How to get the best views of Rio de Janeiro
Rio offers an array of peaks and hills that provide unimaginable views of the colourful city below. Most famously there is the whimsically named Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado Mountain on which stands Christ the Redeemer, yet there are many more stunning viewpoints to be discovered. Travellers traditionally stay in Rio for just a few days and become so enchanted by the beaches that they overlook some amazing off-the-beaten track adventures. If you fancy getting away from the well-trodden routes, there are plenty of spectacular scenice vistas to gaze upon.
The towering rainforest-covered peaks of Rio offer simply extraordinary vistas of the landscapes below
PEDRA DE GAVEA
Pedra de Gavea is the highest mountain in Rio, and its peak boasts the best view there is to offer. To reach the very top you’ll either need some advanced climbing experience or a professional guide. I was lucky enough to have a fantastic guide who made our journey completely painless.
The trail begins at the foot of the mountain in Barra da Tijuca, and after a few steep twists and turns the path gradually disappears, leaving us mainly clambering through rocks and forest. With a guide, however, all of this is made easier as he informed us where to put our hands and feet when the route became tricky. On the way up you pass several peepholes through the trees where you begin to get a taster of how breathtaking the final view may be. Along with the panoramic vistas, you’re surrounded by nature – different insects and wild fruits, not to mention the constant cacophony of bird song.
The higher you climb, the more challenging the path becomes and to reach the final peak (although by this point the view is already unimaginable), you need to put on a harness and climb the rocks using ropes, which the guide has secured higher up. This all sounds relatively daunting, but in reality it's just a necessary safety precaution as not one member from our group ever once slipped or needed the rope for support.
It is worth checking the forecast because as we reached the peak of the mountain, the sky had completely clouded over and a storm had begun. Surprisingly we didn’t mind at all, although we missed out on the best view of Rio, the sense of achievement and adrenaline we had from the climb made getting to the top unbelievably satisfying. There was also something incredible about being up in the clouds as a storm was beginning; very atmospheric.
If this sounds like your idea of a good adventure, book a spot on our Pedra da Gavea Hiking Tour.
The trail to the summit of Pedra da Gavea is hard going but the views are well worth the climb
WATERFALLS IN TIJUCA FOREST
My friends and I were looking for a trek that we could do on our own, and in Rio’s soaring temperatures it had to be somewhere where we could escape the heat and take a refreshing dip. We found the perfect solution: the waterfalls inside Tijuca Forest.
We were dropped off at the eastern entrance of the rainforest and walked up the hill for about 20 minutes until we reached the first waterfall. As it is the easiest to access, this waterfall is the most popular. With ice-cold water up to your knees and a beautiful cascade in the corner, it is no surprise that this was a favourite spot for local families, with young children splashing about, happy to be out of the sun.
The second waterfall is much larger with waist-high water and an opportunity to fully submerge yourself underneath the falls. Although this trek is doable alone there is a tricky rock to climb over between the two waterfalls, so it might be best to go with someone who has been before or is used to climbing.
For those of you looking for a more comprehensive visit to this vast urban jungle, take a look at our Tijuca Rainforest Jeep Tour.
Party until the early hours at Alto do Vidigal and you can enjoy watching the sun rise over the city
FAVELA TOP-BARS - AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW
Unbeknownst to me before I arrived, throughout Rio’s city, people have taken advantage of the high vantage point throughout the Favelas and created popular bars and clubs with unparalleled views - they have proven to be the best nights out for me so far.
One of the most famous favela bars is Maze, set on top of the community Tavares Bastos, near Catete. On arrival at the bottom of the hill, you are greeted with either a mini-van which takes large groups up to the club, or a moto-taxi, a motorbike that takes one at a time charging on average five reales. Maze features live music every weekend and hosts a live jazz night once a month. As it’s easy to get lost within the community, staff in high-vis jackets guide you from where you’re dropped off, through the windy streets to the entrance of the club. The real gem however is the ceramic rooftop. As you climb up the spiral staircase you can see the glimmering pieces of ceramic tiles that cover the walls of the terrace. Combined with numerous viewpoints, it gives the impression of being on top of some sort of Gaudian tower.
Alto do Vidigal is a club on top of the pacified favela, Vidigal, and is essentially a bigger version of Maze with possibly an even better view. The key to the best night in these hill-top venues is to embrace your stamina and wait until sunrise as watching the sun come up over the silhouetted city below is the classic end to a fun-filled night.
If you are intrigued about the culture and social intimacy of these communities, book a favela tour here and take a guided tour.
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The more time I spend in Rio the more I realise that the city is more than beautiful beaches, there are endless options for all types of visitor. The friendly cariocas make the experience, they always seem to be willing to give up their time to share their city with us - they seem very proud of it and they should. Follow our blog for more unique and insider experiences in Rio!
By: Lucy Gavan, student of Spanish and Portuguese culture at the University of Bristol in England, currently living in Rio as part of an exchange programme with Rdj4u.