I was about 16 years old when I first visited Rio de Janeiro, having lived a large part of my life in the Brazilian central-west region, 980 miles away from the coast. My memories of that trip are filled with the charming architecture of one of Rio’s oldest neighborhoods, Flamengo, and the impressive building of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, where I spent some hours visiting as part of a school project. The Petit Trianon had been donated to Brazil in 1923 by the French government and it fit perfectly into the art deco atmosphere of old Rio. I was charmed. Since that first visit I had been back to Rio on a few brief occasions, for work, so this trip was a unique opportunity to enjoy the city shamelessly as a tourist. My family and Emily, a friend from Washington DC, were my companions.
Even though July isn’t supposed to be the rainiest month of the year in Rio, a cold front had brought in a good amount of rain. Yep. Right during the only three days we had to spend in the city. On our first attempt at a walk along Copacabana beach, Emily and I ended up soaking wet and finally gave in to the only thing we did not have any interest in seeing: a shopping mall. But this morning the rain had eased and our spirits were up. The plan was to see the two most well known attractions of the city. We set off right after a somewhat late breakfast, on foot as it’s always my preference, towards the neighborhood called Urca, where the Sugarloaf Mountain is situated.
From the Copabana Palace Hotel, a landmark in Copabacana, to Morro da Urca, it took us a leisurely hour and a half, the most pleasant part of the walk being the southern portion of Copabana beach towards Leme. Rio is doing a wonderful job of keeping that part of town clean. It also feels safe. Police presence is constant and visible. Cariocas and visitors alike happily walk, bike, run, sun, play volleyball and soccer on the beach, and relax with a cup of coffee or a cold beer in the countless kiosks along the sand. It’s the kind of scene in which I wish time would freeze…
But soon enough our good mood was going to be tested. The access to the Sugarloaf Mountain couldn’t have been less organized. Emily and I stood in confusing lines, in the hot sun, for two hours before we could get our tickets. We noted that assistance in foreign languages is either non-existent or really difficult to find, even though Rio attracts tourists from all over the world. This still baffles me. How is Rio going to cope with the large influx of foreign tourists for the World Cup 2014 when even on a week day you have to wait for two hours to buy a ticket and cannot find a sign with directions in Spanish or English (let alone other languages) to save your life? Even with fluent Portuguese it was hard to figure out which line to stand in, where the long lines were going, or how long it was going to take it before we could get out of the scorching sun. I obviously did not pass the good mood test. I was fuming. Until the overwhelmingly stunning views of Rio from the Sugarloaf laid themselves out in front of my eyes.
I promise you, those sights will cool down anyone’s bad mood. They certainly did mine. I have a request, though: Can someone do away with the lines, please? I want those two hours to enjoy the cool breeze and the gorgeous sights from the top of Sugarloaf.
A few useful pieces of information: The “Complexo Turístico Pão de Açúcar” or the Sugarloaf Mountain Complex is open daily from 08:00 am to 09:00 pm (I would like to go back to visit after sunset sometime. It must be awesome). Tickets are sold until 7:30 pm. Trams leave the station every 20 minutes or when they reach full capacity, about 65 people. The journey has two stops. The first stop is the Morro da Urca. The second stop is Morro do Pão de Açúcar. We enjoyed both stops. Adult round trip ticket price: R$53.00 (approximately US$26.00) based on September 2012 conversion rates.
How to get there: The entrance to the complex is located at Avenida Pasteur 520, Praia Vermelha – Urca – Rio de Janeiro. My friend and I walked there from Copacabana beach, where we were staying. You can always catch a taxi cab or use public transportation. Enjoy.
Coming back out from the Sugarloaf we were ready to continue our walk towards Flamengo. A particularly interesting thing we saw during this part of the walk were how some of the quaint old houses in Urca are built right up against the solid rock walls of the mountain. Imagine that, living with this immense block of granite right in your backyard…
As we left Urca, the idea was to see a little bit of Flamengo and then catch some kind of transportation to the Corcovado and the Christ Redeemer statue – depending on weather. The statue of the Christ is high enough that if the cloud cover is too thick, the best feature of a visit to the Christ, the views of the Guanabara bay, are not available. So, as we walked along lovely Urca streets, through the Marina da Urca and along the Flamengo beach, we kept peeking back over the city towards the Morro do Corcovado to check on the clouds. After lunch, and when we were losing hope the weather was going to clear enough for a visit to the Christ, we took a last quick look and wow, there they were, clear bright skies.
Getting to the statue from Flamengo required combining different kinds of transportation. I was beginning to worry we were not going to make it with daylight. But we did, as you can see from the photo above.
How to get there: The Christ Redeemer statue is located on the top of Morro do Corcovado, part of the Tijuca Forest Park. To catch the train or shuttles to the top of the Corcovado, take the metro to Largo do Machado and then bus 422 or 498 and get off in front of the Sao Judas Tadeu Church. From the church, you can take the train to the statue. Adult return train ticket that includes access to the statue: R$44.00 (approximately US$22.00). The train fills up quickly and the wait can be long. Another alternative is to take a shuttle, which costs about the same. This is what we did. And boy, was it worth it…
Evening fell quickly and temperatures dropped as fast. It’s hard to imagine that you will need a warm jacket in Rio but my friend and I both wished we had been better prepared. So do bring a warm jacket if you are visiting at the end of the day. You will enjoy it much more.
I’ve been to many tourist attractions that are disappointing and I have become very skeptical of places that attract a lot of people. Sugarloaf and Corcovado really surprised me in a good way. The reasons why they draw so many visitors felt real to me. They are spectacular places and I am glad I was able to take them in. They inspired me with tremendous serenity.