Rio de Janeiro. The sparkling city of samba, thong bikinis and sugary hangovers. If you’re heading down to Rio you’re probably going to drink your share of caipirinhas (the national drink) on the beaches of Ipanema or Leblon…but don’t get stuck in your reclining chair all day. The cidade maravilhosa (“Marvelous City”) balances its infamously debaucherous side with one of the most blessed natural settings of any city on earth, a health-conscious and active population and a wealth of natural foods to keep you going. Hiking, climbing, surfing, hang gliding and capoeira are all easily accessible; and rainforest trails throughout the city offer a healthy, adventurous side of the city that many visitors miss. So, go out dancing all night at the samba clubs, samba schools or forró clubs in the city – but refuel yourself the next day with one or all of the following.
Hiking & Climbing: Rio not only is home to the largest city park in the world (the immense Tijuca National Park), but also has many quick escapes throughout the city. Hiking up steep slopes through the lush Atlantic Rainforest (with the added threat of being robbed) makes hiking here both a beautiful and challenging experience.
Start in Jardim Botânico, where Parque Lage is home to the incredibly scenic School of Visual Arts as well as trails that lead all the way up to the peak of Corcovado (site of the famous Christ statue). Walk past the school to the back of the park, follow the trails up the hill past the ponds and you will quickly feel far removed from the city below. Monkeys, waterfalls and the pungent smell of rotting jackfruit accompany you as the slope steepens (it’s sometimes necessary to hoist yourself up by the roots of trees). When you reach the top, cool down, enjoy the 360-degree views of the city and walk down the other side to the historic colonial neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Enjoy a beer on a patio overlooking the valleys and the city below.
Another great spot is the quiet neighborhood of Urca, a tranquil village within the city. Surrounded by water on three sides, it has incredible granite cliffs (including the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain). Walk to the left of Praia Vermelha beach and follow the signs through the forest to the top of Morro da Urca for some great views of the city. Want to get in some climbing? Hit the Babilonia Wall to the right of the beach and on the 50-plus routes to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. If you don’t have gear, contact Climb in Rio Guides and they’ll lead the way and help find routes suited for your ability.
For a more strenuous all-day hike, head to the massive granite peak of Pedra da Gavea which rises out of the rainforest near the neighborhood of São Conrado. Allow yourself three to four hours to reach the top, where you’ll have spectacular views of the Tijuca rainforest and the beaches. On the way back, stop at the Sao Conrado beach, where you can easily arrange a tandem hang gliding flight with one of the instructors hanging out at the juice bars just off the beach. The spectacular 30-minute ride down from the peak of Pedra Bonita hovers over rainforest and granite cliffs before landing on the beach below.
Surfing: Rio has a lot of beach, and a lot of surf options. If you’re staying in Ipanema, there are often decent waves just down the beach in either Leblon or Arpoador. For better luck, head south to the neighborhood of Barra, where 11 miles of beach offer mostly beach break waves and plenty of open space. The most consistent surf spot in Rio is the well-preserved Prainha beach, a 45-minute drive south from Ipanema. There’s no development here, just mountains and forest-and there are consistent waves breaking left and right.
Don’t feel like lugging a board around, but want to enjoy the waves? Body surfing at the more sociable beach scene in Ipanema, with the backdrop of the city and mountains all around, can keep you entertained all day.
Capoeira: Rio offers plenty of yoga (try Blyss Yoga on Rua Visconde de Piraja near Praca Nossa Senora da Paz in Ipanema), but if you’re in Brazil, why not check out some capoeira? Capoeira is a uniquely Brazilian martial art form with African roots and is an important part of the cultural fabric of Brazil. There are many groups throughout the city, but for scenery alone I recommend Capoeira Lagoa Azul, which trains outside at the Parque dos Patins alongside the lake between Jardim Botanico and Ipanema. Classes are Monday through Friday at 7 p.m., and the group is receptive to drop-ins.
For an adventurous plunge into the social aspects of capoeira, visit the N.G.O. Corpo Movimento, which works with local kids in the Favela Cantagalo near Ipanema. The director, Sidney, will serve as your guide and your contribution to the class will help fund their programs. Be sure to get there before 6 p.m. to avoid having to climb 27 flights of stairs in the dark.
Eat, Drink: To sustain all of this activity, the best stops for quick and natural energy are the many juice bars located throughout the city where you can choose from an extensive list of incredible, delicious fruits you’ve probably never heard of. Try the unusual flavors of umbu, siriguela, acerola, fruta de conde, graviola or the more familiar mango, papaya or pineapple. For acai, I recommend the thick, generous portions at Bibi Sucos in Leblon or Jardim Botanico.
Looking for good, hearty, organic food? Try New Natural in Ipanema. They offer a huge selection of natural and organic dishes, including many veggie options-and they have a natural foods market next door for food on the go.
Ty Hammes is the founder of Boulder-based Brazilian band Sambadende as well as Joia Tours, which leads cultural adventure tours of Brazil: joiatours.com
>>Capoeira Lagoa Azul/ Lagoa Rodrigo Freitas/ Parque dos Patins: leilapassini.com/lagoaazul, Av. Borges de Medeiros
>>ONG Corpo Movimento: Contact Sidney before going: [email protected]
>>New Natural Restaurant: 173 Rua Barao da Torre, Ipanema
>>Bibi Sucos: Ataulfo de Paiva, No. 591, Leblon; Rua Jardim Botanico, No. 632
>>Climb in Rio Guides: Rua Alice 1512 A Laranjeiras climbinrio.com
>>Blyss Yoga: blyss.com.br, Rua Visconde de Pirajá 318, Sala 211, Ipanema