Our intrepid Client Information Manager, Claire Milner describes her experiences of Tijuca Forest, Brazil. She explains just why the forest deserves its latest accolade as Lonely Planet’s number one urban park in the world.
It came as no great surprise to me that Tijuca Forest in Rio de Janeiro has been nominated number one urban park in the world by Lonely Planet.
I first visited the park in 1982, fresh from an adventure hitch-hiking on contraband trucks through the swamps of the Paraguayan chaco – so, to be honest, I thought it was a bit tame. But my many explorations of the trails since then have certainly changed my mind.
While the park is well-signed, easy underfoot and popular at weekends with cariocas, there is a real feeling of untouched nature: the steamy tropical vegetation thrives without restraint. In fact, the rugged, mountainous area was cleared for coffee plantations so the original vegetation was lost but it has been replanted with exuberant mata atlântica woodland, of which many species are bordering on extinction.
The renewed forest was declared a national park in 1961. Closely packed deep green foliage heavy with fruit and battalions of bright flowers clings to steep, shady slopes, drinking from a spidery network of sparkly streams and waterfalls. Most famously, it cloaks the Corcovado mountain, on top of which stands the Christ the Redeemer statue. Visitors to this iconic sight pass through the park, but only get a tantalising glimpse of its luxuriance from the café at waterfall at Cascatinha or from the Vista Chinesa (a rather incongruous pagoda-like structure with amazing city views).
For the more adventurous however, it’s even more rewarding to walk the one-hour trail to Pedra Bonita, with views over the towering bulk of Pedra de Gávea, from which intrepid hang gliders leap towards the beaches below. More challenging is a 5hour, 8km hike over a circuit of trails, including some challenging climbs. From experience, I’d advise you to take plenty of water, something to eat, sunhat, sunblock, insect repellent, binoculars, camera (not too expensive one, and don’t take valuables) and good walking boots. Oh, and then more water. It’s best not to go alone, and tell someone who doesn’t have the good fortune to accompany you where you are going. Guided trips are available.