Nature was very generous with Rio, and there are many parks and
green areas worth visiting. Some of them, like Tijuca Forest, are
so big that you're better off going with a group on a tour. Others,
like the Botanical Gardens, or the Lagoa Park, are just minutes
away from your hotel.
It's the perfect alternative if you want to spend a quiet
afternoon surrounded by birds and plants. And do not be surprised
if instead of a squirrel you spot a marmoset. These cute little
monkeys with fluffy tufts coming out of their ears are friendly
chaps, don't worry.
Rio's tourist sights should not be overlooked either.
Corcovado, the hill where you find the Statue of Christ, was
chosen because it could be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
Imagine the view you get from up there... The Sugarloaf, with its
trademark cable cars, gives you a bird's eye view from a different
(and equally breath-taking) angle. To make things more fun, play
the tourist all the way. Pick out your ugliest Hawaiian shirt,
strap that camera around your neck, and enjoy!
#1 - The largest urban forest in Rio, with over 100 square kilometers, is actually a smart reforestation project - the area was originally used for coffee plantations. The green carpet can be seen from most of the South Side. Its most visible landmark is the Statue of Christ, the Redeemer on Corcovado Hill. The area is so big it is easy to get lost, and we recommend going on a tour to enjoy the most of it safely.
Points of interest include the Mayrink Chapel (with paintings by Portinari), Açude da Solidão, Cascatinha, the Gabriela and Taunay Falls, and the grouts of Luiz Fernandes, Paulo and Virginia. Another access to Floresta da Tijuca is via São Conrado. Vista Chinesa, the Chinese Belvedere, is a scenic place to stop for photos with a view all the way to Ipanema. Another favorite overlook is Pedra Bonita (510 meters high, or about 1,500 feet). This is where hanggliders jump from, and the view is spectacular. If you are the adventurous sort, you may even go for a double flight with an experienced professional.
#2 - Built in the 60's by Governor Carlos Lacerda, this huge green area has over 1 million square meters. It surrounds Guanabara Bay all the way from Flamengo to Downtown. The gardens were planned by landscape designer Burle Marx, with more than 3,000 different species of trees. There are walking trails, sports courts of all kinds, and a bicycle lane along the extension of the park. Marina da Glória has a capacity to anchor 1,500 boats. On Sundays one of the car lanes is closed to traffic and open to pedestrians. Rio's Museum of Modern Art, Carmen Miranda Museum, and the World War II Monument are in Flamengo Park (see also museums).
#3 - This Villa on the North Side of Rio occupies an area of 560,000 square meters. Quinta da Boa Vista was built in the 1,600's and given as a present to Dom João VI by Portuguese merchant Elias Antonio Lopes. The Imperial Family lived here until the Republic was proclaimed. Today it is home to the National Museum - a favorite with kids with attractions ranging from Egyptian mummies to fossils (see museums). This is also where the Museum of Fauna and Rio Zoo and the are located. There are bicycle lanes, lush gardens and lawns and a lake.
#4 - The City Park is a good excuse to visit Gávea, one of Rio's most charming neighborhoods. The park has 470,000 square meters of gardens, lawns, trails and tree-lined lanes. A small river and an old mansion that belonged to Marquês de São Vicente complete the package. The mansion is headquarters the City Museum, open for visitation.
To reach the park take street Rua Marquês de São Vicente, the main street in Gávea. You will pass by Santos Dumont Square, that bustles with nightlife activity. One block ahead, on your left you will see Shopping da Gávea, one of the best neighborhood malls in Rio with an assortment of selected stores and theaters. Across from it is a bakery with deliciously fresh rolls for you to take back to your hotel, or enjoy on the spot.
Further ahead on your left are the headquarters of PUC, the Catholic University, also worth a stop. Take a look at the temporary exhibitions at Solar Grandjean de Montigny, a well-preserved old mansion, and walk a bit around the campus savoring the atmosphere, Carioca style. Rio's Planetarium is next door to the other entrance to PUC. If you still have time Jardim Botânico, is just a few minutes away.
#5 - This is maybe Rio's most famous postcard: the statue of Christ blessing the city with open arms. It can be seen from most South Side neighborhoods. The statue stands on the hill of Corcovado, which is 710 m tall (about 2,400 feet). The Statue of Christ, the Redeemer is 30 meters tall (100 feet). On its base there is a chapel big enough for 150 people. This spot offers a 360° view to Rio. Come on a day with clear sky and take lovely photos! You may prefer to go with a group on a guided tour, for tips about the city's geography, the neighborhoods and some landmarks and attractions.
If you go on your own, take a taxi to Rua Cosme Velho, 513. This is where you buy tickets for the small train that goes uphill. On your way back make sure to stop at the Museum of Naïf Art, just 30 meters away (see museums). Largo do Boticário is another attraction in the area, with a number of houses carefully reconstructed in colonial style. From this area you can reach Paineiras, one of the most agreeable spots of the Tijuca Forest, with a delicious nature trail and waterfalls where you can bathe.
#6 - The Sugarloaf competes with Corcovado for the position of Rio's most famous postcard. Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar) is the name of a hill 369 meters high (about 1,100 feet). It stands around scenic Guanabara Bay, and is connected by cable car to a shorter hill named Morro da Urca with 220 meters (about 650 feet).
The cable ride takes two stages (3 minutes each), and it is definitely worthwhile. From the top you have a wonderful view of Rio, including historical downtown, and even Niterói - the city across the bay. Sugarloaf is in a neighborhood known as Urca, and can easily reached by taxi. Rio Sul and Rio Off Shopping are two malls along the way, in Botafogo.
#7 - Jardim Botânico, on Rua Jardim Botânico 1,008, is one of Rio's most interesting parks. It has one square kilometer and features over 6,200 species of plants. The tall Imperial Palms lining up the street invite you to explore the inside, with quiet lanes and peaceful niches, breathing the purest air. Jardim Botânico is part of Rio's heritage, and among the attractions are the Botanical Museum and Museum Casa dos Pilões, Brazil's earliest gunpowder factory dating back to 1808. The location couldn't be more convenient: you are around Lagoa, and only 5 minutes away from Leblon!
Parque Lage, on Rua Jardim Botânico 414, is not far. There are well-manicured gardens, lawns, small ponds and trees. The impressive mansion is headquarters to the School of Visual Arts, so don't be surprised to see a profusion of painters with their canvases. A quiet place to spend an afternoon.
#8 - Surrounded by a bicycle lane and jogging track with an extension of 7,5 kilometers (over 4,5 miles) Lagoa is a favorite leisure area in South Side Rio. The area has been recently renovated, and there are several parks for children, sports courts of all kinds, and a number of kiosks serving gourmet food and snacks. The area between Ipanema and Jardim Botânico is particularly interesting. Parque da Catacumba features a permanent exhibition of sculptures by top artists like Bruno Giorgi, Caribé, and Agostinelli.
Although the lake is not recommended for bathing, the serious effort to reduce pollution can already be felt. There are plenty of fish, and several species of birds - including the graceful egret (garça branca). Lagoa is ideal for water sports like rowing, and boating, and you may see athletes practice early in the morning. Many private country clubs are around Lagoa, including the Jockey Club (open for visitation), Piraquê, Caiçaras, Hípica, Flamengo and Paissandú, among others. They offer a combination of sports courts, swimming pools, saunas, leisure areas and restaurants, but admission is for members only. Around Lagoa there are many good restaurants and nightclubs.