Home to the world’s largest urban forest, Tijuca, and the Atlantic Forest reserve, Rio de Janeiro is teeming with outdoor activities for nature lovers and cosmopolitans alike.
If you’re simply overwhelmed by the offerings and looking for outdoor things to do in Rio de Janeiro, give these 8 mesmerizing nature spots a try, most of them part of the Tijuca forest.
Though rather small, Praia Vermelha – the Red Beach – sits between two massive monoliths that keep the waves calm and give the area a cozy feel.
Apart from the usual beach activities like volleyball and sunbathing, Praia Vermelha offers lovely nature adventures. You can hire sea kayaks and paddle out into the bay; to the left of the beach is a footpath that takes you on a tranquil forest walk around the base of the nearby mountain. You might get a glimpse of tiny marmosets and forest birds.
Located just a stone’s throw from the Sugarloaf cable car station, Praia Vermelha is a great place to relax before or after you make your way up to the Sugarloaf Mountain.
Where: Praça General Tibúrcio
Getting there: Bus 107 to Avenida Pasteur (stop 458)
Read more: Rio’s best guesthouses
Morro Dois Irmãos
Hike to the top of these iconic twin mountains and take in the 360º view of the city.
To reach the trail that takes you to the peak, you’ll need to make your way through the Vidigal favela. A favorite haunt of independent travelers, this favela is considered one of the safest and most picturesque in Rio.
Guided tours can be arranged or you can make the ascent independently. Take plenty of drinking water and sunblock, and allow 4 hours for the entire trek.
Where: Morro Dois Irmãos, trail entrance via Av. Presidente João Goulart
Getting there: Bus: 2338/557/556 to Avenida Niemeyer (stop 333)
Read more: Discover the riches of Rio’s favelas
Parque Nacional da Tijuca
The undisputed home of Rio’s animal kingdom, the expansive green rainforest, Parque Nacional da Tijuca – Tijuca National Park – features varied terrains and waterfalls, and is home to a wide variety of wildlife – from more than 1,600 plant species to mammals, birds and reptiles.
The park is perfect for anyone interested in hiking or nature spotting, and includes many of Rio’s most visited peaks, such as Pedra Bonita, Pedra da Gávea, Christ the Redeemer, Vista Chinesa. If you’re considering a serious trek, you should hire a guide as this forest is large enough to get lost.
A more leisurely way of taking in this adventure is to book a place on one of the many forest jeep tours.
Where: Entrance via Estrada da Cascatinha
Getting there: Bus 448/302 to Praça Afonso Vizeu (stop 4575)
Pedra da Gávea
Located in the Southern part of the Tijuca forest, Pedra da Gávea is an enormous 2460-foot monolith with the face of an ancient giant. The view from the top is grand: you’ll be able to take in pretty much every major landmark.
However, in order to get there, you’ll need to embark on one of Rio’s most challenging hiking trails. You’ll need a specialist guide, as well as plenty of time and energy. The hiking tour takes around 2 hours and also includes a bit of rock climbing, so climbing gear is necessary.
Not to worry, the tour is perfectly safe, but you’ll need to be in good shape to get all the way to the peak.
Where: Tijuca National Park, trail entrance via Estrada Sorimã
Getting there: Bus 556/557 to Avenida Vitor Konder (stop 193)
Cachoeira dos Primatas Waterfall
If you’re looking for some jungle adventures with caverns and waterfalls, the Trail of the Primates – Trilha dos Primatas – might just be the right activity for you.
The hike starts at the end of Rua Sara Vilela: pass through the car park and follow the trail through Tijuca Forest for .4 miles. You’ll have to clamber over trees and rocks, but the prize at the end is worth it: Cachoeira dos Primatas, a beautiful forest waterfall with a natural pool deep enough for paddling, swimming and generally cooling off.
It can get busy on sunny weekends, so try to visit during the week.
Where: Entrance via Rua Sara Vilela
Getting there: Bus 409/416 to Rua Pacheco Leao (stop 321)
Vista Chinesa, a Chinese style pagoda 1250 feet up in the Tijuca Forest, is a strong contender for the ultimate view of Rio; take in views of Corcovado, Sugarloaf Mountain, the neighborhood of Lagoa, Dois Irmãos mountains and the Cagarras Islands.
You can reach it easily by taxi, but if you are up for some physical activity, join the many cyclists and hikers who come here to take advantage of the arduous gradient.
Though it’s a generally safe area, it’s best to visit Vista Chinesa during the daylight hours only.
Where: Estrada da Vista Chinesa 789, trail entrance via Estrada Dona Castorina
Getting there: Bus 409 to Rua Pacheco Leao (stop 1197)
Read more: 9 unmissable sights in Rio
When they named this huge mountain “Pedra Bonita” – beautiful rock – they weren’t kidding.
Located in the Tijuca National Park, hiking to the top is considerably less challenging than nearby Pedra da Gávea. From the summit you will be treated to magnificent views of the Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, the Dois Irmãos mountains and also the “Emperor’s Head” – a face-like section of Pedra da Gávea.
Pedra Bonita is also the most popular jump-off point for tandem hang-gliding and para-gliding expeditions – an unforgettable experience for extreme sports enthusiasts.
Where: Tijuca National Park, trail entrance via Estrada das Canoas
Getting there: Bus 448 to Estrada Bigua (stop 805)
Read more: 10 traditional restaurants in Rio
After a few days of sun, sand, samba and sights, head to the extensive Botanical Gardens for some peace and tranquility.
Once inside, you will walk down the half mile long Avenue of Royal Palms, a pathway lined with 134 palm trees leading into the gardens. Seek out the fragrant orchid house and the sensory garden where you are encouraged to touch and smell the plants.
A great spot for kids, there are regular electric car rides around the grounds. Look out for toucans and small monkeys lurching in the trees.
Where: Rua Jardim Botânico 1008
Getting there: Bus 584/162/317 to Rua Jardim Botânico (stop 943)