Hang gliding or Parasailing in São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Hang gliding is just one of many offbeat things you could do in Rio de Janeiro

Some people say that Rio de Janeiro is a city where you can do just about everything without ever leaving the city. Whether it is on water, land or in the air, the possibilities are almost endless

Driving down the coastline of Rio de Janeiro in the direction of Barra de Tijuca (Zona Oeste – west side), you will pass São Conrado, one of Rio’s “noble”, and more privileged neighborhoods, which is surrounded by coastal mountains, creating perfect circumstances for hang gliding.

If you’re not too distracted by the bikini’s on the beach, on a good day, you will probably see a bunch of paragliders (portuguese: parapente)  and hanggliders (portuguese: asa delta) circling around in the air..

The Pedra Bonita take-off ramp is located inside the famous Tijuca National Park, at an altitude of 520 m.

It should only be a 20 minute drive from Copacabana, but depending on the time of day, traffic tends to cause significant delays, so always leave half an hour (or even an hour) earlier than you planned initially.

There are several tour operators offering tandem flights, and some of them can arrange to pick you up at your hotel (for the right price of course).

View of Bairro São Conrado from the takeoff ramp at Pedra Bonita – Rio de Janeiro. Altitude: 520 m Are you ready to jump off?

Depending on wind conditions, flights take from 15 to 20 minutes. After the flight you land on the beach of São Conrado. The price should be around 300R$ (+/-150 Usd)

Here are a few more pictures I took when I visited the ramp (and came close to flying myself).

Preparing the wings…

A hang glider taking off…

A paraglider taking off

A hang glider seconds after taking off…

paraglider seconds after taking off… Free as a bird.

And last but not least, here’s a link to a hanggliding video of my friend, travel writer and photojournalist Mark Eveleigh when he took the plunge himself…

Rock Climbing to Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado), Rio de Janeiro

Corcovado mountain, with Christ the Redeemer on top

Rio de Janeiro is a great place for rock climbing, and one of the more difficult climbs, but also one of the most beautiful ones is Corcovado mountain (also referred to as K2), on top of which stands the most famous landmark of Rio de Janeiro: the statue of Christ the Redeemer. When a good friend of  mine invited me to do this climb, despite not being a real rock climber, I didn’t think twice and accepted…

The climb starts at 500m above the city. You can hike the whole way to the base, but we took the car to a parking place, from where we took a minivan that goes all the way up, but we got out halfway. After a 15-20min hike through some quite dense jungle, we reached the starting point of the climb and geared up.

Like I said before, I’m not a real rock climber, and this climb is considered to be the hardest one to get to the top of Corcovado mountain, so I had a few moments where I thought that I wouldn’t be able to stretch myself far enough to get any further ahead, but turning back was not really an option, so in the end I did make it, not without a little cheating I must admit :). There were stunning views of the city during the entire climb, and this is one of the things that make this such a great experience… From the top you also have one of the most spectacular views of Rio de Janeiro.

This is one thing definitely worth doing, and I’m looking forward of doing it again in the future, but first I need to get some more rock climbing training/ experience,  and oh, needless to say that you cannot be afraid of heights

Here, I had a major “damn, I’m going to have to turn back” moment. Not a lot to hold on to and a little water running down the wall, making everything very slippery.

A welcome ledge to take a breather and admire the stunning scenery

Ok, real rock climbers will say I’m cheating here, grabbing a hold of the metal bar sticking out of the rock face. I need to train more…

One of the dozens of helicopters that daily take tourists to circle the statue of Christ the Redeemer

We made it!!! and it felt really good 🙂

Up close and personal: the world-famous statue of Christ the Redeemer

The “postcard view” from the top of Corcovado: The center of Rio de Janeiro and Sugar Loaf mountain

Rocinha, biggest favela in S.America, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Favela Rocinha – Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favela has been off-limits for tourists for many years due to the violence that comes with drug trafficking, but this has changed.

In December 2010, as part of an 8 day motorcycle tour

, we spent a few days in Rio de Janeiro, staying at “Rio Hostel” in Santa Teresa, one of Rio’s most charming historic bairros. Walking around Santa Teresa, we visited places, like Lapa, the bohemian nightlife centre, and Rio Scenarium, Rio’s most beautiful nightclub (according to some), but it’s also a museum…

During our visit to Rio Scenarium, I asked our guide (Isabela from “Trustinrio“) if it would be possible to visit Rocinha, which is South America’s biggest – and at that time still “upacified”- favela

(After a cleansing operation in the “Complexo do Alemão” – another favela complex – a month earlier, it was believed that many of the 400 drug traffickers that got away, were hiding inside Rocinha.) Her answer was short and clear: “Sure, why not”, like it was just another visit to the Sugar loaf mountain…

We met up with Isabela at the Arcos da Lapa and boarded a minivan that took us on a wild ride across town to the access road of the favela. Riding a minivan across Rio de Janeiro is an experience in itself. When we were on the Avenida Atlantica, passing all the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, our driver seemed to have a lot of fun racing another van that was going in the same direction. Maybe it was just his way to make his day a little more interesting.

The other passengers didn’t seem to be worried too much, but sadly 35.000 people die in traffic accidents in Brazil every year… I have to admit that it was kind of exiting though.

Arriving at the entrance of Rocinha after a pretty wild minivan ride…

We got out of the van and the first thing we noticed, was the large number of mototaxis, gathered at the entrance of the favela. Isabela told us that we would take one of the mototaxis to get to the highest point of the favela, and then walk back down… It was a first for me, getting on the back of a small 125cc motorcycle and my driver, as I expected, wasn’t paying a lot of attention to other traffic or traffic rules. Regardless, we got to the top in one piece… well… Maryel got there about ten minutes later.

He explained that his motoboy had to go to the bathroom, so they made a detour and he had to wait outside the guy’s house while he was going to do his business. Maryel said that at the house, he saw five guys with machine guns, but they didn’t bother him…Once Maryel had arrived, we bought some water and started going back down.

To be honest, my first impression was not that we were in a potentially dangerous place. Everything seemed more or less the same as in a normal “bairro”, but during my two years in Brazil, I have seen so many TV news reports about the situation in the favelas and it is better not to let your guard down.

A sure sign of the fact that Rocinha is in the process of becoming more  “touristy” was a small souvenir stand we found at the top, and the guy who was running it did his best to speak english. He showed us the English dictionary that he kept handy for when he had to look up something. According to him, most people living in Rocinha are very aware of the fact that tourists can bring a little – financial – improvement in their lives, and are doing their best to clean up the image of the place.

One thing that is really striking, is the incredible view that the people of Rocinha have. At the highest point of the community, you overlook all of the “Zona Sul” of Rio de Janeiro: Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar, Guanabara bay… the works.

the more than privileged view from the highest point of Rocinha: The Lagoa, Corcovado, Pão de Açúcar, Guanabara Bay…

Closer up of Christ the Redeemer as seen from the highest point of Rocinha

Isabela told us to be careful and not take pictures of certain places… on our way down we saw a few guys sitting on the sidewalk with assault rifles in their laps… when we passed them they actually said a friendly “Boa tarde”, but I guess in another situation they would just as easily take our stuff, or worse…

Regardless of the fact that there are agencies offering favela tours here in Rio de Janeiro, there is still a real danger for anyone venturing alone into these places and ending up in a wrong area or not behaving according to local rules… I would advise everybody not to enter a favela all by him/herself, but to take a good, local guide.

Going down the narrow streets, it was really interesting to see how the people had constructed their houses on this hillside… sometimes it was hard to see where one house ended and another begun. I couldn’t help but think about how it would be to live in a community like this. Over the years, it seems like not only poor people are living here, since we saw a fair number of good quality houses and also doctors and dentists cabinets. No doubt this has its effect on real estate prices here.

In many ways a favela is very much like any other neighborhood, with supermarkets, bakeries, bars and schools, but of course, the majority of people here is still poor and live in very badly constructed houses, sometimes with no electricity or water. Also the health conditions of people here is way below average. In certain areas, we saw big piles of garbage, which – of course – had a horrible smell and most likely would attract rats and/or other pests…

Overlooking the west side of Rocinha. In the background: São Conrado highrises and Pedra da Gávea

In total about 400.000 people call this place home.

At a certain moment, Isabela entered a house and took us to an apartment of a person she knew. This house had a terrace looking out over the west side of the favela, and the owner welcomed us in a very friendly way. We spent some time taking in the awesome views and taking pictures, before thanking our host and walking further down.

Our guide Isabela and the owner of the house on the man’s terrace, chatting and enjoying the great view and the Brazilian summer sun…

There are many stories about the favelas in Rio, and most of them are about the drug traffickers terrorizing the population. I’m sure that most of those stories are true, but something you rarely hear in the news, is that the majority of people in favelas are honest, hard working people that only want what other people all over the world want: lead a normal life, raise a family and a decent future for their children…

As with many places I visited in the 2.5 years that I have been living in Brazil, I had the feeling that I only saw the tip of the iceberg and would need at least a couple of days to really get to know this interesting and exiting place, and I’m certainly going back when I have the chance.

UPDATE – September 2012

Since the pacification operations started,  you hardly ever hear the word “Favela” any more in the local media more and more it is being replaced by the word “comunidade” (community).

Climbing a steel cable to the top of Sugar Loaf. The Via Ferrata

Taking the cable car, you see the side of sugar loaf mountain along which you climb the Via Ferrata.

If you want to tell people you have seen Rio de Janeiro, there are a few “not to miss” attractions and one of them is the Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf).
Most people go to the summit of Sugar Loaf the normal way: by cable trolley.

There are however, alternative, more adventurous ways to get there…One of them is a walk to the top (referred to as “costão”), a three hour walk which involves a little rock climbing, but nothing too difficult. I doesn’t require prior climbing experience and can be done with normal running or hiking shoes.

Another way of getting to the top is climbing via a steel cable that runs along the steepest side of the rock, called the “Via Ferrata”. This is a little more difficult than the walk, but it is so rewarding if you get to the top and see the sunset over Rio de Janeiro.

The whole experience starts with a 20 minute uphill trail starting from the base of Sugarloaf, leading through the forest that covers most of the surrounding slopes, until you reach a ledge. From there it is a fairly steep climb to the place where the cable starts and for me, this was actually the hardest part, partially because I found out right there that I hadn’t brought my climbing shoes… I would have to go up with my Asics running shoes. Since Robson was leading the way, and he has been climbing since his teenage years, I was pretty confident that I was in good hands.

My guide Robson taking the first hurdle: a steep wall leading to the starting point of the cable. Notice the cables of the trolley in the blue sky…

Once the steep wall conquered, you just follow the steel cable upwards. The cable is rusted and you can cut your hands on little steel pins sticking out here and there, so wearing gloves is not a bad idea.

Why take the easy way if you can make it more difficult huh?

A short rest halfway… We’ll have a cold one at the top, right? Note the little mountain tip right above my hand? That is Christ the Redeemer

Getting closer to the top…

Like sardines in a can? No thanks :o)

And this is the reward: a stunning view of Rio de Janeiro in the light of the setting sun…

This was one of my first adventurous activities after moving to Brazil in January 2009. I have to thank Robson for taking me there. It was an awesome experience and I couldn’t have done it without him.