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The exciting mix between urban life and the great outdoors makes Rio de Janeiro ideal for anyone torn between a bustling city scene and natural retreats as vacation criteria. Having the world’s largest urban forest and several mighty peaks provides an abundance of activities for those looking for an adventure. Check out Culture Trip’s guide for adventure-seekers in Rio.
Rio’s beauty is evident everywhere, yet one of the best ways to fully appreciate this spectacular city is from up above. With take off at Pedra Bonita – a rocky peak with sensational views – hang gliding is a great way to take in the vast extent of the Tijuca Forest and see how the teeming city blends in with the golden crust of the coastline. There are several tour companies in Rio that do hang gliding with professional and certified hang gliders. For an additional cost, you receive photos and a video for a permanent memory of the experience.
The largest urban forest in the world, Tijuca Forest is teeming with exotic wildlife, tropical flora, and tremendous waterfalls. Visitors can follow the main road that winds through the trees before veering off along a small forest trail that leads to the Cachoeira do Horto waterfall that is small enough to bathe under and laze about in the pool in front. Other attractions include the Vista Chinesa, a Chinese-style gazebo that overlooks sweeping views of Lagoa and the Ipanema beach. There are guided tours that will take you into the depths of the forest and explore paths less trodden.
Rio is known for its great surfing spots, but did you know it’s also popular for kitesurfing? The best place in the city for kitesurfing is in Barra da Tijuca where the winds are stronger and provide ideal conditions to practice jumps and pick up speed. If you are a beginner, Arraial do Cabo has calmer places to practice, such as a beginners spot at a local lake, away from the challenges of a wide, open ocean. Here you can learn the basics safely before heading out to the sea.
For those with some experience of rock climbing, Rio de Janeiro has some fantastic spots to scale up rocky peaks and see different points of view that are rarely seen. Pedra da Gavea and Dois Irmaos are both popular among rock climbers, although some experience is required for both of these as some parts are quite tricky. If you are a newbie but keen to try, then the Sugarloaf Mountain has some easier rock climbing faces that are ideal for beginners. There are several rock climbing organizations that offer trips up to the summit and provide full equipment and insurance.
Hiking up Dois Irmaos combines two adventures in one – a trip to Vidigal, one of Rio’s safest favelas, and a trek up the Dois Irmaos peaks. This trek can be done independently, although there are plenty of tours if you prefer a professional guide. To get there, take a bus to the entrance of Vidigal and then take a motor-taxi or van to the top of the favela – it’s a steep, long hill so it’s better to get transport up. You can walk back down through the favela afterwards – where the entrance of Dois Irmaos is. From there, it’s a 40-minute hike to the top of the peak where you can enjoy breathtaking views over the coastline and the mix of city and forest.
Petrópolis is a colonial town just one hour away from Rio de Janeiro city. In addition to historical attractions, such as the Imperial Palace and the House of Santos Dumont, Petrópolis is also the home to a three-day trek through the Serra dos Órgãos National Park that ends in neighboring town Teresópolis. The hike has incredible views overlooking the spiky mountain range and the trail is peppered with waterfalls and exotic vegetation. There are two camping spots along the way where hikers can set up camp and sleep for the night.
To get up close and personal to beautiful tropical marine life, the best place to go in Rio de Janeiro is Arraial do Cabo. There are several scuba diving schools to learn, and places to rent equipment for those who are already certified divers. The crystal clear waters provide excellent visibility and in addition to colorful, exotic fish, divers may come across elegant sea turtles and delicate sea horses.