When I was planning my South America trip, I made sporting activities a priority. I didn’t realise how much I loved it even when I travelled.
Rio de Janeiro was my first destination in South America, and whilst Rio’s culture of extremes itself was an amazing experience, I had my sights set on some hiking too while I was in town.
Although there were many hiking options to choose from in Rio, in the end, I opted to hike and climb up Pedra da Gavea with a company called Nattrip. Pedra da Gavea is one of the tallest mountains in Rio da Janeiro, standing at 842m high, with undoubtably the best panoramic views over the city.
The Pedra da Gavea mountain is part of Tijuca National Park with the trails dating back to the early 1800s when the area was used as a coffee plantation. The intense deforestation was deemed detrimental to the area and the whole area has since been fully reforested with native tree species that you see today.
There were a couple of options for hiking in Rio and are worth a quick mention –
Pedra Bonita – Best for a short hike (2 hour round trip) but fairly easy for the experienced hiker. Near the top of the peak, there’s a jump off point for hand gliding in the area.
Sugar Loaf – Involves a hike and a cable car to get to the top
Pico da Tijuca – Not a steep trail and some sections even have stairs/chains
Pedra da Gavea had the best mix in my opinion. A long hike (3 hours each way), a 20m climbing section and views over both sides of Rio. There’s a mix of forest and cleared space, so the change was something to factor too.
The hike starts from the park entrance (PraÃ§a Desembargador AraÃºjo Jorge, Barra da Tijuca – ref. Bar do Oswaldo, Rua dos MotÃ©is), where park guards note down the number of hikers on the path.
Once inside, it starts with a forest trek. Right from the start, there’s plenty of wildlife and plants to see. From the foul-smelling, but amazingly tasty durian fruit to butterflies and some very cute monkeys. It’s great when a hiking tour company doesn’t oversell the wildlife in the description of the hike and your guide really cares about the wildlife. My guide, Rodrigo, was full of useful information and experience.
After only a matter of minutes, it became apparent just how humid walking in the forest was. All of us were completely wet through with the humidity. Thankfully, we had been advised to bring about 3 litres of water for the duration and suitable clothes, so we were all well prepared.
Partway through the forest, there was a fresh spring with a carefully placed water bottle. The idea is that you fill your water bottle up with the one there and place it back for the next person to pass by. The water was drinkable and yummy.
Some sections of the forest trail are steep and include iron rings for grip. Although the trek is “doable” in trainers, you should make sure your footwear has some decent grip.
After around an hour walking through the forest, you’re presented with your first view of the other hills and a preview of the summit.
Whilst there’s a real relief from finishing the super humidity of the forest, you realise that being out in the direct sun is pretty intense too, though at least you can sweat it out properly as long as you’re consuming enough water.
Near the start of the dry section, you’re presented with the 20m rock face to climb. The face can be climbed without gear if you’re confident or experienced, but be weary that coming down is much tougher than going up. In our group, one chap opted to climb without gear, I opted to climb with gear and another guy opted to wait (not climb). It was a similar breakdown with any others in the park that day. Rodrigo had all the gear necessary – harnesses, ropes etc. and up I climbed.
After another hour or so of trekking up through the dry section, we made it to the summit. There’s actually two summits to take in, with each summit viewing across a different section of the Rio coastline. Expect to spend a good 30 minutes at the top. With a flat surface, it’s perfect for a picnic stop.
And the second summit…
Getting from one summit to the other means scrambling over some rocks. Whilst scrambling over, we stumbled upon a young Ant Eater hidden amongst the rocks and undergrowth. Knowing the rarity of seeing one of these in the wild, our guide reported it to the desk at the entrance, so they can keep track of it for the future.
If you’d like to learn more about the company who ran this hike for me – visit Nattrip at – http://www.nattrip.com.br/
The combination of enthusiasm for the environment and experience of the area, in my opinion, was the best I’ve had on a guided hike. Well worth considering their other hikes for that reason too.
Tips for the hike
- Get to the park for an early start. 6 hours with food stops means starting around 9 for the best views when you’re at the top.
- Take around 3 litres of water and use the spring to top up and consider sunscreen if it’s not a cloudy – half the trek is in the direct sun
- Quick dry T-shirts and shorts are the best garments for this trek – you’ll dry off quicker both times you come out the forest. Consider a bin liner to sit on for the taxi ride back if you’re not completely dry too.
- Footwear with good grip is recommended. It can be light (I used my trail running shoes) but there’s plenty of smooth and broken rock to contest with so the grip is needed not to slip.
- Consider using a guide who’s covered by insurance for climbing and has all the equipment. I was thankful when Rodrigo had all the equipment for the rock face section, whilst others around us struggled or turned around.