We took the bus to the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) – one of the “must do's' in Rio. You start at beach level, and from there can take the Bondinho (cable cars) all the way up, or you can hike up the first mountain and then take the cable car up. The site is actually made up of two mountains: the smaller, wider one, Morro da Urca (the one you hike); and the taller, skinnier one, Pão de Açúcar (the one in all the pictures of Rio).
We did the 45 minute hike up Morro da Urca which takes you through a forrest canopy of shade, vines and trees, and the sounds of birds. You can also spot these little monkeys:
Unfortunately people feed them so they are not afraid of humans and just hang out. As it was the BEST time of year to travel to Rio, low season, there were only 4-5 groups of people other than us hiking. Of course you get beautiful glimpses of the city and beach down below.
The trail was shaded and a moderate incline with mostly steps. You have to maneuver past tree roots and vines.
When we got up to Morro da Urca, there are lots of places to relax and take in the views (reason to go up there). There are lots of nice places to sit and observe the vistas. Also, there is an area of cafes. We got to listen to some nice live music in the afternoon, and there is a bar there that has happy hour.
The best thing we got to do is have a cool snack after the hike. My favorite Rio treat of the trip. It was a place called Mil Frutas and serves fruit + ice cream by the kilo (I LOVE ice cream by the kilo, if you didn't know). You can go the healthy route and just get a fruit salad – they have all the fruits cut up and they scoop and weigh it for you. They have all these exotic fruits which we didn't know what all of them were. You can also get it topped with i.e. condensed milk, nuts and other crunchies.
Or you can go the more tasty route and get ice cream AND fruits. We opted for coco ice cream with mangos, guava and watermelon. It was R$8.80 ($4.40) which I think is a great deal. We only got one which I was sad about and got another one when we came down from Pão de Açúcar with more coco ice cream and only mangos for R$11.50 (hehe).
So we read the website and what happens is you can get a full, RT ticket up both mountains for something like R$40. Or, you can hike up and then buy a ticket at Morro da Urca for R$26 (you can't hike up to Pão de Açúcar). After admiring the views and having our snack, we went to buy our tickets. Well, the little ticket booth was useless! I will have to write a complaint. First of all, the booth is buried in this area under concrete. The lady in the booth is not helpful nor does she practice customer service. We didn't bring enough cash and wanted to use a credit card, which they technically accept. The credit card machine couldn't get a signal (since it is under concrete) – after she tried 2-3 times, she said we were out of luck. She didn't give us any options. They don't have any ATMs up there either (nor did we bring an ATM card!).
So we sat and thought about what to do. I wanted Fernando to speak to the ticket collector and see if they would let us up or down (to buy the ticket). Or, we could hike back down (sucky idea) to get the ticket, where I assume the credit card machine would have a signal. Or, go buy something at the cafes and have them give us cash (not really feasible). Fern's idea was to leave and come back another day or not at all – WHAT?
Fernando talked to the guy at the cable car station. He told us to wait and he called a person responsible that could help us. He also encouraged us to file a complaint. After waiting 15-20 mins, this young guy with some funny-ultra-hipster-like-grandpa's-glasses came and took us back to the little booth. He pulled the machine out from the booth, did a test, and then ran it again – it worked!
This sort of thing just won't do for the Olympics, Rio! Come on. Rio has all the treasures to lure visitors, but there are just these little things they need to organize and make more efficient – there are things that just don't make sense and unclear. Coming from my background, these inefficiencies make me crazy.
So we got our tickets and up we went on a 3 minute ride to Pão de Açúcar. It is a taller mountain so you can see Copacabana plus everything you can see on Morro da Urca. The downside is that there is less space up there and lots of people. Gets a bit too crowded and touristy – I can't imagine during high season! There are paths that take you down a bit, so you can find secluded area to enjoy a lunch (if you brought or can buy for a bit $$), but without the views. We don't like crowds so we took the car back after appreciating the views; back to Morro da Urca for sunset.
View of Copacabana and Ipanema from Pão de Açúcar – stunning, just stunning.
There was plenty of space and nice seating on Morro da Urca to enjoy the sunset. Just gorgeous and highly recommended. Remember to bring cash, just in case!