Why you should care

Because you can spend the day in the rainforest and be back in the concrete jungle for sunset beers.

Brazil’s longest hiking trail is 110 miles through Atlantic rainforest along the coast, stopping off at white sand beaches, waterfalls and panoramic viewpoints, where monkeys, toucans and parrots abound. Where is this tropical hiker’s paradise? It’s 100 percent within Rio de Janeiro city limits — a metropolis with more than 7 million people.

The newly inaugurated Transcarioca Trail (Rio locals are known as Cariocas) links seven Rio de Janeiro parks from the city’s eastern to western corners, forming one of the most extensive urban hiking experiences on the planet. The trail uses several of Rio’s famous pre-existing trails — like the trail up Corcovado Mountain to Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue — and connects with newly forged trails that spread far beyond the tourist zone and into the city’s outskirts.

There’s a lot to draw you to Rio, but for me, even after nearly five years here, I’ll never get over the awe of this urban center built within the kind of tropical paradise usually reserved for five-star resorts on remote islands — filled with jungle, gorgeous beaches and dramatic granite mountains that jut up from the sea. The Transcarioca allows you to explore so many corners of the world’s largest urban rainforest without leaving the city.

Rio

Hikers enjoying the view of Lagoa, the lagoon, Christ statue and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Source Ingo Roesler/Getty

With no government funding, the trail was put together throughout the course of 20-plus years by more than 1,000 local volunteer mountaineers who are head over heels for Rio’s abundant rainforest. The idea came from Pedro Menezes, who was a flight attendant assigned to the back-and-forth, 45-minute flight between Rio and São Paulo. Getting that bird’s-eye view of this tropical city so many times, he realized that the various parks and nature reserves were more or less connected, making it possible to have a continuous trail across the city. After visiting the Appalachian Trail on a trip to Atlanta, he was inspired to turn his idea into reality. “Most people spend their time waiting for the weekend or their vacation time to get out in nature and go hiking,” Menezes, 52, tells OZY. “But we Cariocas can get on a trail any afternoon and be back to go out at night.”

Those who make it farther into the western outskirts will be rewarded with a side of Rio that tourists seldom see.

The trailway is divided into 25 legs intended as day hikes (there are currently three spots for overnights along the trail, with hopes to open more), so hikers can spend the day immersed in the rainforest and be back in the concrete jungle for sunset beers. Within Rio’s central and south zones (where most visitors stay), there are more than 10 legs of the trail that are accessible by bus or taxi. In addition to trails to Rio’s most famous attractions — the Christ statue and part of Sugarloaf Mountain — urban hikers can climb the jungle ridge above Copacabana, atop the granite mountains surrounding the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, and take in panoramic views of Rio’s famous metropolis-meets-paradise skyline.

Those who make it farther into the western outskirts will be rewarded with a side of Rio that tourists seldom see — green, rural landscapes, farmhouses with roadside seafood vendors and pristine beaches on nature reserves that make you feel more like you’re on a remote island than in the middle of Brazil’s second largest city. “The proximity to nature is my favorite thing about Rio — to have a city so inserted into natural beauty like this is something really different,” says Rafael Vargas Marques, 25, who was on the trail on a recent weekend. His goal is to do all 110 miles.

On a recent sunny Sunday this “winter” in Rio (it was 80-plus degrees) — my boyfriend and I left the colorful chaos of our neighborhood, Copacabana, and headed for the farthest west leg of the Transcarioca. We started with a steep ascent, followed by a drop into Funda Beach. After climbing down boulders surrounded by thick jungle, we came out of the trees to a crescent-shaped strip of white sand. With the exception of a couple beach-goers, a fellow hiker and a dog playing in the waves, we had the place to ourselves.

In the distance, through a light layer of haze, I could make out the outline of the stacked high-rise apartment buildings along the urban beach of Barra da Tijuca and the ridgeline of the mountains of the Tijuca Forest on the Trancarioca’s other end. I took off my hiking shoes and went for a swim and floated with the cityscape to my back, looking up to the jungle-coated mountain above. It’s hard to believe it all coexists within one city.

Go there: Transcarioca Trail, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • Price: Free! This trail is designed to be self-guided. If you don’t want to brave it on your own, several local tour operators run guided hikes.
  • Directions: Get yourself to Rio. Check out the different legs of the trail and choose which ones most interest you. The trails are marked by a yellow-and-black hiking boot symbol.
  • Pro tip: Rent a car for about $20–$30/day to drive out to the farther reaches of the trail in the west zone. The last leg of the trail (Grumari x Barra de Guaratiba) passes through four pristine beaches and is well worth the trip. Park at Grumari Beach and take a moto taxi from Barra de Guaratiba back to the car.
  • Safety: There’s been a spike in robberies reported on the trail next to the Christ statue. Visitors should exercise caution on Rio’s urban hiking trails.

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