. (SPOILER ALERT: there is a nice, big platform underneath so even if you let go of the ledge, you’re not falling more than a few centimetres). This hike is off-the-beaten-track and is still largely off the tourist radar, largely because it is far from the tourist places. Yet the sweeping oceanic views of the West Zone of Rio is worth it.
Tip #1: Getting here is an adventure to say the least! You have to go to the bus terminal in Barra da Tijuca called Alvorada. From there, take the Blue Express Bus in the direction of Mato Alto and get off at the final destination. You will feel you’re in the middle of nowhere (and you will be right) but you’re in the right spot and you just need to hold on a bit until the 867 bus in the direction of Barra da Guaratiba arrives. This will take you to the entrance of the trail.
Yet the adventure isn’t over yet! Once you’re off the bus, you need to head towards the yellow church and then go up the alleyway marked by yellow painted footprints (I know, it sounds like something straight from the Wizard of Oz) until you reach the forest trail. From there, it’s plain sailing to the top.
Tip #2: The quest for a perfect selfie means the top of Pedra Telegrafo gets very crowded with queues up to one hour to take photos at the famous ledge. For this reason, it’s best to go first thing in the morning and avoid the weekends.
Fun Fact: The photos below are of Yvonne when she went to Pedra Telegrafo. Even on a cloudy day, you can see that the views look amazing. Yet this hike attracts hundreds of people each week as much for the impressive vistas as getting this jaw-dropping photo below.
While it may seem that Yvonne is recklessly risking her life for this Instagram-worthy selfie, the reality is much different as she wonderfully shows us in the second picture!
Cachoeira do Horto
Located in the heart of the Tijuca forest, Cachoeira do Horto is a waterfall surrounded by dense vegetation, rocky clusters, and enchanting wildlife. The waterfall is small enough to stand under its bracingly cold water and makes a refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day. There is also a calm pool in front that although is too small for swimming, it’s shallow waters are ideal for lazing and cooling off. The best time to go is during the week for a peaceful retreat as the weekends, especially during the summer, can get crowded.
The forest trail up Corcovado is a challenging one-hour hike, yet it is one of the best to experience Tijuca Forest. The small makeshift trail is flanked by dense forest and peppered with the occasional waterfall, with curious monkeys descending from the canopies to check you out. The entrance of the hike is at the back of the former mansion Parque Lage in Jardim Botânico. We would recommend stopping at Parque Lage for a delicious breakfast and smooth, rich coffee.
Related: The trail to Corcovado leads right the way up to the entrance of the Christ the Redeemer. You can pay the entrance fee at the top, but be aware you can only pay in cash. A “>guided tour to the top is an alternative option to get the most from this iconic monument.
For those that have a few extra days in Rio and are looking for something a bit more challenging than the hikes above, then Travessia is for you. The three-day hike is approximately 30-kilometres in length and goes deep through the Serra dos Órgãos National Park, a mountain range that yields to wide views and rocky crests that will take your breath away. Along the way, there are two camping spots which provide you with a place to sleep for each of the nights during the three-day hike. Tents can be hired there for R$40 a day. There are showers but only in the second camping station and cost R$20 to use once. There is a limit of 100 visitors to the park per day and you will need to buy a ticket for this hike (we recommend getting it in advance). You can buy the ticket here.
You will need to be self-sufficient during this hike. Here are some of the absolute essentials you should take with you.
- Underwear (enough for 3 days planned or one ExOfficio pair of underwear)
- Thermal leggings and top
- 2 pairs of trekking socks
- 2 t-shirts
- 1 pair of trousers
- A thermal pair of pyjamas for sleeping
- 1 pair of boots
- 1 fleece or jumper to sleep in and 1 to use whilst hiking
- 1 waterproof jackets
- Fleece gloves
- 1 pair of flip-flops for when you take a shower
- Backpack between 60 and 75 litres. The Mountaintop backpack is 70L + an extra 10L and has a handy raincover should you get stuck out in the rain.
- Camelbak 2 or 3 litres. This is so much easier to carry liquids. We love the Camelbak 2016 Classic Hydration Pack.
- Flashlight, torch, or headlamp
- 1 pair of batteries
- Switchblade or Swiss Army Knife
- Plastic bags (for rubbish and dirty clothes)
- 10 metres of string (1 per group)
- First-aid kit (bandages, medicines for headaches, stomach aches and anything you are prescribed to take)
- Travel Towel. Travelon towel is great, yet be sure to air it out after use otherwise they start smelling bad pretty quickly. The brand Sea to Summit also has a great travel towel called DryLite, which dries quickly and has an antibacterial treatment that hinders the growth of unwelcome bacteria.
- Personal kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and deodorant), all in the smallest possible volume
- Sleeping bag. A reflective on is a good choice to help maintain heat (the climate is typically cold in this region and a far cry from the tropical coastline in the city). One that we’ve used ourselves and we love is SOL Escape Bivvy. It’s high quality, durable, cosy and warm, and good value for money.
- Liner. One liner that we especially like is the Sea to Summit liner that is 100% natural silk and cotton and comes with a handy pillow insert.
- Gas cooker
- Propane Gas
- Cookware / Cutlery
- Small sponge and washing up soap
Tip #1: The best time to do this hike is during the winter until October. During the summer, storms are common and can make the trail dangerous.
Tip #2: You need to take food and water with you. Make sure your food supply has plenty of carbohydrates, proteins, and sugar.
Image credits: Alexandre Macieira.Riotur/Vist.Rio; Halley Pacheco de Oliveira/WikiCommons; Carlos Perez Couto/WikiCommons
If you need any more convincing on how amazing the hikes are in Rio de Janeiro, check out Yvonne’s video below. This was taken at the Dois Irmaos at sunrise.
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