Hiking to Pedra Bonita – one of the top 5 viewpoints of Rio de Janeiro.

Floresta da tijuca – the biggest man made urban forest in the world.(as seen from Pedra Bonita

 

If you’re visiting Rio de Janeiro, and need a break from the bustling touristy areas, as well as some fresh air, Pedra Bonita is a place with exceptionally beautiful views of the city of Rio de Janeiro and the Tijuca forest and it only takes an easy 20-30 minute hike.

The start of the trail leading to Pedra Bonita is located right next to the parking space of the hang-gliding ramp of São Conrado, so before or after the hike a visit to the ramp is a definite bonus.

How to get to Pedra Bonita

From Zona Sul (Copacabana, Ipanema…) to the start of the trail is about 18 km (see map below) or 20 km if you take the more scenic coastal road, and depending on the day of the week and the time, it could take some time to get there… so plan accordingly.

Once you arrive at the parking of the hanggliding ramp, go back about 200m to find the entrance to the trail, which is indicated with a sign saying “Trilha da Pedra Bonita”. According to the sign, the average time to complete the trail is 25 minutes, but if you set a good pace, you can do less than that.

The hike

The trail is 1.5 km long and climbs the whole time, taking you from +/- 500 to almost 700m. It is a very easy trail, with steps where the inclination is too high, so it isn’t more difficult than climbing a staircase.

When you get to the top, you have one of the most privileged views of the city of Rio de Janeiro: The tijuca forest, Rocinha (the biggest favela in South America), The beach of São Conrado (where the hanggliders land, Christ the Redeemer, Barra da Tijuca, Pão de Açucar, Pedra da Gávea (another great hike on my bucket list)… all of it is spread out in front of you.

Of course, the best time to enjoy these views, is on a clear day, and as mentioned earlier, while you’re there, why not take advantage of the fact that the hang-gliding ramp is right there… It’s really cool to see the people take off with their gliders or delta wings. Maybe you even get tempted to try it yourself.

Oh, and the ramp also has a bathroom and a small bar where you can have something to drink…

Here’s a map, showing the route from Copacabana (Zona Sul) to the hanggliding ramp.

Map with the route from Copacabana to the hanggliding ramp

I’ll shut up now, and let you enjoy the view through some of the pictures I took there…

Brazil: 30 stunning pictures from two years of travel

I have been traveling across Brazil since January 2009 and have taken thousands of photos. Some of them better than others of course. It was a tough process, but here is the selection of my 30 most stunning pictures of Brazil.(so far)

Secluded beach and blue water near Arraial do Cabo – Rio de Janeiro

Late afternoon on a beach near Cabo Frio – Rio de Janeiro

Steep cliffs at the costa das Baleias – South Bahia – Brazil

Sunset over the Rio Parana – Mato Grosso do Sul

Overlooking the Serra dos Órgãos – Rio de Janeiro State

Fishing boats on the beach near Arraial do Cabo – Rio de Janeiro.

Pedra do Roncador – Rio de Janeiro

Lopes Mendez beach on Ilha Grande (favorite beach of Ayrton Senna)- Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro after sunset, seen from Suga Loaf

View over Rio de Janeiro (by day) from Sugarloaf mountain The first beach is Praia Vermelha… in the background to the left: Copacabana Ipanema and Leblon.

Sunset in Piçinguaba – São Paulo

Sun setting at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – Rio de Janeiro

Morning mist in the serra da Mantiqueira near Caxambu – Minas Gerais

Pedra Azul – Espirito Santo – Brazil

Deserted beach – South Bahia

Sunset over Monte Pascoal – Famous landmark – Bahia

Dirt Road in South Bahia

Dirt road in the Chapada Diamantina – Bahia

Dirt road near Pedra Azul – Minas Gerais

Diamatina city center – Minas Gerais

The rugged landscape of the Estrada Real – Minas Gerais – Brazil

Spactacular!! Iguassu falls – Parana

The biggest man made forest and second biggest urban forest in the world: Tijuca – Rio de Janeiro

Beach near Trindade- Rio de Janeiro

Morning mist near Nova Friburgo – Rio de Janeiro

Rocinha, biggest favela in South America – Rio de Janeiro

Climbing up to Christ the Redeemer -Rio de Janeiro

Ititiaia National Park – Rio de Janeiro

Serra do Rio do Rastro in Santa Catarina – South of Brazil

I hope you enjoyed these pictures… Please scroll down and leave a comment to let me know which photo you liked the most.

10 tips for independent travelers in Brazil

Here are 10 things to keep in mind when you are planning to take a road trip in Brazil.

  •  Driver’s License: If you’re going to drive in Brazil, you need an international drivers license, or a translated and authorized copy of your local license. A translation is only valid for 6 months. If your international license doesn’t have Portuguese, it has to be translated too.
  • Use a SPOT tracking device : once outside an agglomeration, you can be almost certain that cellphone coverage is unavailable..
  • Learn Portuguese: Brazilians are very friendly, open and hospitable people. Being able to speak and understand at least basic Portuguese (preferably a little more than that), will bring great enhancement to your trip. Except in the big cities (Rio, São Paulo), you will NOT find people who speak anything else than Portuguese. Oh and when asking for directions, take anything the locals tell you with some grain of salt, especially when they tell you it’s “pertinho” (close). Everything is pertinho, but in reality it’s pretty far.Things are relative in Brazil, distance and time in the first place.
  • Be friendly and humble when you meet local (usually poor and simple) people. They will respect you for it.
  • Avoid the bigger roads. They are loaded with trucks. BIG ONES, up to 30m and 60 tons. These things are fast, loaded to the maximum (probably over capacity in some cases), loaded badly, causing them to tip over to one side and a lot of them drive dangerously. They will overtake at high speeds with poor or no visibility on oncoming traffic or block the entire road on ascents when they are supposed to keep to the right side…. As a general rule, it’s best not to assume that anyone (except you of course) is going to follow the rules.

    Avoiding the bigger roads…

  • DON’T drive after dark. It is dangerous because of the stuff you can encounter on the road. Farm animals, cars or trucks with no lights or no brakes. Driving at night will also make you miss out on a lot of great scenery…
  • Make sure you have enough cash with you. In some more remote places you cannot pay with cards. Also try not to carry big notes, because it could be a problem to change (troco). You don’t want to be forced to buy something you don’t want just because the shopkeeper doesn’t have change to a 100 R$ bill. Twenties and tens are best.
  • Carry different credit cards. Sometimes they accept only one kind (like VISA or MASTER). Also sometimes international cards are  not accepted.
  •  Start watching out for a gas station once your tank is below half, and preferably choose one of the big brands (BR, SHELL, TEXACO, ESSO…) . You never know when you’re going to find the next one. Once, I was forced to buy gasoline from a local, who had stored it in 2L plastic bottles in his garage. He charged me twice the normal price.
  • Hitchhikers : The safest thing to do is to NOT pick them up. Especially in poorer areas, LOTS of people are trying to get a free ride. I myself – trusting my gut feeling – picked up hitchhikers on 4 occasions. A little old man on a jungle road, An elderly woman on her way to her family, a worker on his way home, and another elderly lady with a little boy. All  these people were really nice and gave me good advice about the places that I was planning to go to. If you trust your gut feeling, go for it, if you don’t, better not pick up anybody.

Hope this was useful – All comments welcome.

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How I almost got shot in Rio de Janeiro

Santa Teresa – Rio de Janeiro

Obtaining a CPF number brought me to Bangu, one of the “hot”  neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro.

The CPF is like the SS number in the USand serves as a form of identification in Brazil. You will need it to get a cell phone number, rent a house, open a bank account or buy furniture, a car, motorcycle or other non edible stuff…

So what is that stuff about almost getting shot? Ok, here goes…

My consultant in Rio de Janeiro (Robson) knew a person of the Receita federal in Bangu, one of the neighborhoods in the western area of Rio de Janeiro. We would go there and do the application again, and this time, the procedure would go correctly.

View over Favela Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro

It was a 50 km drive from Copacabana to Bangu and we decided to take my car.

Since neither of us had been to Bangu before, I was using my GPS to guide us. you might have heard stories about people (tourists) getting in a heap of trouble after their GPS guided them in a very wrong part of Rio de Janeiro, and we were about to find out first hand things can go from bad to worse in a hurry…

Getting closer to Bangu, I noticed that Robson was getting a little nervous. He grew up in Rio, and even lived part of his life in a favela, and had already told me a few scary stories. When we entered a clearly poor part of Bangu, he got even more tense.

At one point – according to my GPS – we had to cross the street and enter in the street on the other side, so I checked my left and right for traffic and crossed. The second we entered the other street, Robson shouted: “STOP THE CAR! STOP, NOW!”

I stopped the car and looked at Robson, not knowing what was the problem and then he said: “THERE, THAT GUY OVER THERE” pointing at a guy sitting on a porch some 50m away. It was the type of guy you see in movies like “Cidade do Deus” or “Tropa de Elite”… a tall skinny black guy, dressed only in Bermuda and chinelo’s (beach slippers) and a baseball cap backwards on his head. Robson continued: “OMG, HE HAS A GUN. DON’T MOVE THE CAR, DON’T DO ANYTHING…

Ok, at that point I knew something pretty bad was happening. Looking through the windshield, I saw the guy getting up on his feet, holding a gun in his right hand. He started to walk in our direction, pointing the gun at us, meanwhile shouting like a madman. Robson was still saying to not move or he’ll kill us, but the only thing I wanted was OUT OF THERE. I put the car in reverse and took off.

Driving backwards, I had to pay attention not to run anybody over because the street was full of people. I managed to pull out of the street in reverse and take off in another direction. Knowing that the guy couldn’t follow us on foot, but thinking he could call other people, we kept going until we were out of reach…

The whole thing only took a few seconds, but during our escape I heard 6 or 7 shots. None of the shots hit the car – or us.

We will never know what would have happened if we would have stayed put, but it seems to me that this guy’s policy was: “shoot first and ask questions later”.

The important thing was that we got out in one piece and hopefully nobody else got hurt in the process.

Christ the Redeemer – seen from Rocinha – Rio de Janeiro

I am convinced that 99% of the people living in a favela are good, honest and hardworking people who happen to end up there because they are poor, undereducated and have nowhere else to go, but on the other hand, there is this tiny minority of ruthless gangsters, each reigning over their own little favela kingdom with an iron fist and an arsenal of weapons large enough to make any army general jealous.We were able to reach the receita federal office, where we had to wait in line for a while, which gave us some time to recover from the emotions, but this was a huge lesson in reality.

Yes, Brasil é Sensacional, but like any other country, it has its problems and some of them will need a lot more than Olympic games and a world cup to get resolved…

The process on how to get a CPF in Brazil is explained in more detail on this website.

UPDATE 17/10/2011

Today I saw on the news that a man got killed in Rio after taking a wrong exit and accidentally ending up in a favela. The only difference with my situation was that in my case there was only one guy with a pistol, while this man was surrounded by several criminals, armed with machine guns. I realize more and more how lucky I was that day in Bangu.

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).