There’s a traditional carnival march that goes “Cidade maravilhosa, cheia de encantos mil, cidade maravilhosa, coração do meu Brasil…”
(Wonderful city, filled with a thousand charms, wonderful city, the heart of my Brazil…).
All over Brazil people happily and proudly sing that song in February, year after year. I remember dancing to that as a child, going round and round until I was too dizzy to stand straight.
That is how Rio de Janeiro is known in Brazil, as the “Cidade Maravilhosa”, the “Wonderful City”.
It’s the Brazilian way of repeatedly honoring the beauty of this city – and forgiving its social and economic troubles.
And after having been away for many years, I wanted my friend Emily, visiting with me from Washington DC, to experience the Wonderful City.
Our visit to Rio was short and it had been raining for a whole day off and on so boy were we excited to see clouds slowly lift.
This morning the plan was to see the two most well-known attractions of the city: The Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer Statue, both of which I had never visited myself even though I had been to Rio several times before.
Cloudy mornings make me hungry. And so do sunny mornings, coming to think of it. But anyway, I was looking forward to a somewhat late breakfast in one of the dozens of little coffee shops in Copacabana.
For me, “café com leite e dois pães de queijo” (coffee with milk and two cheese buns) right out of the oven. I mean the cheese buns, of course.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
Well fed and happy, we set off on foot as it's always my preference, towards the neighborhood called Urca, the location of Sugar Loaf in Rio.
From the Copacabana Palace Hotel, a landmark in Copacabana, to Morro da Urca, it took us a leisurely hour and a half, the most pleasant part of the walk being the southern portion of Copacabana beach towards Leme.
Rio is doing a wonderful job of keeping that part of town clean and safe. Police presence is constant and visible.
“Cariocas” (people who were born in Rio or who have lived there long enough to fake the cute local accent pretty well) and visitors alike happily walk, bike, run, sun, play volleyball and soccer on the beach, and relax with a cup of coffee or a cold beer in the countless kiosks along the sand.
It's the kind of scene in which I wish time would freeze…
Then we came to the access to Sugar Loaf Mountain and it couldn't have been less organized. Emily and I stood in confusing lines, in the hot sun, for two hours before we could get our tickets.
It’s the kind of scene in which I wish time would go as fast as light… Ah, the Wonderful City was not being particularly kind to its visitors.
I noted that assistance in foreign languages was either non-existent or really difficult to find, even though Rio attracts tourists from all over the world.
Even with fluent Portuguese it was hard to figure out which line to stand in, where the long lines were going, or how long it was going to take it before we could get out of the scorching sun.
The good news is, we finally did. And as the sights unfolded in front of my eyes, I forgot all about lines and crowds.
Pause for useful information: The “Complexo Turístico Pão de Açúcar” or the Sugar Loaf Mountain Complex is open daily from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm (I would like to go back to visit after sunset sometime. It must be awesome).
Tickets are sold until 7:50 pm. Trams leave the station every 20 minutes or when they reach full capacity, about 65 people. The journey has two stops. The first stop is the Morro da Urca. The second stop is Morro do Pão de Açúcar. We enjoyed both stops. For each adult round ticked we paid R$53, approximately US$26 based on the conversion rate at the time.
Coming back out from the Sugar Loaf we were ready to continue our walk towards Flamengo, past some of the quaint old houses in Urca built right up against the solid rock walls of Sugar Loaf.
Imagine that, living with this immense block of granite right in your backyard… It’s not like a big massive chunk of it couldn’t fall off one night and come rest right on top of your cute little head…
Christ the Redeemer Statue
Now the afternoon was upon us and the idea was to see a little bit of Flamengo and then catch some kind of transportation to the Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer statue. Trouble is, and Emily is a witness to this, that did not leave us time for lunch!
Yes, that did bring some complication to the matter since we were nowhere near anything looking vaguely as a place where we could eat.
Besides, there was the weather. The statue of the Christ is high enough that if the cloud cover is too thick, the views of the Guanabara bay, the best feature of a visit to the Christ, are not available.
So, as we walked along lovely Urca streets, through the Marina da Urca and along the Flamengo beach, we kept peeking back over the city towards the Morro do Corcovado to check on the clouds.
We were approaching the Aterro do Flamengo when Emily stopped and said like she meant it, “I have to eat. Now.” I then looked to my right and realized we were standing right by the famous restaurant Porcão. What a nice coincidence. But the story doesn’t end as you expect it.
We could not eat at Porcão. First we did not have two hours to fuss over pieces of meat. Second we didn’t have the money to pay for it (or maybe that was first). So anyway, we walked for another 30 minutes along the Flamengo beach and across the Aterro to the first place we could find.
After lunch, one more peek at the Christ… and wow, there they were, clear bright blue skies. I promise you. We walked so fast to the train station, if this story were a cartoon our legs would have whipped up into spinning circles!
Pause for more useful information: Getting to the Christ Redeemer from Flamengo required combining different kinds of transportation. I worried we were not going to make it with daylight. But we did. The Christ Redeemer statue is located on the top of Morro do Corcovado, part of the Tijuca Forest Park.
To catch the train or shuttles to the top of the Corcovado, take the underground to Largo do Machado and then bus 422 or 498 and get off in front of the Sao Judas Tadeu Church. From the church, you can take the train to the statue. Adult return train ticket that includes access to the statue: R$44.00 (approximately US$22.00 then). The train fills up quickly and the wait can be long.
Another alternative is to take a shuttle, which costs about the same. This is what we did. And boy, was it worth it…
Evening fell quickly and temperatures dropped as fast. It's hard to imagine that you would need a warm jacket in Rio but July is a tricky month for temperatures and the statue rises 2,328 feet above sea level.
Emily and I both wished we had been better prepared. So do bring at least a light jacket if you are visiting at the end of the day so that you can fully enjoy the spectacular views from the feet of the Christ Redeemer.
If you are traveling solo or are going to be in Rio for the first time, I would advise picking up a Rio travel guide. The Wonderful City has its quirks and in particular it is good to have solid, up-to-date guidance on how to stay safe.
Cidade maravilhosa, cheia de encantos mil, cidade maravilhosa, coração do meu Brasil…
This post was written by Beatriz Coningham, and brought to you by My Rio Travel Guide.
Photos: Beatriz Coningham, unless otherwise noted.