8 days exploring Rio de Janeiro and surrounding states

after crossing the serra do mar, we have our first view of the bay of Angra dos Reis, with over 300 islands.

Riding a motorcycle through the gorgeous landscapes of Rio de Janeiro state is a great way to get a first taste of Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil’s smaller states, but has a lot to offer: There are five different serras, national parks, Atlantic rainforest, a marvelous coastline, charming small rural villages, and several historically important cities. Add to all this the diverse cultural and gastronomical riches and the charming and hospitable nature of the Brazilian people and you end up having an experience that will make you fall in love with Brazil and its people…

 Anyone looking for fun, sun, good rides, interesting culture, great food and a lot of mountain and coastal scenery will definitely find this an unforgettable adventure.

Day 1: Costa Verde

Leaving Volta Redonda, it takes only 15 minutes to find yourself riding through twisting back roads surrounded by nature. To get to the coast we take the Serra do Piloto, crossing the Serra do Mar, a 1500km mountain range stretching from Espirito Santo all the way down to Santa Catarina in the south of Brazil.

after crossing the serra do mar, we have our first view of the bay of Angra dos Reis, with over 300 islands.

Hitting the coast in Mangaratiba, a port/ fisherman’s village from where you can take boat trips to Ilha Grande, one of the more than 300 Islands in the Bay of Angra dos Reis, we continue our journey following the BR101 to the west. This road follows the coast and is considered one of the most scenic coastal roads of Brazil.

Our first stop of the day is Paraty, the colonial port town, from where in the 18th century gold and diamonds were shipped to Rio de Janeiro and from there to Portugal. Many of these gold transports were attacked by pirates, who had found a great hiding place on the aforementioned Ilha Grande. Due to it’s preserved colonial and imperial architecture, Paraty became a world heritage site in 2004.

After a brief visit to Paraty, we continue on the BR101 and stop to have lunch in Trindade, a small, laid back village with paradise-like beaches about 30 minutes from Paraty. After a tasty meal we start the last stretch to Itamambuca beach near Ubatuba.

The cobblestone streets of downtown Paraty, virtually unchanged since the 17th century. In 2004 this little colonial town became a world heritage site.

Day 2: Serra da Mantiqueira and Circuito das Aguas.

Having breakfast at pousada Todas as Luas, surrounded by the Atlantic rainforest and with colorful birds all around is a great way to start a new day…

Our goal for today is the city of Caxambu, and after a delicious breakfast at pousada Todas as Luas, we take off in the direction of Ubatuba and from there, head north and into the Serra do Mar once again. The road leading up into the mountains from Ubatuba is top quality asphalt with a few very tight hairpins. From up in the serra you have a great view of the Costa Verde.

After a twisty ride up the Serra do mar, you have a great view of Ubatuba and the Atlantic ocean

Next, it’s on to Campos Do Jordão. Brazil’s highest located city (1630m) and also referred to as “Brazilian Switzerland”. The city’s architecture is mainly Swiss, German or Italian inspired. We visit the local Artisan brewery (Baden Baden) , which brews 7 different beers, based on old German recipes. We are also offered a taste sample of the different beers, but we have to pass on that, because we still have a long way to go and Brazil has a Zero Tolerance policy towards alcohol and driving.

The entrance to Campos do Jordão, also known as Brazilian switzerland. Founded by Swiss settlers and with its elevation of 1640 m, the highest city in Brazil.

After leaving Campos do Jordão, we headed further north, taking the first real dirt road of the trip, a +/- 30km stretch to Piranguçu.

The first part of the road leads through the Environmental protection area of the Serra da Mantiqueira and offers some great views of the surrounding mountains. The rest of the way to Caxambu is all twisting back roads of good quality asphalt, but unfortunately for us, it started raining during our descent from Campos do Jordão and by the time we reached Caxambu we were drenched to the bone.

The bad weather prevented us to to see a lot of the town, which is famous for its twelve mineral water sources, each with its unique medicinal qualities.

We checked into a pousada in the center of Baependi, some five kilometers from Caxambu. and spent most of the evening trying to get our clothes dry for the next day.

Day 3: Montanhas Mágicas and Vale do Café

Overcast and drizzly during our trip through the “Montanhas Mágicas”

Today our trip will take us through an area known as the “região das montanhas mágicas” or the “region of the magic mountains”, to get to our destination. This area is known for its many waterfalls, native forest, hiking trails, colorful birds and other wildlife(Locals told us that there are even onças – leopards – roaming this area) which offers lots of possibilities for the practice of eco-tourism and all kinds of outdoor sports. Hiking, rafting, mountain biking, rappelling… it’s all possible here.

We leave Baependi around 8 Am in a light drizzle. Our clothes are still damp from yesterday’s downpour, but that is part of motorcycling. We know that when the sun comes out, we will be dry in no time…

On our way to Fazenda Santa Clara… Still drizzling

Heading south, we pass through the small villages of Liberdade and Bocaina de Minas. From there further on to Passa Vinte and Santa Rita de Jacutinga, where we stop for lunch. By then we are already starting to look pretty muddy, but the ride so far was great.This area has very few asphalt roads, so for most of the day we take to the dirt roads. The constant drizzle makes the roads slippery, but not to the point that we cannot ride them.

After lunch, we move on, and some 25 km from Santa Rita de Jacutinga, we visit Fazenda Santa Clara, a beautiful 18th century farm that made quite a name for itself by reproducing slaves instead of coffee or sugar-cane. Halfway the 18th century it became illegal to import African slaves, so farms like these kept the slave market alive.

Today you can visit the fazenda and see the place where the slaves used to be kept and the “tools” they used to keep them obedient. The main house is quite impressive, and, besides a huge kitchen and a chapel, it has 52 rooms and 12 salons. The fazenda and its beautiful surroundings were also used as a stage for a number of famous Brazilian novelas (Soap series)

18th century Fazenda Santa Clara – instead of coffee or livestock, this place produced slaves.

Next, we pass through the Serra da Beleza, an area that attracts many UFO spottersfrom all over the world and make our way to Conservatória, a very musical place, as the name suggests, also known as “a capital mundial da seresta” or “world capital of serenades”. Every Friday evening, guitar players roam the streets, playing their serenades and filling the air with melancholic music and songs of love and broken hearts.

the road to Santa Rita de Jacutinga was very muddy, and on our way to Fazenda Santa Clara there was more mud… It’s all part of the great thing that is motorcycling

As a result of the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, coffee production collapsed and many of the former coffee farms (fazendas) became cattle farms or were converted into museums or guesthouses (pousadas).We leave the magic mountains and the Serra da Beleza behind us and continue on our way to Miguel Pereira, located in the region called “Vale do Café”. This is the valley of the Paraiba do Sul River. In the 19th century, 75% of the world’s coffee consumption was produced in this region.

Day 4: Serra dos Órgãos

Leaving Miguel Pereira, and the Vale do Café, we start climbing again. Today we will cross the Serra dos Órgaos, located some 50km north of Rio de Janeiro.

Petrópolis, the imperial city of Brazil: In Brazil’s Imperial period (1822 – 1889), Pedro I, Brazil’s first emperor fell in love with this area after visiting it and decided he would have a palace built to spend the hot summer months. With the help of a small army of German immigrants, he started building what is now the Imperial city of Petrópolis. His plans were continued by his son Pedro II.

A number of famous people used to live in Petrópolis, one of which is inventor Alberto Santos Dumont, the “father of aviation”. His house, besides the cathedral and the beautiful Imperial Museum, is one of the touristic attractions of Petrópolis.

The cathedral in Petrópolis – Last resting place of Dom Pedro II (the last emperor of Brazil) and his family

From Teresópolis, it is about 60 km more to Nova Friburgo, another city founded by Swiss settlers and today the “capital of lingerie” of Brazil.The city was struck severely by a flash flood an mudslides in January 2011, one month after we visited it.After doing a small city tour in Petrópolis, we take the twisty road through the National park of the Serra dos Órgãos and move on to Teresópolis, the sister city of Petrópolis, named after the empress Teresa Cristina, wife of Dom Pedro II. Teresópolis is famous and loved amongst rock climbers.One of the most famous rock formations of the Serra dos Orgãos is the “Dedo de Deus” or “finger of God”, which on clear days can be seen from Rio de Janeiro.

The flood was caused by one month’s worth of rain in 24 hours,  and came down upon the city and surrounding area’s during the night, destroying hundreds of houses, killing over 800 people, and leaving thousands homeless.  The cities of Petrópolis and Teresópolis suffered considerable damages and losses of lives too, but the area around Nova Friburgo was hit the worst. (read also: Região Serrana,- one year after the deluge).

By now, the city seems to have recovered a bit, but there are still thousands  of people living in tent camps, and traces of the land slides are still visible in the mountain slopes around the city, as a reminder of the biggest disaster of this kind in the history of Brazil.

Our final destination, Lumiar is a district of Nova Friburgo and a place of exceptional natural beauty, especially attractive for people who love Eco-tourism.

Enjoying the view in the National Park of the Serra dos Órgãos, on the way to Teresópolis.

View of the city of Nova Friburgo, founded by Swiss immigrants on the run for Napoleon Bonaparte. Notice the European inspired architecture.

Day 5: Costa do Sol and Búzios

The area around Lumiar early in the morning. If only a picture could show smells and sounds

Today we leave the mountains and head back to the coast, taking the BR142 (also referred to as “Serra-Mar” or connection between the mountains and the ocean…), which starts in Nova Friburgo and is one of the best 60 km of twisting roads I have seen so far during my trips through Brazil.

The BR142 connects to the BR101 in Casimiro de Abreu, which we exit again after about 15 km to take the road to Rio das Ostras.

In Rio das Ostras we start following the coastal road, heading for Búzios, probably the most famous vacation destination of the state of Rio de Janeiro. As so many (rich) foreigners decided to make Búzios their new home, this fabulous peninsula is also known as “Gringo Paradise”. Unfortunately because of the many “gringo’s”, Búzios is significantly more expensive than the average beach location and not really suited for travelers on a budget (like myself).

Riding through one of the small coastal communities on the way to Búzios

The small village soon became the “place to be” for many European Jet Setters, and until today, Búzios still has some the flair one can also find on the French Riviera…Búzios actually used to be a pretty insignificant fisherman’s village, until world-famous French movie star Brigitte Bardot discovered the place in the sixties.

One of the major attractions on the peninsula, apart from it’s numerous fabulous beaches, is the bronze statue of Brigitte Bardot on the principal beachfront boulevard…

Here are a few more pictures we took during our tour of Búzios:

Praia da Ferradurinha in the distance

Praia do Forno

The statue of Brigitte Bardot, who discovered this paradise peninsula, looking out over the bay..

We get back on the road and head for Arraial do Cabo, our place for the night. Arraial do Cabo is famous for being one of the best scuba diving spots in Brazil, or even in the world, thanks to the abundance of marine life in the relatively cold ocean water, which in turn is a result of the natural phenomenon called “resurgence“. Cold, nutrient rich water coming from the South rises to the surface and attracts a wide variety of marine life.

Day 6: Região dos Lagos and Rio de Janeiro

Riding through the dunes near Arraial do Cabo… Great fun!!

We keep riding as close to the ocean as possible, taking the RJ102, passing the 25 km long Araruama lagoon, eventually having to go north and connect to the BR106, which will take us to Rio de Janeiro, but not before crossing another Serra: the “Serra do Mato Grosso“, yet another region that attracts many eco-tourists and outdoor sports enthusiasts.Today, we travel through the “Região dos Lagos” heading for probably the most famous city in Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, “a Cidade Maravilhosa”:  To get there from Arraial do Cabo, we first take a dirt road through the dunes, which is a totally different experience from all the other dirt roads so far. Here the terrain is sandy and soft, with few obstacles, and so pretty easy and a lot of fun to ride.

Stop for an Açaí: full of vitamins and energy and very tasty

To get to Rio de Janeiro from Niterói, we cross the “Ponte Rio – Niterói” a 16km long bridge over Guanabara Bay and arrive in Rio’s port area, which is currently receiving lots of attention and investments from the city, to make it more attractive for people to live, after decades of neglect.As expected, the closer we got to Rio de Janeiro, the more traffic, and the more attention to the road is needed. Before reaching Rio de Janeiro, we pass through Niterói, located on the east side of the Guanabara Bay. Niterói is the third most visited city in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It was once the State capital, but had to leave that title to Petrópolis in 1903 and later to Rio de Janeiro.

We make our way to the famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, and pass a number of important places like Praça XIX, Cidade do Samba, Morro da Providência (Rio’s oldest favela)… After cruising along the beaches, it’s time to look up our hotel for the night and freshen up for a walk around Lapa, Rio’s most famous nightlife quarter… after all it’s Saturday night…

Crossing the 16 km long Bridge over Guanabara Bay to get to Rio de Janeiro.

Finally… The beaches of Rio de Janeiro… here’s Ipanema. Further in the background: Copacabana.

The famous Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açucar) towering over Copacabana’s beach front hotels…

Day 7 : Exploring Rio de Janeiro

Today we set out to get to know Rio de Janeiro a little better. There are lots of possibilities: Take a tour of the historic center, visit Sugar loaf, Christ the redeemer, Maracana Stadium, hang out on the beach or visit Rocinha, the biggest favela in south America…

We toured arond the city and took lots of pictures. I know that pictures say a lot more than words, so I’m just going to shut up now and let you enjoy the views…

The view from our hostel in Santa Teresa, one of the neighborhoods near the historic and cultural centre of Lapa…

Fundição Progresso: a former factory of kitchen stoves and bank vaults… currently a concert and events hall.

The famous former aquaduct “Arcos da Lapa”. Built in the 18th century to bring the water of the Rio Carioca to the center of Rio de Janeiro. Today there’s a trolley riding on top of the arcs…

Rio Graffiti…

Cathedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião – Rio’s modern cathedral.

The sambódromo, where every year the Carnival defilés take place…

On the way to the top of Sugar Loaf

Rio de Janeiro as seen from the top of Sugar Loaf

Capoeira in the city…

View from Rocinha: Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and on the mountain top just left from the middle: Christ the Redeemer.

Hope you enjoyed this… we sure did.

After this fantastic day of sightseeing, it was time to return to our hostel for a last night in Rio… Get some sleep for the last riding day back to Volta Redonda…

Day 8 : Back home to Volta Redonda …

We leave Rio de Janeiro after a relaxed breakfast around 10am. The plan is, to stay as close to the coast as possible to enjoy the ocean views as long as possible… Before leaving the city we visit a last attraction: the hanggliding ramp in São Conrado. From there you have another wonderful view of the west side of Rio de Janeiro.

São Conrado, one of the “richer” neighborhoods of Rio de janeiro, as seen from the Hanggliding ramp…

From the hanggliding ramp, a 30 minute walk through the forest takes you to the top of Pedra Bonita, from where you have this fabulous view of the Tijuca forest, the biggest man planted urban forest in the world.

A last view of the Atlantic Ocean before heading inland

THE END

Thanks for sticking with me and reading it all the way. I hope that I succeeded in giving you an idea of what Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil for that matter, have to offer someone who wants to explore the country on a motorcycle… If you are interested in doing this tour with us, check out the details and book your own motorcycle adventure on our website.