Beaches in Rio de Janeiro that You May Not Have Heard of

Beaches in Rio de Janeiro that You May Not Have Heard of

Beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Many of Brazil’s cultural symbols can be found on Rio’s beach – the string bikini, colourful flip-flops, and beautiful people – and it represents an important part of the carefree, playful lifestyle. The more mainstream beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema have long been on the travellers bucket lists, yet Rio still has lesser-known tropical beaches that await the intrepid explorer. Here are some of the city’s off-the-beaten-track beaches that will show you a different side of Rio. Before you go there, make sure you pack your bag with all the necessary beach essentials so you can really get the most out of your perfect beach day.

Prainha

Still untouched by any kind of human development, Prainha is a little paradisiacal retreat to the west of the Rio de Janeiro city. The crescent of white sand is popular among small groups of friends or families looking for a peaceful escape. One of my favourite things about this beach is that doesn’t get crowded like the busy, bustling beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. It’s perfect to sit back, relax and chat with a few friends or simply contemplate the beautiful scenery. Its big, powerful waves may mean it’s not the best spot for swimming, but it does make it the most popular beach in Rio for surfing. I haven’t mastered the art of surfing yet, but Prainha is still a great place to watch the pros and enjoy the surfer-chic vibe there.
If you’re feeling hungry, then head to Mirante Prainha bar and restaurant just a short walk away from the beach. It has some of the best seafood in town accompanied with lovely sea views.

Beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Joatinga

Joatinga is inside a residential condominium but it is still open to non-residents and you may even spot the odd local celebrity there. To get there, you need to follow a forest trail that leads between a rocky outcrop, before it opens out onto the chalk-white shores of Joatinga. It’s a small yet striking beach with soft sand that’s so clean it squeaks (literally!) and framed by hills and trees. Considered as being one of the cleanest parts of Rio’s coastline, the bay here is great for swimming and the small waves that break on the shore are ideal for beginner surfers. It is one of the most popular beaches in the west region of Rio so quite a few people go there on the weekends but it rarely gets crowded. I love how social it feels there with groups of friends sun-bathing and playing low music and families enjoying the sunny day together. To enjoy the day there, take plenty of water and food with you as there as it’s pretty scarce in terms of restaurants, kiosks, and bars.

Beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Praia Funda

Praia Funda is probably one of my favourite beaches in Rio. It’s totally untouched by any type of development and when you are there, you feel totally disconnected from the city. This is definitely the kind of beach to take some time out and switch off from daily life. The small beach has white sand and is bordered by the Atlantic Forest to one side and the choppy sea to the other. The sea here is surprisingly cold, even in the summer so be prepared for a bracing dip! Take care swimming there though as the currents are strong. Praia Funda is only accessible by hiking which helps limit the number of people that go there. It is rare to find more than a handful of beach-goers there at any given time. Its total seclusion means taking your own food and water is a must as there isn’t anything to buy for kilometers around.

Beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Praia Vermelha

Praia Vermelha is actually in the touristy south zone of Rio yet has managed to remain a well-kept secret. That’s probably because it is one of the city’s smallest beaches. Despite its size, it packs in a great mix of tropical beauty and fun things to do such as stand up paddling and kayaking. Praia Vermelha translates to ‘red beach’ in English which is from the deep-orange, reddish sand there. It lies in a cove at the foot of Morro da Urca and is right next to the cable car that takes you up to the Sugarloaf mountain. The beach is known for its calm waters which is great for those looking for a leisurely, relaxing swim without needing to worry about strong currents or waves. I love to spend the day at the Praia Vermelha, moving between sun-bathing and doing stand up paddling. To end the day, I like heading over to Bar e Restaurante Urca to grab a cold beer and some mini crab cakes and settle down on the wall next to the harbour to watch the sunset.

Praia de Grumari

Protected by a bank of dense vegetation and surrounded by forested peaks, the secluded Praia de Grumari beach offers a wild escape from city life. It is the perfect beach for those that are looking for both a beach that seems a little wild and untouched yet still has some basic amenities like simple places to eat and drink. There are a couple of restaurants there that serve fresh seafood and typical Brazilian snacks like açai and pastels and also cold beers, caipirinhas, and non-alcoholic drinks. The seating is outside so you can take a break from sunbathing to casually fuel up on the simple outdoor decking at the main kiosks. Because of the facilities at Grumari, it is a popular beach among families but also among groups of younger people, such as students and young professionals. It doesn’t get crowded but there are always a few groups of people there so you don’t feel totally cut off from the world. The sea can be quite unpredictable here – some days it’s great for swimming, others it’s better for surfing. Either way, there are simple outdoor showers there that are ideal for using to cool down.

Beaches in Rio de Janeiro

Have You Ever Experienced a Football Match in Brazil?

Have You Ever Experienced a Football Match in Brazil?

football match in Brazil

Slowly moving through the crowd, I give up trying to find my own way to the entrance and allow myself to be pushed and pulled along with the rowdy, euphoric mass. To one side of me, a couple of men clink beer cans before bursting into a harmonious, animated chant. To the other, an entire family in matching tops chat excitedly. All around me, people are cheering, whooping, and making critical predictions about what will happen tonight. Where was I? I was at Maracanã football stadium, preparing myself to watch a football match between Botafogo and Flamengo.

It’s no secret that Brazil is passionate about football and this isn’t just some stereotype. Brazilians really do love football. Although men still outnumber women at the matches, that isn’t to say that there are few women at the games. In fact, a lot of women are die-hard fans of their chosen team and will regularly attend matches with equal passion to men. While I may not be rushing out just yet to buy a season ticket, I do like to attend the odd game now and again. In case you’re wondering, my Brazilian team is Botafogo.

football match in Brazil

As a brief background, there are four major football teams in Rio de Janeiro. These are:

  • Botafogo (black and white)
  • Flamengo (red and black)
  • Fluminense (red and green)
  • Vasco (black and white too, just to be confusing).

Flamengo has the largest number of supporters in Rio de Janeiro and Fluminense are their biggest rivals. A Fla-Flu game (Flamengo vs Fluminense) are the noisiest, chaotic, yet fun matches to watch, thanks to their passionate fans who seem to live for these games.

I’ve been to three matches in Rio de Janeiro so far, with the most memorable one being Botafogo vs Flamengo. Each team has its own specific chants and match quirks which are my favourite parts of the game.

Inside The Stadium

Once I got into the stadium, I took my seat among the sea of black and white and looked out over to the mass of red and black. The stadium was alive with shouting, cheering, singing, and despite not knowing the words to the songs, I found myself chanting along with everyone else (although I just shouted ‘yeah, yeah YEAH’ in the same tune as the songs rather than actually saying real words. I don’t think anybody noticed). Botafogo has dozens of football chants and music, like all the teams in Brazil. One of the most popular ones at the moment is ‘não se compara’ (don’t compare yourself) with the words including, ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, Botafogo, the most traditional club, I want to you champion again, I will support you until the end’.

My absolute favourite part of any Botafogo match is just before the game when the players come out onto the pitch. The start varies from game to game, but this is what happened when I went to the Flamengo match. One part of the stadium was pre-instructed to hold up a series of black and white cards that spell out a message. This time it was ‘Lutem Por Nós’ which means, ‘fight for us’. Then, a large flag shaped as a bulldog floated down the crowd as fans hit the material to make it appear like it’s waving. As the smoke machines blasted out their fumes, the flag slowly rose and the crowd erupted into the Botafogo anthem.

football match in Brazil

It begins with ‘Botafogo, Botafogo, Champion since 1910. You were a hero in every game’ and continues in a passionate vein until it draws to stirring close: ‘In a beam of light, your lone star leads you.’

Then, it’s Flamengo’s turn.

Flamengo had a similar setup, with the crowd spelling out a message from the fans – Sua Glória é Lutar (your glory is to fight) – but in red and black. This is held by the fans who shaking the boards so they buzz and flicker like a swarm of angry wasps while singing the Flamengo anthem. ‘Once Flamengo, Always Flamengo’, the beginning solemnly swears. ‘Flamengo I will always be, It is my greatest pleasure to see you shine.’ It continues in a similar loyal way, including expressions such as ‘I would have deep disgust, if Flamengo was lacking in the world’, before coming to a moving finish of ‘lots of pounds already weighed, Flamengo until I die!’

Football match in Brazil

Throughout the whole game, the stadium is alive with cheering, booing, insults thrown at players, and nuggets of advice shouted out to the teams below. Everyone is a football expert and even I, still not fully capable of explaining the offside rule, suddenly hear my voice yelling directions of where the ball should go and demanding to know why he didn’t kick to the player to the left rather than the right. The sheer adrenaline of the crowd is contagious. A Mexican wave begins on the other side of the stadium and flows around the fans in perfect harmony. I leap up twice thinking that would be the end of it but it still continues in full force around the stadium a further five times before it slowly begins to filter out.

It was Botafogo that won this game. When the match ended, the sound was deafening of people yelling, hugging, singing, and yelling some more. The sea of red and black slowly trickled out the stadium while the waves of black and white hung around, soaking up the atmosphere of the game and the moment, before victoriously heading out to the nearest bar to celebrate.

Football match in Brazil

I would hardly describe myself an avid football fan, but watching a football match in Brazil is more than just going for the football. The oft-heard phrase of ‘when in Rome…’ rings loud and clear, and it is a truly authentic Brazilian experience. It gives a glimpse into the passion that drives a large majority of the Brazilian population and shows how much their team means to them.

Maracanã Tour

If watching a game doesn’t appeal to you or you want a more structured football-related activity, then how about taking the Maracanã tour? We recommend this tour. It gives a behind the scenes look at Brazil’s largest stadiums, the venue of many of the World Cup games and the Olympic ceremonies. It has both Portuguese and English speaking guides and will arrange hotel pickups.

Photo credit goes to Botafogo F.R. and Vítor Silva/SSPress/Botafogo

Your Complete Guide to Hiking the Dois Irmãos

Your Complete Guide to Hiking the Dois Irmãos

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

One of my favourite hikes in Rio de Janeiro has got to be Dois Irmãos. Having been up there four times now – once even to celebrate Christmas Day at the top – I feel like I’m beginning to know the way up like the back of my hand. Despite this, the view from the top never fails to amaze me. It’s picture-perfect, capturing Ipanema’s wonderful coastline with Lagoa to the left and the ocean stretching out endlessly to the right. The hike up takes about 40 minutes through the forest with the occasional viewpoint to stop at, but before you get to the entrance of the trail, you need to go up to the top of Vidigal favela. Want to check it out? Then here is everything you need to know about hiking the Dois Irmãos.

First of all, where is the Dois Irmãos? The Dois Irmãos (which translates to the ‘two brothers’ in English) are two peaks in between São Conrado and Leblon. You will instantly recognise them whenever you go to Ipanema or Leblon beach; they are the two pointy mountains at the end of Leblon and are iconic features of the beautiful scenery there.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

Before setting off, what should you bring with you?

 

  • Water – it gets hot going up, especially if you are hiking in the summer period. Bring a couple of litres with you.
  • Food – It takes about 40 minutes to go and the same to go back down. As you may sweat a lot on the way up, it’s good to take food with you to replenish any lost minerals and salts plus to restore energy. Normally a couple of sandwiches and a banana is ok.
  • Sunglasses – when we at Now in Rio went up, Yvonne took her sunglasses and could admire the view with ease. I, on the other hand, didn’t take mine and had to admire the view through squinty eyes and a shielding hand.
  • Sunscreen – the top is totally open and exposed so it’s easy to burn. I use factor 60 on my face and factor 30 on my body.
  • Mosquito repellent – to be honest, I didn’t need this and despite being someone that attracts mosquitos within a five-kilometre radius, I didn’t get bitten once. But if you’re concerned about bites, bring it with you just in case.
  • Baseball cap – for the same reasons as the sunglasses.
  • Camera – you will want to get some awesome photos on the way up and at the top.
  • *Optional. A Brazilian flag kanga (beach towel) – we saw a couple using a Brazilian flag at the top to help them take the perfect travel selfie. It may seem cheesy to some, but it actually makes a nice photo to remember Brazil and the hike.
  • Cash – for the van or motor taxi going up Vidigal (more on that later), plus for the bus there and back, plus for extra food or drinks.
  • Plastic bag – to keep your rubbish in to throw away later. 

    What should you wear? Shorts and a strap top are totally fine. Anything loose and comfortable is recommended. Wear trainers (or sneakers for our American friends!) for the hike. It’s not a particularly difficult hike so hiking shoes or a hiking stick aren’t necessary.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

So, how do you get there? I’ll assume you are in Ipanema as that’s the easiest starting point and that was where we started. If you are going from Praça General Osório you can take the regular public 525 bus (R$3.60) that will go straight there. Alternatively, go towards the beach and from there, you can take the regular public 104 bus (R$3.60) or the 557 (R$3.60). The latter two options are a bit quicker. These buses go along Avenida Niemeyer and will drop you off in front of the Vidigal favela. It will take about 30 minutes to get there.

But wait! What if you are going early on a regular weekday morning? Why does this even matter? Well, Avenida Niemeyer is open to only one direction of traffic in the morning that is coming in the opposite direction to which you want to go. Your bus options, in this case, is to take the bus that goes all the way round towards Rocinha and goes back down Avenida Niemeyer towards Ipanema. It’s a much longer route. But I have a better alternative for you and it’s the one that we did when we did it early on a Tuesday morning.

We took a bus to the end of Leblon where we got off. From there, we walked to Vidigal which took only about 20 minutes. Not only is it quicker than going all the way around, the path follows the coastline and offers gorgeous sea views. It’s totally worth it and will get you warmed up for the hike.

The entrance to Vidigal is easy to spot – it’s a large, wide opening with traffic going in and out and a sprawling favela behind it. If you’re not sure if you will spot it, you can ask the bus driver to tell you when (simply say ‘Vidigal’ and he or she will be able to understand you want to go there). If you’re walking, you honestly won’t miss it.

 

Below is a photo of the views if you walk from Leblon along Avenida Niemeyer to Vidigal. Below that is the Vidigal entrance.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos
Hiking the Dois Irmãos

Once you’re there, you need to get to the top of Vidigal as that is where the entrance is. This means going through a favela. Is this dangerous? No. Vidigal has had a solid clean reputation for years and is one, if not THE, safest favelas in Rio. Tourists visit every day and some expats even live there (there are rumours that David Beckham has a house there which I find fascinating but I’ve never been able to confirm if this is actually true). You don’t need to worry. Use the hike as an opportunity to briefly get to know a unique and cultured community in Rio.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

So, how do you get to the top? You have three choices – walk (I don’t recommend this. It is a long, steep hill to the top and you will be exhausted before you’ve even started the hike), take a van, or take a motor taxi.

The van is a small Kombi-van and charges about R$7 to get to the top. Personally, I prefer the motor taxi (it’s R$5 for one-way. Make sure you negotiate before taking the motor taxi to avoid being overcharged). It’s quicker and way more exciting than being in a van. Safety precautions on the motor taxi are taken quite lightly though – it’s not unusual to be given a helmet twice the size of your head and you spend the whole journey clutching on to it as your head rattles around inside trying not to think about how much it will hurt if you fall off. If you do get given a poorly-sized helmet, simply ask for another one and trust the driver to take you safely to the top. They seem almost too at ease navigating up the steep hills and weaving in and out of cars, other motor taxis, and vans, but they do this several times a day and are skilled at what they do. The main concern you have to have is to get on and off the correct side to avoid touching the hot metal of the exhaust pipe. I learned this the hard way and three years later, I still have a faint scar to this day.

So you’ve got your motor taxi or van, or you have crazily walked to the top, and now you are at the entrance. What do you do now? So the motor taxi and van drivers will leave you at the correct spot – you simply need to say ‘trilha’ which means hike or ‘Dois Irmãos’. From the road, go through the gates that go onto a sporting ground with a football court and some outdoor workout equipment, walk straight on towards the trees (so don’t turn right, just walk straight ahead) and you will see a small entrance into the forest. This is the beginning of the Dois Irmãos hike.

The picture below shows where the van or motor taxi will drop you off (where the red star is). From there, walk past the sports ground until you see the entrance into the forest. This is the Dois Irmãos entrance.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

From there on up, it’s just a case of simply following the trail up. There are no routes that will lead you astray; just keep following the well-trodden path. There are three viewpoints on the way up, including one of my favourites which overlooks Rocinha. These are great places to stop, take a rest, drink some water and admire the views. If you forget water, then no problem. Halfway up, there is a vendor that sells water and other soft drinks as well as basic and simple snacks, including acai. It’s good to take cash with you (ideally small notes and change) in case you want to buy anything there. The whole hike takes about 40 minutes and you can stay as long as you like at the top. Some people go early to watch the sunrise or late to watch the sunset – both are highly recommended. The walk back down takes about the same time as some parts are a little steep and need some careful navigating down. But all in all, it’s not an overly challenging hike, but an immensely rewarding one.

 

This video is when Yvonne did the sunrise hike. Totally worth waking up at a crazy hour of the morning to do it. The photo is one of the viewpoints on the way up that overlooks Rocinha.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

Once you’re back down, from the entrance, you can either get a motor-tax back down (just be aware that they don’t hang around waiting at the top like they do at the bottom so you may wait a while for one to come) or simply walk down. I personally love walking down as it’s a great chance to see the community up close and check out the amazing ocean views on the way down. There are also a few bars and restaurants you can stop in for a well-deserved caipirinha – Alto Vidigal or Bar da Laje are two that are great to check out. From the bottom, you can either leave the favela and cross the road to get to the bus stop that is right opposite. Pick any bus that has Copacabana written on the front (there are loads) and that will take you back to Ipanema. Or you can pick up an Uber which costs about R$10 to get back to Ipanema.

Like I’ve said, I’ve been on this hike four times and I love it a little more each time. If you can only do one hike in Rio, make it this one.

Hiking the Dois Irmãos

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Hiking the Dois Irmãos

Hiking in Rio de Janeiro: Exploring Rio’s West Side

Hiking in Rio de Janeiro: Exploring Rio’s West Side

hiking in Rio de Janeiro

Undoubtedly, one of my favourite things about Rio is that when city life becomes too much, a quick retreat into a stunning natural environment is just minutes away. Hiking in Rio de Janeiro provides that getaway. Growing up in a small village in South Wales with a childhood defined by making dens in woods, climbing hay-bales in fields, and carving out hideouts in the ferns, being around nature always makes me feel calm, relaxed, and happy. While I can’t quite imagine leaving the city life anytime soon, having mountains to explore and secret beaches to find on the weekends is one of the main reasons I love living in Rio.

The Transcarioca Hike: Trecho One

This weekend I did the first ‘trecho’ (stretch) of the Transcarioca Hike, a 180-kilometre route that begins in Barra de Guaratiba and finishes at Morro da Urca. The whole path follows Rio’s rugged coastline and spoils hikers with dense forests, untouched beaches, and breathtaking scenery. The first part is Barra de Guaratiba to Grumari and is 8.8 kilometres in total. The whole path is very well signposted – follow the yellow footsteps printed on black to walk in the direction of Grumari; and follow the black footsteps printed on yellow to return. Despite this, we did somehow take a wrong turning and ended up going up and over the mountain to arrive in Grumari. There was nothing wrong in this though; we got to explore a totally different path and return to Barra de Guaratiba following the path we ought to have followed so, in the end, none of the hike was repeated. You can see the map below where we took the path.

hiking in Rio de Janeiro

Starting at Barra de Guaratiba

We started at Barra de Guaratiba. To get to Barra de Guaratiba, my friend and I took an Uber from Jardim Botanico to the hike entrance in Barra de Guaratiba. It’s a long way there but the Uber cost around R$70 in total, which is not bad split between two people. To find the entrance, look for a small flight of concrete steps with a little white-framed window on the front. Once you find that, the path is signposted with the yellow footsteps on a black background. I loved the fact the hike felt a little bit hidden with clues of its whereabouts. The views are incredible – snapshots through the trees of the long coastline called Marambai beach and the network of mangroves to the west of Rio. It’s possible to do paddling boarding in these mangroves which is definitely now on my bucket list.

hiking in Rio de Janeiro
hiking in Rio de Janeiro

Pedra do Telégrafo

After walking through the little local village, we reached a signpost – right to Pedra do Telégrafo and left to the beaches. We decided to go up and see Pedra do Telégrafo first before continuing with the rest of the hike. If the name of this peak rings a bell, it’s probably because it has become one of the most famous spots among the hiking in Rio de Janeiro scene for selfies. The tip of the platform on top juts out over a lower ledge, yet if you stand with your camera at the right angle, you can get photos of your friends seemingly dangling off a sheer edge. While the selfies do have that reckless appeal, the reality is you will need to queue for about one or two hours along with all the other eager people wanting to capture this highly anticipated moment. This time, I left my selfie-taking for another day and simply admired the stunning view. And what a view. Miles upon miles of rugged coastline, row after row of rounded hills covered in forest and topped off with an endless deep blue ocean. It seems another world from the complex urban life that is Rio de Janeiro yet amazingly, a metropolis of 6 million people is just a few kilometres away. It’s breathtaking.

Hiking in Rio de Janeiro

The queue to get the much sought-after selfie. It stretches further back and has guys selling açai and drinks to the impatient queuers.

Hiking in Rio de Janeiro

From Pedra do Telégrafo to Grumari beach

After Pedra do Telegrafo, we went back down and followed the path towards the beaches before veering right up the mountain. To follow the path correctly down to the Praia Perigoso beach, we should have turned left just before the beginning of the entrance to the Pedra do Telegrafo hike. This would have kept Pedra do Telegrafo on our left and meant we were heading to Grumari along the coast. Instead, we kept Pedra do Telegrafo to our right and went up and over the mountain. This meant we could enjoy the coastline as the day was breaking but I’ll come to that in a bit.

If you do this hike and take the same turning as we did, you can still follow the yellow footsteps on black, although you’ll notice many have been scratched out. It crossed my mind that perhaps this was an old path and that they had been partially removed as the newer correct path was the one near the Pedra do Telégrafo entrance, but I never found out in the end and it didn’t really matter anyway. The walk up is steep in places but neither of us had any difficulty going up or needed to stop for a break. We eventually reached a relatively large open space with two different paths. We took the one to the right that led us down to the main road and eventually to the Grumari beach where we stopped for a spot of sunbathing and some food. If you haven’t been already, you must. Grumari made me think why had I always thought that busy, crowded and sometimes polluted Copacabana or Ipanema were Rio’s best beaches. For a tropical beach haven, they fade into comparison against the white, clean sands of Grumari and its clean, powerful waters. It seems a great spot for surfing with large waves and nice, clean breaks. The beach was really windy when we were there so it was actually a bit cold to lie in just a bikini but don’t let that deceive you – I still got burnt and got home later that day with an incredibly red nose and bum.

Grumari beach to Praia Funda (my favourite beach of the whole hike)

After the beach, we went back the way we came. The walk up is steep and may be challenging for some people. We followed the same route but this time, we turned left towards Praia Funda. Now, if I talk highly of Grumari then I will wax lyrical about Praia Funda. Undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful and wild beaches I’ve seen in Brazil. The only way of getting there is by hiking and the forest path leads out into a thicket before opening up to white sands and a fierce ocean. Walk down onto the sands and all around you are giant hills of untamed forest that seems totally untouched. It’s just wonderful to be that disconnected and to sit and stare out over the ocean, sharing the beach with just a very small handful of people. Hidden amongst the vegetation were several tents which I initially thought were very keen campers, but after a while it dawned on me that these people lived there. They kept themselves to themselves and seemed content. Obviously I am way out of my depth in understanding the story that brought those families to that beach, but it seemed a better life than one on the city’s streets.

hiking in Rio de Janeiro

Praia Funda to Praia do Meio

The final stretch back to where we started was my favourite part. We went down to the end of Praia Funda before scaling up some rocks and following the coastline line along to Praia do Meio. The sea was just metres away, crashing over the rocks next to us. As my friend said, it was like being a kid again climbing over rocks and jumping over little crevices. After reaching Praia do Meio, we went up over the rock face and along the coast towards Pedra da Tartaruga. It’s worth mentioning that the climb up the rocks at the end of Praia do Meio is challenging and may be tiring for some people. The first part involves ropes to go up but it’s not that hard – if you let go of the rope and you have really bad grip on your shoes, the worst case scenario is you’ll slip a few metres onto the sand. It’s not like you will fall or plummet to your death, it’s nothing dramatic like that! After the rope part, there is a steep climb up which is tiring and physically challenging but the views are sensational and the constant sea breeze keeps you cool.

hiking in Rio de Janeiro

Pedra da Tartruga back to Barra de Guaratiba

Before heading back to Barra de Guaratiba, we decided to check out Pedra da Tartaruga and go to the viewpoint at the top. Unlike the rest of the hike which was all through the forest, Pedra da Tartaruga is covered in long, dry grass and actually reminds me of the Scottish Highlands.  The walk up is steep but short. This rock is popular for training to climb with several groups there practicing climbing up and down the sheer face. We watched in alarm as one woman dangled head first over a crop of rocks below thinking she must be in serious trouble. Yet she was smiling and laughing so we assumed she must have been in training. That or she had a hysterical level of pure fear and panic. 

Our walk down was the final stretch before we re-entered the forest and back to the village of Barra de Guaratiba. It was getting dark already and we must have got the Uber back around 7 pm. The whole hike took about 10 hours and was the best hike I’d ever done in Rio.

Overview:

Pedra do Telégrafo: relatively easy hike. Not too steep and takes about 30 minutes to get to the top. The views going up are gorgeous with the immense coastline of Marambai and the west side’s mangroves. The views from the top are of untouched shorelines, vast oceans and fluffy hills of forest. Just be prepared to wait for up to two hours if you want that famous Telégrafo photo. 

Grumari beach: relatively untouched with white sand and clean seas. There are a couple of kiosks there to buy water, beers, caipirinhas, and food. The waves are big and not ideal for swimming, yet are perfect for surfing. It’s a great beach for those looking to escape the commercial hustle and bustle of Rio’s south zone beaches yet are looking for something that has car parking spots and a place to eat and drink.

Praia Funda: my favourite beach. Wild, untouched, no crowds, no signs of urban life. It’s perfect. I also love the fact it can only be accessed by hiking; it just makes it feel that bit more exclusive and unknown.

Praia do Meio: another beach only accessible by hiking. I loved it. It’s so clean – the white sand squeaks as you walk over it and the ocean seemed pristine but it was hard to tell as the waves were creating a lot of swell. Whereas Praia Funda is enclosed and secluded by the huge hills, Praia do Meio is a bit more open.

Pedra da Tartaruga: a relatively easy climb up, it took about 20 minutes to reach the top. Some parts were a bit steep but it wasn’t too hard. The views from the top stretch out over the ocean and are perfect for simply chilling and being.

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hiking in Rio de Janeiro

The Complete Guide to Ilha Grande

The Complete Guide to Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande – which literally translates to Big Island – is a tropical island just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state and is about 160 kilometres from Copacabana. It is an island defined by its white beaches, clear blue waters and as a car-free zone. In short, it is a slice of Brazilian paradise and ideal for a weekend getaway from Rio de Janeiro. It can be done in a day but you will be pushed for time if you want to do everything. I stayed for one night and two days and that was ok – but I think one more night would have been perfect. Yet exam revision called me back to Rio (the joys!), hence why I didn’t stay longer. But the time I spent there was wonderful and I managed to pack in plenty of great activities and see some unforgettable sights. Here is my complete guide to Ilha Grande.

How to get there

The easiest way of getting there is a bus from Rio de Janeiro and then the ferry over to the island. There are several routes so here are all your options.

First of all, the main port on Ilha Grande is Vila do Abraão so that’s where you’ll be heading. To get there, you have to take a boat from either Mangaratiba (which is closest to Rio), Conceição de Jacareí (the closest point to Ilha Grande and with the most boat departures) or Angra dos Reis (which is the closest to São Paulo). I took the one from Conceição de Jacareí as it has plenty of boat departures at all hours so we didn’t need to wait long to board.

Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Getting a boat from Mangaratiba will take between 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach the island. They depart just once a day at 8 am except on Fridays when there is one extra departure at 10 pm. The boats are huge with a capacity of between 500 and 1,000 people and visitors can take up to 10 bikes with them (why you would need so many bikes, I’m not sure!) free of charge. The boat back to Mangaratiba from Abraão leaves once a day at 5.30 pm. The cost of a ticket is R$16.60.

Getting a boat from Angra dos Reis will take between 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the island. Like Mangaratiba, they depart just once a day at 3.30 pm on Mondays to Fridays and at 1.30 pm on weekends and holidays. The boats that leave Angra dos Reis are big with a capacity of between 500 and 1,000 passengers and they have the same rules about bikes as the boats that leave from Mangaratiba. The boat back to Angra dos Reis from Abraão leaves once a day at 10 am. The cost of a ticket is R$16.60.

Unlike Mangaratiba, Angra dos Reis also has smaller and fastest schooners available which run on a much more frequent timetable. The journey to the island takes between 30 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes and the boats have a capacity of between 30 to 120 people. They run every day at every hour from 7 am to 6 pm and go to Abraão. To go back from Abraão to Angra dos Reis, the boats run every day at nearly every hour from 6:30 am to 6 pm. The price for a one-way ticket is between R$25 and R$50.

Getting the boat from Conceição de Jacareí to Abraão. This is my favourite choice as it’s quicker and much more convenient. The trip to the island takes between 15 and 20 minutes (which basically means more beach time on the island!) and the boats have a capacity of between 30 and 60 passengers. The run regularly between 8.30 am and 6.15 pm (with an extra trip at 9 pm on a Friday) to go to the island and run between 7.30 am and 5.30 pm (with an extra trip at 8 pm on Friday) to back to Conceição de Jacareí. Each trip costs between R$20 and R$30.

You can get your tickets from the port so no worries about booking in advance. To get more information about the exact timetable, take a look here.

The next question is then – how do I get to Mangaratiba/Conceição/Angra?

The easiest way is to take a bus from the Rodoviaria in Rio de Janeiro. Take the comfy Costa Verde bus (you can either book it in advance or simply book it at the Rodoviaria before you board. That’s what I did) which costs R$40.50 to Mangaratiba and R$58 to Conceição and Angra. There are plenty of guided tours that offer a full package – hotel pickup, bus there and boat trip over – with prices starting from R$100. Ask at your hotel to see if they have services available for this.

Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Tips for the island

  • Take cash! There are no cash points on the island and not every restaurant, shop or bar accept card yet. So you may need to pay in cash. I think it is improving now as the flow of tourists is always increasing year by year, but I remember being grateful that I had taken out cash beforehand – normally I pay for everything by card so I was lucky to have some fortunate hindsight!
  • There are no roads on the island. It is a motor-free zone, which is one of the many charms of Ilha Grande. Yet this is something worth remembering if you’re carrying heavy luggage – you may consider renting out one of those push carts when you arrive to help you take your back to your accommodation.
  • There are plenty of hikes on the island, some with challenging climbs, others simply flat trails leading through the forest. Take good shoes – trainers are absolutely fine – and remember to set off each day with plenty of water! The tropical weather can be fierce and you should try to always stay hydrated.
  • You can walk all the way around the island! Yet it’s not called Big Island for nothing, you know; it can take between 4 and 5 days to make it all the way round. If you have your heart set on doing it though, it’s best to start at Abraão and walk in an anti-clockwise direction. Note: at the other end of the island, accommodation is quite scarce so you will need to plan this before (that or find a friendly local who doesn’t mind providing a bed for the night!). Camping is not permitted outside the designated places in an attempt to protect the island’s environment so take care to follow these rules.
Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Things to do

Let’s start with the beaches

Ilha Grande does beaches splendidly. One of the best ones is Lopes Mendes with its long, white sandy beach, crystal clear shallow waters and a fringe of tropical palm trees. It is the definition of paradise. The water is good for surfing although you have to paddle quite far out as the water remains shallow for a while. To get there, take a speedboat from Abraão to Pouso and try to do this on a calm day – when I did it the waves were big and I was convinced that I was going to be catapulted out of the boat! From Pouso, it’s a pleasant 20-minute hike through the forest before arriving at the Lopes Mendes beach. Provisions are in short supply there, although you can buy water, beers, caipirinhas and basic snacks there. It’s a good idea to bring some of your own snacks with you too.

Arguably the best beach is Parnaioca beach yet it is much less-visited. Why? It can only be accessed either by boat or a 3-hour hike from the Dois Rios near Abraão. It’s worth it though – few people make the effort to go there so you’ll be rewarded with a secluded beach with very little crowds.

Other great beaches worth checking out include Aventureiro beach (look out for the famous L-shaped palm tree there), Santo Antonio beach (a tiny beach with turquoise waters) and Caxadaço beach (another tiny beach surrounded by dense forest).

Other things to do in Ilha Grande

  • Visit the abandoned Candido Mendes prison. This prison was once used to lock up some of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals until it was closed in 1994. It includes stories of escapes such as when Escadinho, a Brazilian drug lord, was broken out with a helicopter. It can be reached by following the trail from the Vila de Dois Rios.
  • Go diving. Ilha Grande is great for dive-lovers and there are several schools to rent equipment from. Expect to see tropical fish, coral reefs and even the occasional turtle. I didn’t dive there but I’ve heard that some of the best spots are Ilha de Jorge Grego, the island in front of Lopes Mendes beach, Gruta do Acaia and Ilha das Palmas. However, I did go snorkelling and I would highly recommend Lagoa Azul in the far north of Ilha Grande. The water is so blue with amazing visibility and I saw plenty of colourful shoals of fish.
  • Hike Pico de Papagaio. Standing at 980 metres tall, this is the second largest peak on the island and takes about two to three hours to reach the top. It’s a challenging trek but the views over the entire island are worth it.
  • Visit the waterfall. The Cachoeira de Feiticeira waterfall is not far from the main port, Abraão. The waterfall stands at 15 metres high and you can take a shower under it (you will love that during the summer time!) and swim in the pool in front.
  • Go on a boat tour! There are loads of boat tours available. Here are some of my favourites:
    “>- This one is great for those that want to go to Ilha Grande but only have a day. The tour is 12 hours and takes you from Rio de Janeiro to the island and back to Rio after. The trip includes a tour around the island in a boat with a stop-off point at some of the most beautiful beaches and lagoons for swimming, snorkelling and an onboard lunch. “>Click here to find out more about this tour.
    “>- This one is very similar to the one above (so ideal for those on a shorter time frame) but it also includes a trip around Angra dos Reis, a beautiful coastal town on the mainland made up with dozens of little tropical islands. “>Click here to find out more about this tour.
    The tours are done by guides who speak English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Places to eat and drink

Being an island surrounded by marine-rich waters, it’s hardly surprising that Ilha Grande does amazing seafood. For a fancy seafront dinner, head to O Pescador, which does Mediterranean-style fish dishes as well as great pasta and meat dinner options. The fish fillet with passion-fruit sauce is wonderful at Dom Mario, a seafood restaurant in Abraão. Another great seafood restaurant is Restaurante Lua e Mar. With its candlelit tables edging out onto the sand, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic date-night.

Where to stay

When I went, I literally left everything last minute and arrived on the first day of a national holiday. Needless to say, on this beautifully sunny weekend, half of Rio’s population and I had decided to come and spend some time at Ilha Grande. I arrived without any accommodation and everywhere was completely booked or out of my pitiful budget. After trekking around, we actually ended up chatting to a friendly local who let us stay there for a discounted price. It was pure luck and the fact the lady was an avid dog and cat lover was even better – the place was full of puppies and kittens at every corner! However, it’s best to book in advance, especially when travelling there on a weekend or during a holiday. Here are some of the most popular spots on the island.

Che Lagarto is a famous chain of hostels throughout South America and this one is a popular spot for backpackers. It’s a great place to meet people and is nicely located right next to the beach. Check here for prices and availability.

Pousada Beira Mar is clean, comfortable and simple. It’s next to the beach too and has rooms with hammocks. Make room in the morning for the breakfast buffet.

Pousada Naturalia is located just a little bit up on a small hill which provides wonderful ocean views. The multilingual staff are super friendly and breakfast is served fresh every day. It is one of the best pousadas (bed & breakfast) on the island. Check here for prices and availability.

Asalem is a more luxury (and more expensive) place to stay but its secluded location and forest surroundings are charming and the attention to details is impeccable. The hotel overlooks the Crena beach and guests may find themselves in close proximity to wildlife such as monkeys, hummingbirds and brightly-coloured butterflies. The sea nearby is known to have starfish and turtles. The 6 water-front suites give Asalem an exclusive feel. Check here for prices and availability.

Photos by:

First image: by Helio Araujo on Flickr
Third image: by normalsanik on Flickr
Fourth and feature image: Valdiney Pimenta on WikiCommons
Fifth image: by Nathon Chor on WikiCommons
All the others are by Felipe Campos. You can check out his work on Flickr or on his Instgram account.

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Ilha Grande Rio de Janeiro

Hotel in the Spotlight: Sant’Martre in Santa Teresa

Hotel in the Spotlight: Sant’Martre in Santa Teresa

Sant’Martre: resort-like setting in Santa Teresa with simple rooms and budget-friendly prices.

 

Despite being minutes away from the main hub of Santa Teresa, Sant’Martre maintains peace and tranquility thanks to its hillside location that keeps it tucked away. Defining features of the hotel include an ample garden with broad, leafy palms, plenty of tropical flora and birds singing and monkeys chattering in the background. Breakfast is served on the outside terrace with wicker chairs, glass-topped tables, and glorious sweeping views over the city. Highlights include a low-hanging swinging chair and an outdoor hot tub that overlooks a wide backdrop peppered with churches and colonial mansions. It’s a hotel that combines a cosy, resort-like feel with reasonable prices, making it an ideal option for the budget traveller.

Location

Santa Teresa provides an alternative experience to the body-conscious shores of Copacabana and Ipanema. Located up in the hillsides, the region is all about the cobbled streets, former industrialists’ mansions, traditional restaurants and bars, and an artistic flair that gives the neighbourhood an unmistakable bohemian vibe. It’s a wonderful place to explore and dip into little art galleries and boutique shops. The steep hills may not appeal to everyone, yet the local bonde (street tram) helps get to and from the city centre. Otherwise, you may depend on taxis or Uber to get around. Copacabana is about 25-minutes away by car.

Hotels in Santa Teresa Rio

Style and Personality

The hotel has a resort-like feel with an ample outdoor area complete with a hot tub, large wicker chairs, and plenty of natural vegetation. The hotel itself is modern and minimalist with wonderful artworks of flying parrots decorating the walls. The atmosphere is calm and peaceful, making it an ideal weekend retreat for those looking for a spot to rest without any disturbance. Despite its glamorous side, it embraces the casual and familiar approach with friendly, chatty staff that instantly make you feel comfortable and at home.

Services and Facilities

The hotel is clean, simple and comfortable, yet the real joy lies in the surrounding gardens and outdoor terrace which homes the majority of the hotel’s defining features. The staff are exceptionally friendly and make you feel at home by acting as casual hosts rather than overly-eager waiters hovering around to cater for any whim. This approach makes it easy to settle in and feel the staff are your friends.

  • Hot tub
  • Breakfast
  • Wi Fi
  • Snooker table
  • 24-hour reception
  • Event space
  • Room service
  • Drinks – beers and soft drinks

Rooms

The rooms are simple and clean, providing a comfortable space to sleep for the night. I loved the huge bed and the crisp bed linen that smelled freshly-washed and clean. The balcony overlooks the hotel garden and the venue’s wonderful views, making it hard to imagine a better way to wake up in the morning. The bathroom is small yet the hot, powerful shower is a joy when getting out of the hot tub during the winter – the winter months of July and August can feel surprisingly chilly. The toilet doesn’t offer a huge amount of privacy which may cause some discomfort for the shyer traveller. There is a Nespresso machine in the room, a place to leave your bags, and a safe for your valuables. The wifi is fast, strong, and reliable in the rooms, as it is throughout the whole hotel and gardens.

Food and Drink

The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant or snack-offerings (besides the biscuits and chocolates in the mini-fridge), but that’s ok as Santa Teresa has plenty of places worth checking out for traditional Brazilian food. The breakfast in the morning is buffet-style and provides a simple offering that is typical in Brazil – several types of bread, ham, cheese, a simple yet moist corn cake, cereal, yogurt, and a mix of hot and cold beverages. It was satisfying and wonderful to eat on the outdoor terrace – especially when the monkeys came down to say hello.

Value for money

The rooms start from R$160 ($50) per night. Free WiFi. Breakfast is optional as some people go out early in the morning to visit tourist attractions and so have the option to pay less for something they wouldn’t use. Breakfast is an additional R$20 ($6) per person per day.

Disability access

The hotel has ramps throughout so people in a wheelchair can easily access the outdoor terrace. There is one room in the hotel that is disability-friendly and is on the ground floor for extra ease.

Family-friendly

The hotel accepts children and the outdoor area provides space to run around and burn off some of that boundless energy. Older children may enjoy the snooker table. The pool is no longer working, having been transformed into an outdoor patio instead. The hot tub is probably more of an adult entertainment feature than for kids, yet for young nature-lovers, the garden’s flora and fauna diversity will kill a couple of hours.

Sant'Martre: Check here for availability and prices

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