By Steve Nelson
February 15, 2011

There are many ways to see a country or a city. Rio has a whole host of different places to see and different ways to see them – cable cars, trails, wings, boards, kites, helicopters, planes, trains and automobiles. Perhaps one way not considered by many people though is to see Rio on foot, or at least a good deal of it anyway. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is a wonderful way to do this. You can also combine it with a first visit to the city and perhaps some time relaxing by the beach in Buzios or on Ilha Grande afterwards.

If a whole 26 miles/42km of running in the tropical heat of the world’s most exotic city doesn’t appeal to you, there is also the Half-Marathon and a 6km Family Run. They all take place on 17 July for the 2011 version. July is the middle of what passes for winter in Rio, and although it may still be anything up to 30˚C on a clear, sunny day, there is never the humidity of January or February, so even the hottest days are bearable. Temperatures on a cool, cloudy day can drop considerably, well below 20˚C especially if the weather comes from the south.

The temperatures won’t be a worry for the first few hours at least anyway, the gun fires at 7.30am. If you needed any extra reason to participate, perhaps being able to say that you heard gunfire in Rio but weren’t scared at all might swing it for you. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is run mostly along the coast, obviously a wise choice in a city built around mountains, and as well as having no real inclines to speak of, the other important benefit is that runners receive the Atlantic breezes just about the whole 42km.

An early start gives you chance to appreciate the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean by Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, one of the final beaches of the city before the mountains take over. The race starts backwards, heading out of Rio before turning 180˚ at the pontal, the wonderful little headland that gives the beach its name. There are regular water points even at this early stage as the first 15km cover the emptiest beach in Rio, Praia da Reserva , on your right with the Lagoa de Marapendi Reserve protecting the area from any development all along your left. There may be surfers to watch, with the Tijuca Forest and Pico de Tijuca, Rio’s highest mountains, plus the Moai-like Pedra da Gvea ahead on your left the whole way.

After arriving in Barra de Tijuca high-rise buildings and condominiums appear for the next 5km until the halfway point. This is where you leave the longest beach in Rio to enter what might be welcome shade. The two tunnels between Barra and São Conrado are about the only break from the views. The Elevado do Jo motorway gives you a scenic break from any weather between the two tunnels. This would be the only time running is recommended on this road…

After arriving on São Conrado, the hang-gliders descending from Pedra Bonita might need to be avoided, before you reach the only incline of the marathon after 25km, unfortunately placed where you may begin to hit the wall. The Avenida Neimeyer hugs the coastline between Rocinha and Vidigal, two of Rio’s most famous favelas. You may find this the safest day of all on the coast road, although this is nothing to do with the favelas. Rio bus drivers tend to treat this stretch of road as a racetrack, and plenty of them have probably hit the wall along here too. After a few twists and turns, with waves crashing on the rocks below you, the whole stretch of Leblon and Ipanema Beaches appears to energise you at 30km.

You drop down to two of the most famous roads in Rio, which will be full of all kinds of Sunday beach activities and outfits to spur you on to impress the crowds, with the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue visible occasionally between buildings. Passing Arpoador at 35km you come out at the end of Copacabana Beach, another marvellous stretch of sand, curving away from you.

At the far end of Copacabana, you enter the final tunnel to arrive in the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain at 40km, as you curve around the little inlet of Botafogo, decorated with boats. The finishing line should be in sight as you come around the final bend and into Flamengo. Glory is yours if you’ve made it as far as the Marina da Glória!

And there you have it. A 42km tour of Rio. On foot. Such great views all along that you won’t even notice the blisters. Who needs any other mode of transport when you can enjoy it all like this?

The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is open to all-comers, feel free to contact me if you want to participate as a beginner or even to compete seriously. I will see you at the start-line and hopefully at the finishing line too.

You can visit Steve’s blog at Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro
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Steve Nelson
January 22, 2011

Rio de Janeiro has many surprises hidden away but perhaps one of its most impressive secrets is either completely hidden or visible from just about every part of the city. The Parque Nacional Floresta de Tijuca is the forest covering the mountains that dominate Rio, with the city centre, the Zona Sul of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and Barra de Tijuca all sitting between the slopes of those mountains and the waters of the Atlantic or Guanabara Bay.

As an escape from the city within the city, Tijuca Forest is perfect. Access is easy whether driving yourself, being part of a tour group, or taking the metro to Saens Pena and catching a bus or minivan up the hill to Alto da Boa Vista. The climb up the winding roads through Usina, behind the Jardim Botanico or past the Itanhanga Golf Club in Barra de Tijuca, takes you into the cooler mountain air almost immediately, as the humid city air becomes clean enough for mosses to grow on damp tree trunks.

The whole area was originally cleared of trees, cut down for timber by the colonialists in order to build the developing city of Rio de Janeiro, and later to make space for coffee plantations. The idea of replanting it is reputed to have come from Dom Pedro II, with a Major Archer charged with the task in order to save Rio’s water supply. Major Archer passed on the replanting task to 6 men who had not quite been freed from slavery, and worked from 1874 to 1888 before abolition meant they were joined by others. They planted 100,000 seedlings between them. The park was later turned into a recreation area with bridges, fountains, lakes and leisure areas for turn of the century cariocas.

It is a safer place now than in previous years as Rio begins to take its tourist industry seriously, with park guards on the gates and at the bottom of the trails to the peaks. Weekends have more visitors, and are by definition safer times to be walking quiet trails. Anyone can visit for some jungle ambience, although perhaps not everyone would be able to make it to the tops of the peaks. Those in decent shape should not have much trouble though, even in wet conditions. The paths are straightforward to follow, and even have signposts (which still appear to be an unnecessary luxury item for many Brazilian trails and treks) once you have left the road at its highest point, an hour or so walk up from the park gates and the bus stop.

From urban jungle to wild jungle in half a morning. The trail splits, one to Bico do Papagaio (Parrot’s Beak) and on to Pico de Tijuca (Tijuca Peak), both of which can be ‘conquered’ in a comfortable day. Pico de Tijuca is the highest peak in Rio at 1,012m/3,340ft, so has the best panoramic views. It is also high enough to deter many people from reaching the summit, so the trails can be nice and quiet even on a weekend. An and a half after leaving the warden, you can be leaving the trees, circling the peak and climbing up the steps hewn from the rock, with a (not completely trustworthy) steel railing for support. This part needs particular care when wet as the rock can be slippery. The views sweeping down the valley to the city are worth many minutes rest, and they only improve from here up. The small peak on a clear day gives you a wonderful 360 degree vista of almost every part of Rio.

The whole city spreads out before you with the two airports on either side of the Rio-Niteroi Bridge leading across Guanabara Bay to Niteroi and the MAC Museum of Contemporary Art. You can even see the mountains around Petropolis and Teresopolis, including the Dedo de Deus, pointing its Finger of God at the sky. The views of the now-closed Maracana Stadium may be the best way to see inside it before it reopens for the 2014 World Cup. The Engenhao Stadium, which is being used for Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama matches in the meantime, can also be seen a little further down the Linha Amarela road to Barra de Tijuca. The hills open out behind Bico do Papagaio to allow you a clear view of the areas around Barra de Tijuca and Lago Marapendi, which were empty flood plains until only about 20 years ago, now filling with buildings as the city creeps outwards. The view stretches along Praia de Barra de Tijuca all the way along Rio’s longest beach to Recreio dos Bandeirantes and the mountains that shelter the best surf beaches of Prainha and Grumari as the city finally runs out of room.

Your are still close enough to make out the features on Pedra da Gavea though, with the Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) Mountains dwarfing the tall buildings of Ipanema and taking you around to Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain. The views are genuinely awe-inspiring, totally panoramic. The only thing that appears to be missing is Cristo. You can see the back of his head though, if you look carefully enough.

The best way to see him properly is to combine your trip to the Tijuca Forest with a visit to Corcovado as well. The views from the statue of Christ the Redeemer there are right on top of the city, a different aspect to those of Pico de Tijuca and at least as impressive. A clear day from the peaks of Tijuca and Corcovado should leave you with memories, photos and videos of Rio de Janeiro that you will find hard to beat on any day in any other city in the world.

You can visit Steve’s blog at Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

By Ricky Skelton
September 8, 2009

The Whales are Here! Santa Catarina whale-watching season began in July with the arrival of the first three Southern Right Whales of the 2009 season. The Instituta Baleia Franca (IBF) had a little ceremony to open observation season after two adults and one calf were spotted playing around off Praias Ibiraquera and Ribanceira, between Imbituba and Praia do Rosa. Local authorities enjoyed a little jolly for the opening ceremony at Pousada Vida Sol e Mar in Praia do Rosa, which had already been organised. The three whales timed things perfectly and saved the local dignitaries the embarrassment of opening… nothing much.

The whales continue to visit the beaches and bays of Florianopolis and the rest of Santa Catarina through until October or November time. Whale-watching as an activity can be enjoyed at many of the beaches, with a little luck. Favourite beaches on the island for the whales include Moambique & Barra da Lagoa, Armaão, Matadeiro (where they were once herded into the sand for slaughtering – hence the name of the beach) and Pntano do Sul.

From the sands and the headlands of all these beaches, it is possible to see a whale or few going through their morning… their morning what? Nobody really knows why the whales come so close to shore at this time of year. They only seem to be playing, rolling around on top of each other, flapping the water with their flukes (a technical term that only those of us who have broken our whale-watching virginity are allowed to use – ‘fins’ to the rest of you), blowing, diving, breaching (another term) and all kinds of interesting behaviour. One theory has it that they hide their calves from the orcas of the area, but if that was really the case, then why do they only appear close to the shores in the morning? Do orcas only eat breakfast? Do they have an afternoon siesta?

There are more whales up and down the coast of Santa Catarina, with by far the best place to see these huge, beautiful, curious creatures being a boat trip out from Imbituba. This port town lies around 90km south of Floripa, slightly further south than Garopaba and Praia do Rosa. There are more whales per beach than anywhere else in Brazil (don’t check that stat please, I just guessed) and they like to hang around the waters of Rosa, Ibiraquera and Ribanceira in particular. These surf and kite-surf beaches can all be a little wild for putting a boat out, so the best idea is to drive to Imbituba.

The whale-watching voyages are run by IBF and are properly organised trips, with the whole coast being an Area of Environmental Preservation.

Luis and his team of guides run them from their office at the old Imbituba train station. Before the trip, a little education video is shown to the passengers about the work of the IBF and about the whales in general. The boats head out of the port and along the coast to where the whales have been sighted by fishermen that morning. The boats don’t drive too close to the whales as it can be disturbing. With calm seas, the boats can stop though, and the whales come nosing around to see if their visitors are worth impressing. This affords wonderful photo opportunities, and is one of the only places on earth that you can possibly come within touching distance of such a large creature in the wild.

Florianopolis is the usual starting point for tours, with Praia do Rosa certainly being the best place to stay close to Imbituba. Staying overnight there is not necessary to make the boat trip, but if you want to give yourselves the best chance of being nose to nose with a Southern Right Whale, a night in Rosa is a must. This way, if the seas are too rough for the humans to brave, or the whales are playing elsewhere along the Santa Catarina coastline, you can always have another try the next day. The arrival of Brazil’s largest creatures is not guaranteed, but a memorable encounter with nature certainly is if they are around – especially if you find yourselves being interviewed for one of the Sunday night Brazilian TV Specials, as my own mother did!

You can visit Ricky’s blog at

Previous articles by Ricky:

Brazil: Tainha Time
Deported from Brazil? Part 2
Deported from Brazil? Part 1
Brazil: The President in Florianópolis
Swine Flu in South America?
The Best Club in Brazil…?
The Great Brazilian Animal-Off (Land)
Understanding Brazil: Giving Directions
Understanding Brazil: Driving
Understanding Brazil: Farra do Boi
Brazil: Catching Flu’
Around Brazil: Garopaba
Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

By Lauren Smith
August 6, 2009

Straddling the Brazilian-Argentine Border, the falls of the Iguacu River are some of the world’s most dramatic waterfalls (also known as the Iguazu Falls or Iguassu Falls). Tumbling for 2km over a 70m cliff, the Garganta del Diablo lies at its heart, a dizzying gush of water hurtling into a boiling river canyon.

Surrounded by two National Parks of subtropical forests, filled with exotic birds, plants and animals, the falls are a must-see on any backpacking tour around South America. But a trip to the falls requires some forward planning, especially if you want to explore the rest of Argentina afterwards. Here’s a handy guide to backpacking to the Iguacu Falls.

When to Go
The falls have a different appeal year-round – March to November is probably the most pleasant time to visit, as temperatures are not too high, but if you can face it, the falls are more spectacular during the rainy season from May-July. During the hot summer months, the blue skies and intense heat can make the falls even more mesmerizing.

Begin in Brazil
Although most of the falls lie on the Argentine side of the border, the views from the Brazilian side are equally impressive, and promise even better photo opportunities. For overnight accommodation, stay in Foz de Iguacu, a sprawling metropolis close to the Brazilian side of the park.

After viewing the falls from the Brazilian side, you’ll need to cross the border and take the bus to the Parque National Iguacu, in Argentina. Remember to take the appropriate visas and get stamped as you enter the country.

Exploring the Park
The extensive network of trails and catwalks on the Argentine side offer a better experience of the falls – with views from above and below, and the chance to see the Garganta del Diablo.

Exploring the park is easy – as soon as you arrive, head to the visitor center and pick up a map. Then follow the two trails past the falls – the Paseo Superior (a shorter, easier walk along the top) and the Paseo Inferior (a winding trail through the forest that ends up close with some of the smaller falls).

To see the Garganta del Diablo, take the Cataratas bus from the visitor center to Puerto Canoas, where a small viewing platform takes you within meters of these staggering falls.

On From the Falls
After exploring the park, the rest of Northern Argentina is within easy reach. The best option is to stay in a Puerto Iguacu after visiting the Argentine side – this tranquil town of tropical vegetation and quiet streets is a peaceful place to crash after a hard days hiking.

Argentina is vast, so it’s probably best to stick to the North East of the country after visiting Iguacu Falls. The easiest way to get around is by bus, and most of the long-distance buses are clean, comfortable and tickets can be bought on the spot.

The rest of the region is full of beautiful reserves and national parks, such as the freshwater lakes of the Esteros del Iber. One of the finest places to see wildlife in South America, this Nature Reserve is still relatively unspoiled.

A good route is to tour the fascinating cities along the river, finishing up in Buenos Aires. Start at Posadas, a modern bustling city, and base for visiting the ruined Jesuit missions. In the early 17th century Jesuit missionaries established Indian missions in the surrounding area, which in their heyday were colonies of utopian progress and socialism, with over 150,000 inhabitants. Today the ruins are a fascinating place to explore.

A little to the west is Corrientes, an elegant city of 19th century boulevards, famous for its colorful carnival. There are a couple of interesting art museums, a Belle poque Theatre and a Colonial Monastery that are well worth a visit.

Further south lies Santa Fe, a great city to stop off in for a day or two. Despite the relaxed city center, filled with colonial buildings, this is a buzzing student town, and by night the Recoleta district comes alive with party-hungry students.

If you have time to make the trip to Buenos Aires, be sure to stop off at Rosario along the way. A pretty port town and the home of Che Guevara, formerly derelict buildings have been converted into galleries and restaurants, and there are river beaches and islands to enjoy in the summer.

Before joining HostelBookers in 2009, Lauren Smith indulged her passion for travel, backpacking around Argentina and staying in A Gastronomic Tour of Brazil
Brazilian Football Tour

Can’t make this up