Hiking the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Thick traffic and having to watch my back had made me wary of Rio de Janeiro. But after a leisurely walk up the Sugar Loaf I took in the view and suddenly understood the spell that visitors as well as Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro’s residents) fall under.

And I wondered, what’s there not to fall in love with Rio de Janeiro?

From the Sugar Loaf Mountain I looked over the enchanting Guanabara Bay of tropical blue waters filled with sailing yachts and lined with beaches. Framing it was the dramatic backdrop of the forest-clad mountains of Tijuca National Park, topped by Brazil’s famous Cristo Redentor.

I could now clearly see why the city’s earliest colonizers chose this spot to settle down.

View of Bay in Rio de Janeiro (©photocoen)
Sugar Loaf Mountain seen from Cristo Redentor (©photocoen)

Rio de Janeiro – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

It’s not without reason that Rio de Janeiro is loved by many. The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its landscapes.

“The site consists of an exceptional urban setting encompassing the key natural elements that have shaped and inspired the development of the city: from the highest points of the Tijuca National Park’s mountains down to the sea.

They also include the Botanical Gardens, established in 1808, Corcovado Mountain with its celebrated statue of Christ, and the hills around Guanabara Bay, including the extensive designed landscapes along Copacabana Bay which have contributed to the outdoor living culture of this spectacular city.”

~UNESCO

I was staying with Ruama, one of the many Cariocas who had lived abroad but who hád to return to her place of birth because “There simply is no other home than Rio de Janeiro!” I met many Cariocas and all were more than happy to share their city with foreigners.

“You háve to see the Maracanã Stadium!”

“You can’t leave the city without having visited the Christ statue!”

“You haven’t seen Ipanema beach?”

View of Cristo Redentor from Sugar Loaf Mountain (©photocoen)

Hiking the Sugar Loaf Mountain, or not?

One day I met Christina.

“You haven’t been to Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf) yet?! How can that be?! Okay, let’s go. Today.”

She lives in Copacabana and after a long, leisurely stroll along Copacabana beach we arrived at the picturesque turquoise water cove of Praia Vermelha, where the trail zigzags up the Sugar Loaf.

We took our time to follow the trail that meandered through a beautiful forest to the first viewpoint at 220 meters. Because there is so much shade, this trail was very doable during the hot afternoon we had chosen for it.

The trail is home to chipmunks, a lot of birds (apparently there are 70 species of them) and cute little monkeys called marmosets. It is incredible how quickly you can escape Rio de Janeiro’s smog-filled streets (unless you’re stuck in a traffic jam) to visit a park and inhale pure air.

Urca Hill or Sugar Loaf?

The trail stopped at a platform and from there I took in the view of those fantastic landscapes. After the tranquil trail I was now surrounded by clicking cameras and kids running around. Here the first cable car ended and it was clear that was the common way to go up.

There was a second cable car going up still further. I turned around to follow the cable. “Can you go all the way up to that granite top?” I asked.

“In fact, that is the ‘real’ Sugar Loaf,” Christina told me. “We are now on the section called Urca Hill.”

“Oh, so we’re not on the Sugar Loaf but Urca Hill?” I now was confused. To me it seemed everybody refers to the island as Sugar Loaf (lit: Pão de Açucar).


Don’t Forget to Bring

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Comfy Hiking Shoes

Walking sticks

Camera


Cable Car going up Sugar Loaf Mountain (©photocoen)

Hiking Sugar Loaf or Hiking Urca Hill?

I had been intrigued by the name of Sugar Loaf, as the island doesn’t look anything like what I know in the Netherlands to be a ‘sugarloaf’ (sweet bread with cinnamon and chunks of sugar). From Christina I learned that the name is not related to the elongated part of the island, which in fact is Urca Hill, but to the cone-shaped rock at the far end of it.

That landscape resembles the traditional conical form in which refined sugar was produced and sold until the production of granulated and cube sugars took over.

To the Top by Cable Car or Another Hike?

It was time to take that cable car. However, the place – and the cable car – was packed. I didn’t know so many people could cram themselves into one place. It was claustrophobic and that was enough reason to leave it for what it was. I had seen the granite rock from quite up close, seen the views and was ready to go down.

By the way, only later I learned you can climb that granite rock by following a side trail going up Urca Hill. There are guides who provide climbing equipment as well. To me that sounds like a great alternative to a crowded cable car.

Oh well, who knows, one day I’ll be back…

Platform Urca Hill, Rio de Janeiro (©photocoen)
Helicopter in Rio de Janeiro (©photocoen)

Practical Information on Hiking the Sugar Loaf

  • The Sugarloaf trail is open every day but closes at 6 pm. The cable car goes down until in the evening (free of charge after 6 pm).
  • You can buy drinking water at the entrance of the trail and there is a restaurant on the platform.
  • When in Rio de Janeiro, don’t forget to watch a soccer match in the famous Maracaña Stadium!

Originally published in 2016 / Updated in 2019

Ways to Visit Rio de Janeiro (and Feeling Safe)

It took time for us to feel at ease in Rio de Janeiro. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to have gone with a guide. To let the guide worry about how to get where, safely, and meanwhile hear lots of stories about the city and culture. If a guided tour sounds like the way for you to visit Rio de Janeiro, check here what tours are on offer and see if they fit your needs.

Click on the links below to learn more.

Additional Reading about Rio de Janeiro & São Paulo


Travel Guides for Brazil

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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on Landcruisingadventure.com or on Instagram.

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