Touring Rio de Janeiro’s national park (’cause, yeah, they have one)

by Kim on February 17, 2013 · 45 comments

As our last few days in South America came to a close, Brian and I found ourselves in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We’d never intended to go to Brazil but flights from Rio to India, where I was flying for the Rickshaw Run, were exponentially cheaper than flights from Buenos Aires, the city we’d originally planned to end our South American travels in. So we reworked our plans and off we went, crossing the boarder from Argentina into Brazil by bus near Iguazu Falls.

Kim at Iguazu Fall

Experience is the great teacher and I’m embarrassed to admit now, after visiting Rio, that I was frightened to go. I’d heard so much about crime in the city so I suppose I’d conjured up some image of a lawless, dangerous metropolis.

After a 28-hour (!) ride our bus pulled into Rio in the late hours, after nightfall, and a taxi dropped us off at our hostel.

Brian and I only had two full days in Rio so we pre-scheduled a jeep tour with Class Adventure Travel, a company that offers vacation packages and Brazil Tours. They would pick us up early the following morning.

Rio Jeep Tour

A jeep, which was hard to miss as you can see from the photo above, pulled up to our hostel at 8 a.m. and drove us through a gleaming, beautiful city of high-rise buildings and beaches crowded with sunbathers. Rio was not as I’d imagined it at all. Groups of hard-bodied beach-goers played volleyball and juggled soccer balls in the sand. Runners and bikers crowded the sidewalks.

The streets of Rio do Janeiro

We drove to Tijuca National Park, located in the heart of Rio. Tijuca National Park is the home of the largest urban forest in the world (who knew?) and covers approximately 3.5% of the Rio de Janeiro municipality. 

The park is home to the famous Cristo Redentor statue that sits perched atop Corcovado Mountain. Our jeep stopped here and Brian and I climbed the stairs to a stunning overlook. The statue was larger than life. I’d see the iconic symbol on television and in movies many times throughout my life but now I was actually here.

Corcovado Mountain

After visiting the statue we took a leisurely drive through the National Park, stopping at waterfalls and overlooks and taking short walks on the hiking trails. I’d never have guessed that Rio was so filled with green space. Waterfalls tumbled down rock faces and brightly painted colonial-style houses sat perched under palm trees like eccentric old ladies.

Tijuca National Park

I always love it when a place surprises me and Rio did just that. I was surprised by its natural spaces and its active vibe. And I fell head-over-heels in love with the beaches.

Rio’s beaches are their own living thing. They function like small, sandy cities. People hawk food and drink and all manner of stuff. You can buy almost anything on the beaches of Rio. Men and women alike strut in thong bikinis, their butts literally defying gravity. (Seriously, I could not get over this part. How can a butt simply exist like that, perked up by it’s own volition?)

Copacabana Rio Beach

It took us a few months of traveling but Brian and I finally figured out that our favorite way to get to know a new city is with a tour. There are hundreds of South America Tours operating in all of the major cities. I wish we would have jumped on the bandwagon sooner.

I’m still catching up on all that we’ve seen and done in South America. In the coming months I will sprinkle these South American stories onto the blog as I simultaneously tell our stories from India. Thanks, as always, for following us onto the next continent.