By Steve Nelson
April 15, 2015

Rio de Janeiro has many trails that take you to the peaks of mountains in and around the city. One of the more interesting of them is the hike to the top of Irmao Maior, the bigger brother of the Dois Irmaos peaks that dominate Leblon and Ipanema Beaches, the iconic twin peaks of most Ipanema photos. Nothing better illustrates the contrast between the have and have nots in the city and the country than the half day hike to the top.

The journey begins around the Av Niemeyer coastal road to the entrance of Vidigal, the boca (mouth) of a favela which sprawls over the lower slopes and can be seen twinkling away at night from Ipanema. The trail has only recently become popular again for visitors after the Police Pacification Project (UPP) set up in the favela. To be fair to the locals though, the trails around the mountain had been in use before this, as climbers opened up new routes up Irmaos Maior and Menor. From the main road, the trip to the trailhead can be done either hiking, or by a potentially exciting mototaxi ride. The steep, winding street takes you past the houses, shops, bars, churches, caged birds and colourfully graffitid walls, always accompanied by the music and commotion of day to day Vidigal.

The beginning of the trail is one of the most unpromising in Rio! Passing between houses and through a playground, you enter the vegetation that still clings to the steeper hillsides that prevent construction. Inside the forest, twenty minutes of hiking takes you around the lower shoulders of the mountain until you begin a humid climb on to the slope that takes you to the top. From a viewpoint, Sao Conrado Beach opens ahead of you, with the sprawling Rocinha Favela directly below, the largest of Rios mountainside communities and perhaps the most notorious. Both are hemmed in by the peaks of Pedra da Gavea, Pedra Bonita and also Dois Irmaos. On clear days the colours of hang-gliding and paragliding wings circling down from the mountain to the sand make a colourful contrast with the blue sky, green forest and black rock-faces.

Another 45 minutes through forest, low bush and up occasional rocks leads you up to the peak of Big Brother, at 533m almost directly above the Atlantic Ocean. The marker post at the highest point and the sloping rock a little to the front boast some of the finest views in Rio. The wealthy private condominiums overlooking Leblon are directly below, the high-rise buildings of Leblon and Ipanema spread out down the 3km extension of beach, their rooftop pools way down below you. Cristo, Sugar Loaf and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon all feature in your panorama, with the mountains behind Niteroi visible way along the coast. The sounds of Rio beach and community life drift up to you on each side of the summit. The deep blue Atlantic fills the skyline ahead as well.

Clear days on the Dois Irmaos Trail will leave you with many photos of all the different aspects of Rio life: the mountains; the rainforest; the lagoons; tunnels; adventurous activities; and of course the statue and beaches that have made Rio famous worldwide. Even if you caught the mototaxi up the hill, the walk down to Av Niemeyer is recommended to experience a little of Vidigal and Rio. You can grab an aai from one of the local shops or buy a beer in a rooftop bar with a wonderful view, all of which helps out the Vidigal community, which welcomes visitors who come to hike the surprisingly good Dois Irmaos Trail.

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Previous articles by Steve:

Great Things To Do In Brazil: Jaguar Hunting
Great Things To Do In Brazil: The Anhumas Abyss
Great Things To Do In Brazil: Snorkelling the Rivers of Bonito
Great Things To Do In Brazil: Kayaking the Costa Verde
Great Things To Do In Brazil: Swimming with Amazon River Dolphins
Great Things To Do In Brazil: Favela Tour
USA to Review Tourist Visa for Brazilian Citizens
Around Brazil: Tandem Hang-Gliding in Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: The Botanical Gardens, Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: The Rio de Janeiro Marathon
Around Brazil: Praia do Pontal, Macumba, Prainha & Grumari (Rio de Janeiro)
Around Brazil: The Rio de Janeiro Marathon
Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro
Around Brazil: Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

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