Sunday 26 October 2014

The tale of the Sugar Loaf and the White Christ

The sugar loaf from Flamengo
We are lucky to have a friend in Rio de Janeiro, who let us stay with him while we were in town. He lives in the Flamengo area of the city with
an incredible view of one of the most iconic sights of Rio - the Pão de Açúcar or sugar loaf.

With the weather forecast for most of our time in Rio not looking good, we quickly realised that if we were going to see the best of the sugar loaf and also visit the Christ the Redeemer statue, we would need to get up early and try to see both on our first full day.

Flamengo from the Sugar Loaf
Visiting the Pão de Açúcar
As we can see the sugar loaf from our friend's apartment, we decide to head there first on foot. It's a pleasant 40 minute walk around the bay and past near empty sandy beaches to the bottom of the sugar loaf at Praia Vermelha.

From there, you take the first cable car up to the top of Morro de Urco - the smaller of the two mountains shown in the top photo - then you catch a second cable car
 to get to the top of the Pão de Açúcar. There have been 40 million visitors to the top since the first cable cars were installed in 1912. And it's easy to understand why. The views from the top are incredible.

Copacabana beach from the sugar loaf

At the very top, for some inexplicable reason there is a very expensive jewellers, as well as the usual food outlets and gift shop expected at one of the city's biggest tourist sites. 

There are also lots of walkways that take you around the summit and through the trees and this was where we enjoyed our visit most. There weren't too many people on the walkways and you can easily find yourself a spot away from the crowd to enjoy the views. It would have been perfect for a picnic - if we'd had the foresight to bring one with us! 

Christ the Redeemer seen from the sugar loaf
We spent a good couple of hours wandering and sitting around mostly the top of Pão de Açúcar, but also on Morro de Urca - where there is a small display of the different cable cars used over the years. 

We then headed down for some lunch (there's a reasonably priced cafe at the foot of the cable car), before making our way across town to get to the top of the other iconic mountain in Rio, Corcovado - meaning "hunchback" - where Christ the Redeemer is to be found.

Visiting Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer I had thought from the guidebook and from researching Rio on the internet that the best way to get up Corcovado was on the shuttle train up the mountain. 

However, we are quickly informed by tourist information at the bottom of the sugar loaf that getting on the train requires booking in advance. Tickets for that day were sold out. Instead, they advised us to go to Largo do Machado square in Flamengo, not far from where we are staying. On the square is a booth selling entry tickets and transport up and down the mountain via minibus. We walked from the bottom of the sugar loaf to Botafogo metro station. It's two stops from there to Largo do Machado.   

At the top of Corcovado After the relaxing walk around top of the sugar loaf, we were quite taken aback by the number of people at the top of Corcovado. It is a much smaller area than the top of the sugar loaf and there aren't really any spots to sit down and just enjoy the views. There were also a lot of people there!

Now I don't really want to admit this, but we were also a little surprised that the Christ statue itself was not quite as big or quite as impressive as we had expected. We had been in South America a little while by this point and so perhaps we were a bit Christ statued out. There are lots of other similar statues across the continent and this one didn't seem to be much bigger than the others we'd seen. This one does have a better view than the others though. However, you have to share that view with a few too many other people.

After getting frustrated by the crowds when trying to get ourselves some typical tourist snaps, we decided to make the most of the situation and entertained ourselves by photographing other tourists trying to get their perfect picture. This is one of my favourites:

Rio is a beautiful city and best seen from up high - both the sugar loaf and Corcovado offer fantastic views of Brazil's most famous metropolis. If you only have the opportunity to see one, we'd recommend the sugar loaf for a much more relaxing visit to enjoy the views across the city.  

Have you been to Rio? Did you go up Corcovado and the sugar loaf? Which was your favourite? What other recommendations do you have for Rio?

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