Photo: lazyllama/Shutterstock

These 3 Epic Rio de Janeiro Hikes Are Worth Your Extra Vacation Time

Outdoor Hiking
by Dougie Loynes Feb 8, 2022

Rio de Janeiro is famous for its glorious beaches and laid-back carioca charm — and Carnival (which starts in late February) is arguably the best party on Earth. But for true adventure and spectacular scenery, head for the hills and take on one of these three stunning Rio de Janeiro hikes.

In just two days, you can hit all three of these super-convenient Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) jungle trails.

1. Pedra da Gavea

Pedra da Gavea Mountain Peak, Famous Rock Formation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Photo: Donatas Dabravolskas/Shutterstock

  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Total elevation: 2,473 feet
  • Hiking time: Full day

The views from Pedra da Gavea are among the finest that you’ll find in Rio de Janeiro, but the journey to its summit is possibly the most challenging of all the city’s popular hiking trails. The hike begins at the entrance to the emerald Tijuca forest. It’s one of the more popular Rio de Janeiro hikes, so try to beat the crowds by being at the trailhead when the parking area opens at 8:00 AM.

The trail meanders through the Atlantic Forest, and you’ll be grateful for the vegetation’s natural cover from the sun as you navigate a well-worn route sprinkled with occasional obstacles. Plan to make your way across a small waterfall (scrambling required) and a steep incline — you’ll need to haul yourself up using a chain bolted into the rock.

Despite the trail’s quirks, it’s a straightforward, albeit occasionally demanding, ascent. After two hours of hiking, you emerge from the forest and arrive at the notorious carrasqueira. It’s a near-vertical 100-foot-tall rock face, and it’s intimidating enough that it causes many cautious hikers to turn back. But in reality, it’s a low-grade pitch easily scaled with the right climbing equipment. If you’ve left your harness at home, there’s an alternative route to the right that doesn’t require ropes. Just take care, and don’t try to keep pace with the local kids bounding past in their Havaianas.

After the carrasqueira, you’ll soon emerge onto the plateau marking the summit. Take all the time you need to savor the extraordinary views of the iconic Rio landscape: verdant mountains, golden beaches, and bleached-blue ocean. Of all the Rio de Janeiro hikes, this one probably has the best views for your next Instagram vacation post.

The hike is possible without a guide, but if you want to climb the carrasqueira and don’t have any climbing experience, you’re better off going with a tour operator. A highly rated option is Rio Radical, a leading local ecotourism and adventure tourism company. Guides speak English and will bring the harnesses, ropes, and expertise to get you up and down the tricky sections. And perhaps more importantly, the guides know the best angles for snapping those jaw-dropping, gravity-defying pics.

2. Morro Dois Irmãos

RIO DE JANEIRO hikes - people at the top of two brothers mountain

Photo: lazyllama/Shutterstock

  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Total elevation gain: 640 feet
  • Hiking time: +/-  90 minutes

After conquering Pedra da Gavea, hiking Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers; it’s named for its double postcard-picture peaks) will be a walk in the most glorious of parks. In fact, getting to the trail may be the most daunting part of the experience as the trailhead is at the top of an informal urban settlement: Vidigal. It’s an underdeveloped neighborhood with poor public services, sometimes occupied by temporary residents. It’s generally recommended that tourists avoid neighborhoods like those, though Vidigal is generally considered one of the safer ones. Just exercise caution and keep your valuables hidden away. You can also get a motorcycle taxi to the trailhead, but be sure to hang on (soak up the energy of the neighborhood while zooming through the various narrow alleys).

This is one of the shorter Rio de Janeiro hikes and shouldn’t take more than an hour. Viewpoints along the way offer spectacular glimpses of the Marvelous City. Arguably the most moving is the first one: an astonishing bird-eye view of Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil (and quite possibly all Latin America). The sprawling mass of makeshift dwellings cling to the jungle-clad mountains and is a stark reminder that Rio is a city of significant social contrasts.

At the second viewpoint, you’ll see the Christ the Redeemer atop its perch on Corcovado, as well as Pedra da Gavea looming large in the distance. But the most epic panoramas of this Rio de Janeiro hike are saved for the summit. From the ridge, hikers have 360-degree views of the Tijuca forest and Rio’s South Zone, including the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

You can tackle the trail solo — it isn’t all that demanding of a hike — or join a tour that combines the ascent with a cultural experience in Vidigal. Before you opt for the latter, be sure to read up on the ethics of visiting underprivileged, urban neighborhoods.

3. Corcovado

A hiker walks through the jungle among fallen trees on the way to Corcovado National Park

Photo: LOUIS-MICHEL DESERT/Shutterstock

  • Distance: 1.5 miles to summit (possible to hike down or take a tram)
  • Total elevation gain: 2,283 feet
  • Hiking time: +/- 2 hours (to summit)

Corcovado’s summit is one of Rio’s most esteemed vantage points; so much so that it was chosen for Christ himself to occupy. While most people who want to share the statue’s privileged view get to the top via train or motor vehicle, more intrepid spirits will want to avoid the ticket lines and take one of the most famous Rio de Janeiro hikes to the top. The route is a well-marked trail through the rainforest, starting in Parque Lage and well-removed from the overcrowded train cars and tour vans.

The hike starts off easily enough, but quickly becomes steep and more challenging, culminating in an ascent up a sharp rock face in the final stretch. Fortunately, there’s a metal ladder to make things more manageable. Try not to feel inferior as you watch the adorable marmoset monkeys who dart between the treetops at an enviable pace.

Once emerging from the forest, you’ll make the final ascent along the same road tour buses use to ferry less-adventurous visitors to the famous monument. Unfortunately, your sterling effort doesn’t exempt you from having to pay for a ticket to access the statue of Christ itself. You’ll also have to share the views with hordes of other snap-happy tourists. But on the flip side, unlike on the other two Rio de Janeiro hikes, you can refresh yourself at the top with a cerveja estupidamente gelada (literally translates to “a stupidly cold beer”) while chilling at one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It’s best not to attempt the descent in the dark, so if you decide to catch the sunset from the top, take the train down — you’ve done more than enough hiking if you’ve checked off all three of these options over the weekend.

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