In Rio de Janeiro, not far from the urban din and the concrete blocks, hide a breathtaking flora and fauna. Many hikes invite you to discover these thousand and one treasures of nature: they lead to the top of the characteristic hills with a panoramic view between land and sea, in the urban tropical forest, the Floresta da Tijuca, with its exotic inhabitants, through the pacified favelas offering an exceptional view of Ipanema, passing by waterfalls and other granite cliffs. And what better way to end a hike in style than to cool off in the water, on Copacabana beach.
"Put on your helmet and hang on," says Marcelo, sneering, before putting his gas on the 125 and starting with a whirlwind. He skilfully winds his way down the steep slope with his motorbike and his passenger, along the main road of the Vidigal favela and its maze of brick houses. We dodge the trucks arriving opposite and we pass small shops, bars, laundromats and hairdressing salons. In a turn, the engine threatens to stall. Luckily, the biker knows his neighborhood: he puts the gas at the right time and maneuvers safely to the end of Vidigal, where the brushwood of the Atlantic forest abounds and a small path shows the direction.
This is an original way to start a hike, and yet emblematic of Rio de Janeiro and the proximity between urban jungle and pristine landscapes: the city is both an urban monster and a natural paradise. Trapped by lush hills, even the massive skyscrapers are picturesquely embedded in the landscape. In Rio de Janeiro, not far from the urban din and everyday life, there is a breathtaking flora and fauna. It is a less known face of this city with seven million inhabitants. In the world, few metropolises offer so many green spaces. The hilly topography of Rio de Janeiro makes deforestation difficult, so that until today, the city has been able to preserve a large part of its Atlantic forest. The last satellite evaluation of 2011 shows that 29% of the city's territory is green, that is to say covered with forests, swamps, scrub and mangrove jungles. Many hikes allow you to discover this great natural variety while admiring the city from an unusual perspective.
Return to Vidigal, the starting point for one of these hiking trails. The “favela-vitrine” is reputed to be peaceful, hosts many hotels and enjoys a lively cultural life. The favela having been pacified and therefore made accessible to the public only in 2011, this hike became a tourist attraction also for the locals. It is located at the foot of Mount "Dois Irmaos" (533 m), one of the reasons for Rio's favorite postcards. Seen from below, it seems impossible to be able to reach the summit. However, after a trip by motorbike (or van) to the highest point in Vidigal, there are only 40 minutes left to reach the top of the mountain on foot. The path goes through ascending sections of forest interrupted, in places, by stone platforms which offer a clear view of the sea, on the district of São Conrado, located below, and on the sea of houses of the largest favela of 'South America: Rocinha. After a while, the forest clears and the path goes through the fragrant grass to lead to the top, where an exceptional panorama appears to come out of nowhere: the heart of Rio de Janeiro is within reach of the hiker. The lagoon, Ipanema beach, Corcovado on the right and the Sugar Loaf mountain behind.
The hike on the “Pedra da Gávea” offers a similar view, perhaps even more impressive. The mountain peaks at 852 m above sea level and holds the world record for the largest monobloc of granite by the sea. The ascent is again on the opposite side to Rio in the Barra district and lasts three good hours. The track alternates between very steep parts and flat forest paths. Banana trees, bromeliads and wild orchids delight the eye. The songs of birds and cicadas echo in the forest while large blue butterflies fly on the way and hummingbirds go hunting for flowers. A source of natural drinking water invites you to take a short break. A word of advice: do not start this hike after a well-watered evening at the caipirinha!
The hardest part is about two hours: climbing a rock wall of around 15 meters. At this location, a small queue often forms, which gives the opportunity to chat with other hikers. Tiago is the guide of a group that tackles the rock wall with climbing equipment.
“I do this hike about twice a week. A hiker in good physical shape can easily climb this wall without using a cable ”
Tiago replies when I ask him if the climb is difficult. Indeed: few hikers give up and wait for the return of their colleagues at the bottom of the wall. Arrived at the top, there is not much missing to arrive at the lower part of the mountain, and the view on the endless beach of Barra da Tijuca already gives a taste of what awaits us on the summit plateau: a wind refreshing sailor and an exceptional panoramic view of Rio, the sea and Barra da Tijuca make you forget the fatigue of the ascent.
Equally exceptional: the ascent of Mount Corcovado with the statue of Christ (710 m) on the other side of the Pedra da Gávea. If you don't want to queue for the little cog train, you can start on foot from Parque Lague in the Jardim Botânico district. A two and a half hour hike that Charles Darwin himself had undertaken in the 19th century. Steep and varied, it goes through waterfalls and jackfruits. Installed on branches of trees, ruched Capuchins observe with interest the hikers. The path goes through earthen stairs and rocks with iron cables through the woody smell forest. Little by little, the summits reveal a view of the lagoon and Ipanema, then, a little later, over the districts of Leblon and Gávea. Only downside: the breathtaking view from the statue of Christ over the whole city, including the northern area, must be shared with the waves of tourists coming by van and train.
Another extremely popular place, but not overcrowded due to its size: the “Floresta da Tijuca” national park, the largest urban forest in the world, which also includes the Corcovado and Pedra da Gávea. It is home to countless hiking trails and caves and is easily accessible by bus or car. It is, so to speak, a virgin forest of leisure at the gates of Rio. Viewpoints invite you to linger there before cooling off in the waterfalls then hitting the road on well-marked paths to observe all kinds of predators, monkeys and birds, but also coatis, marmosets and toucans. But beware: coatis are cunning thieves and have the annoying tendency to pilfer snacks from distracted hikers!
For an even easier access hike, the Sugar Loaf Mountain, in the heart of the lively southern part of the city, is ideal. Instead of climbing by cable car, a charming forest path on the right side leads to the first hill, the "Morro da Urca" (220 m). And after only 30 minutes, the view overlooks Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo and the Corcovado. Going back down, the beach "Praia Vermelha" just below the "Morro", recalls the well-known advantages of Rio: what could be more pleasant, just after a hike, than tasting a fresh coconut and dive into the sea?