The Tijuca is all that's left of the Atlantic rainforest that once surrounded Rio de Janeiro. This 39-sq-km tropical-jungle preserve is an exuberant green, with beautiful trees, creeks and waterfalls, mountainous terrain and high peaks. It has an excellent, well-marked trail system. Candomblistas (practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé) leave offerings by the roadside; families have picnics; and serious hikers climb the 1012m to the summit of Pico da Tijuca.
The heart of the forest is the Alto da Boa Vista area in the Floresta (Forest) da Tijuca, which has many delightful natural and human-made features. Among the highlights of this beautiful park are several waterfalls (Cascatinha de Taunay, Cascata Gabriela and Cascata Diamantina), a 19th-century chapel (Capela Mayrink) and numerous caves (Gruta Luís Fernandes, Gruta Belmiro and Gruta Paulo e Virgínia). Also in the park is a lovely picnic spot (Bom Retiro) and two restaurants – the elegant Restaurante Os Esquilos and Restaurante Barão a Floresta near the ruins of Ruínas do Archer (Major Archer's House).
The park is home to many bird and animal species, including iguanas and monkeys, which you might encounter on one of the excellent day hikes you can make here; the trails are well signed. Good, free trail maps are given out at the park entrance.
The best route by car is to take Rua Jardim Botânico two blocks past the Jardim Botânico (heading east from Gávea). Turn left on Lopes Quintas and then follow the Tijuca or Corcovado signs for two quick left turns until you reach the back of the Jardim Botânico, where you turn right. Then follow the signs for a quick ascent into the forest, past the picturesque lookout points of Vista Chinesa and Mesa do Imperador. As soon as you seem to come out of the forest, turn right onto the main road and you'll see the stone columns to the entrance of Alto da Boa Vista on your left after a couple of kilometers. You can also drive up to Alto da Boa Vista by heading out to São Conrado and turning right up the hill at the Parque Nacional da Tijuca signs. Coming from Barra da Tijuca, take Estrada da Barra da Tijuca north, which eventually turns into Rua da Boa Vista, from which there are entrances into the park.