Pao de Acucar -- Sugarloaf

Pao de Acucar -- Sugarloaf

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Rio's Ultimate "Birds Eye View": Sugarloaf

Dec 1, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great views, awesome sunsets (and sunrises, if you're an early bird)

Cons:Sometimes long waits for trams

The Bottom Line: With the possible exception of a helicopter tour, the best views of Rio's awesome scenery are those from the top of Pao de Acucar. Just do it!

Top sights in Rio de can't talk about 'em without talking about one of the city's most popular landmarks, the stunning vistas from the top of Pao de Acucar, or "Sugarloaf", as it's referred to by most Americans. Sugarloaf is essentially a 1,000 foot high (396 meters, to be more precise) rock that juts skyward from its feet that bathe in the cool waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean. Sugarloaf is in the tourist-friendly part of Rio, maybe 5 minutes from the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, and there are cable cars that get you up to the peak, so huffing and puffing is not required. It's an inexpensive jaunt, the views are simply stunning, there are helicopter pads at the halfway point if you want aerial vistas, there are nature trails on Sugarloaf, there are shops at two points, and there are cafes where you can get a cup of coffee or a cool brewski to help you enjoy one of the most glorious sunsets you'll ever see on this Earth!

Hint on visiting at sunset: Sugarloaf is famous for its stunning evening sunsets. If you want to see it, remember that you are likely to have to wait for a tram at Morro da Urca, so if you don't arrive at the base station of Praia Vermelha at least one hour before sunset, you could well miss nature's fireworks and find yourself enjoying an early evening at the top of Sugarloaf instead of a sunset. (Though its really sunrise that's the most spectacular time to see Rio, but hey, in a party city like Rio, most people are thinking about beds at that time of day, not vistas!)

Sugarloaf is one of those places where getting there is half the fun. I absolutely love the cable car trams, and they're the side of Sugarloaf that you experience first, so let's chat about them for a sec...

The Tram's the Thing...
Glass-enclosed cable cars make the trip up the mountain easy and painless, while providing plenty of shutterbug opportunities along the way. It's also fun, and its a little slice of bygone years, since the cars and stations have that feel of a slice of Victorian industrial revolution modernity.

There are two trams: one from the base station at Praia Vermelha, where you buy your tickets and begin your Sugarloaf journey. The first tram goes to the top of Morro da Urca, a smaller mountain (220m high) next to Sugarloaf that serves as a halfway point. From there, you walk a hundred meters or so to a second tram station where you board the other tram that brings you to the top of Sugarloaf itself.

The trams seem to be timed so that you can get all the way down to city level from the top of Sugarloaf within about 10-15 minutes, but the trip up took us over an hour since the trams seem to leave both ends on the upwards trip at the same time, meaning we waited at Morro da Urca a good half hour. There is lots to do at Morro da Urca, so it's not really dead time, as long as you don't expect to be able to whisk your peakwards.

At Morro da Urca...
A good way to experience Sugarloaf is to simply take a relaxed approach to the whole experience. Grab the tram up to Morro da Urca and spend some time there....maybe even an hour or two. If you're doing the trip in the morning, why not have breakfast at the restaurant on Morro da Urca, if it's a nice day, hire a helicopter for a quick Rio tour, come back and browse the gift shops, then when you're good and ready, go ahead and get in line for that second tram on up to the top of Sugarloaf. The views aren't going anywhere, so there's no real reason to try to rush, especially considering that even if you really want to rush things along, you're going to be standing in line a half hour for that next tram. Better to use the time relaxing, eating, sightseeing, then jump in line only after you see a downward tram arrive at the station.

On Pao de Acucar...
Of course the views from a 1,000 feet up are the reason why people go to the top of Sugarloaf. There are wide decks where you can just stroll and snap all the incredible photos you want. But again, there's no reason to really hurry things, and a lot of folks seem to go up to the top to relax and have a bite to eat and a few drinks at the mountain top cafe, grabbing a table, and just mellowing out and enjoying the atmosphere. That's what we did. A couple chilly Skols took the chill of the breeze right out of our bones. I imagine the frosty caipirinhas were doing likewise for the harder-drinking crowd.

Most of the people who'd ridden up on the trams didn't seem to get much beyond the big observation platforms. That's kind of a shame because there is a network of sometimes steep trails that criss-cross the mountain just below those decks, and there are some points where you can totally escape any sight or sound of other human contact, sitting on a rustic bench at an overhang that seems to exist only for you at only for the moment.

It costs R30 (US$10) to go up to the top of Sugarloaf, R15 for kids. The trams run from 8am to 10pm, and they run roughly every half hour, unless there's heavy demand. Easiest way to get here is to take a taxi --- it's just a 5-minute ride from most of the Copacabana area. If you want to use city buses, look for the one marked "Urca".

Bottom Line...
Spectacular birds-eye views of Rio's graceful beaches and the bustling downtown area, set against the dramatic backdrop of mountains and the intricate dance of shoreline, beaches, rocks, cliffs, lakes, forests, and all that makes Rio such a stunningly beautiful city to behold.

On a clear day you can see forever. On a cloudy day you'll be fogged in up at the top of Sugarloaf. Clear is better.

Until next time, see you on the road. As always, look for me in the cheap seats!

Closely Related Reading...
Thinking about a Rio vacation? Here's a few more reviews that might peak your interest...

* Everything You Really Need to Know about Rio de Janeiro...
* Copacabana
* Ipanema
* Corcovado
* Good web sites for Brazil travel info...

Recommend this product? Yes

Best Time to Travel Here: Anytime

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