Tropical rainforest, towering peaks and sparkling beaches set the stage for a wide range of adventures in this outdoors-loving city. Hiking, rock climbing, hang gliding, surfing and cycling are only a few ways to spend a sun-drenched afternoon. Rio is also a great place to watch sport; nothing quite compares to seeing the mad spectacle of a football match at hallowed Maracanã.
Walking, Jogging & Cycling
Splendid views and the sounds of the ever-present ocean are just two features of the many good walking and jogging paths of the Zona Sul. Parque do Flamengo has plenty of paths stretching between city and bay. Further south, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas has a 7.2km track for cyclists, joggers and in-line skaters. At the lakeside Parque dos Patins you can rent bicycles (R$15 per hour), tricycles or quadricycles (around R$30 per hour). A popular option is to take the seaside path from Leme to Barra da Tijuca. You can also cycle along paths from Copacabana up to Parque do Flamengo. Sunday is the best day to go, as the road is closed to traffic but open to the city's many outdoor enthusiasts.
The short Pista Cláudio Coutinho, between the mountains and the sea at Praia Vermelha in Urca, is closed to bikes but open to walkers and joggers. It's open from 7am to 6pm daily.
Rio by Bike offers excellent tours that combine scenery and cultural insights, with guides pointing out key landmarks and describing events that have shaped Rio. Tours last three to four hours and travel mostly along bike lanes.
Rio has some outstanding hikes along the trails coursing through the Floresta da Tijuca. You can also go for hikes through wilderness areas around Corcovado, Morro da Urca and Pão de Açúcar.
Rio is the center of rock climbing in Brazil, with 350 documented climbs within 40 minutes of the city center. In addition to organized outings, you can also try your hand at the rock-climbing wall in Parque da Catacumba.
If you weigh less than 100kg (about 220lb) and have a spare R$500, you can do the fantastic hang glide off 510m Pedra Bonita – one of the giant granite slabs that tower above Rio – onto Pepino Beach in São Conrado. Flights last about seven to 10 minutes, and no experience is necessary. Guest riders are secured in a kind of pouch that is attached to the hang glider. The winds are quite safe here and accidents are rare.
The price includes pickup and drop-off at your hotel.
The only martial art native to the Americas, capoeira was invented by Afro-Brazilian slaves about 400 years ago. In its original form the grappling style of combat developed as a means of self-defense against slave owners. Unsurprisingly, once capoeira was discovered, it was quickly banned. However, slaves continued to hone their fighting skills out of sight, practicing secretly in the forest. Later the sport was disguised as a kind of dance, allowing it to emerge into the open. This is the form of capoeira that exists today.
Referred to as a jogo (game), a bout of capoeira is accompanied by hand clapping and the plucking of the berimbau (a long, single-stringed instrument). Initially the music was used to warn fighters of the boss's approach; today it guides the jogo's rhythm. Fast tempos dictate the players' exchange of rapid, powerful kicks and blows, while slower tempos bring the pace down to a quasi-dance. The berimbau is accompanied by the atabaque (floor drum) and the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine).
You can see musicians and spectators arranged in a roda de capoeira (capoeira circle) at the weekly Feira Nordestina in São Cristóvão. If you're in town for a while, you can also sign up for classes; Fundição Progresso in Lapa offers them three nights a week.
Surfing & Paddle Boarding
Rio has some fine options when it comes to surfing, with great breaks just outside the city. If you're not ready to leave the Zona Sul, there are a few options, including fairly consistent breaks in front of posto (post) 10 in Ipanema and posto 11 in Leblon. Copacabana gets an OK break between postos 4 and 5. You'll find better waves near the spit of land dividing Copacabana from Ipanema. On the east side, off Praia do Diabo, there are right and left breaks that can reach up to 2m high, but it's not a good spot for beginners. On the other side of the rocks is Arpoador, which is generally more consistent, with fast, hollow breaks to the left ranging from 0.5m to 3m. The big drawback here is that the place gets crowded, making maneuvering extremely difficult. To beat the crowds, go early on weekday mornings.
If you're serious about surfing, you'll want to head down to the beaches west of Rio. Just past Barra da Tijuca and Recreio is Macumba Beach; its left and right breaks draw both longboarders and beginners. After Macumba is pretty Prainha, which is widely considered the best surf spot in the area, with waves reaching 3m on good days. If it's too packed, you can continue to Grumari, where the swell isn't as good but the crowds are thinner.
You can also get out on the water on a stand-up paddle board.
Conditions, Rentals & Classes
- Surf conditions Find detailed information on all the breaks around Rio at www.wannasurf.com. If you can read Portuguese, check out www.riosurfpage.com.br.
- Rentals For boards and other gear, visit Galeria River or Spirit Surfboards. You can also rent boards on the beach and from hostels such as Mango Tree. You can hire paddle boards by the half hour from outfits located at the southern end of Copacabana Beach. You can also rent a kayak off the beach in Praia Vermelha in Urca.
- Classes Beginners can take classes through informal escolinhas (schools) off Ipanema Beach and off Barra. Rio Surf 'N Stay offers lessons (in English) and accommodation. Outfits at the southern end of Copacabana Beach offer paddle-boarding lessons.