Pão de Açúcar
Rio’s equivalent of Paris’s Eiffel Tower and New York’s Statue of Liberty is the monumental chunk of granite known as Pão de Açúcar, which guards the entrance to the Baía de Guanabara. No matter how many times you contemplate this rugged natural sculpture, the sensation is one that will definitely take your breath away.
Rio’s original inhabitants, the Tupi, referred to it as pau-nh-acugua (high, pointed mountain), which is something of an understatement. When the Portuguese arrived on the scene, both the Tupi term and the mountain itself reminded them of a pão de açúcar (sugar loaf): a conical mound of sugar made by pouring liquid cane juice into a rounded mold that was then left to harden.
The name stuck and today Pão de Açúcar is one of Rio’s most recognized icons.
As can be imagined, the panoramic views of Rio and the Baía da Guanabara glimpsed from the top of Pão de Açúcar are quite stupendous. You can reach the summit by taking a glass-sided cable car up the mountain—an unforgettably scenic journey with two stops. The first is at Morro da Urca, a 210-meter (690-foot) mountain where there is a restaurant and some small shops. The second stop is at the actual 396-meter (1,300-foot) summit of Pão de Açúcar. From here trails lead through the lush forest with its tiny mico monkeys and rare wild orchids.
Cable cars depart every 30 minutes from Praia Vermelha (Av. Pasteur 520, Urca, tel. 21/2461-2700, www.bondinho.com.br, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, R$35). To avoid long lines, steer clear of weekends, holidays, and peak hours (10 a.m.–3 p.m.), and make sure the day is a clear one.
If you’re in a romantic frame of mind—or would like to be put in one—make the trip in the late afternoon. The sunset and twilight, with the lights of Rio glittering in the dusk against the mountain silhouettes, are truly bewitching.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition