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Sports and Recreation in Rio de Janeiro City

View from the soccer stadium stands where fans wave flags and smoke curls into the air.
The legendary Flamengo-Fluminense (“Fla-Flu”) rivalry makes for intense games. Photo © keetr, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Sports and Recreation in Rio

Blessed with so many natural attractions, it is unsurprising that Cariocas are a pretty sporty bunch. Beach activities—everything from walking, jogging, and yoga to surfing, soccer, and volleyball—are very popular, as are radical sports, especially those that take advantage of the city’s mountain peaks. Meanwhile, the exuberantly green Floresta da Tijuca offers an oasis for athletes who want to commune with nature.


Floresta da Tijuca

Although the dense tropical forest that covers Rio’s jagged mountains possesses a distinctly primeval quality, the truth is that by the 19th century, the original Atlantic forest that had existed for thousands of years had been almost completely cleared away to make way for sugar and coffee plantations. The deforestation was so dire that by the mid-1800s, Rio was facing an ecological disaster that menaced the city’s water supply. Fortunately, inspired Emperor Dom Pedro II had a green conscience. In 1861 he ordered that 3,300 hectares be replanted with native foliage—the first example of government-mandated reforestation in Brazil’s history. Over time, the forest returned to its original state, and today this urban rain forest boasts an astounding variety of exotic trees and animals ranging from jewel-colored hummingbirds to monkeys, squirrels, and armadillos.

Within the Floresta lies the largest urban park in Brazil, the Parque Nacional da Tijuca (tel. 21/2492-2252, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily). A veritable oasis in the midst of the city, it is particularly refreshing during the dog days of summer. The park has various walking trails—many of them quite easy—along with waterfalls where you can stop for a drink (or a dip), grottoes, and many lookout points that offer stunning views of the city. The most spectacular of these are the Mesa do Imperador (Emperor’s Table)—where Dom Pedro II liked to picnic with members of his court—and the Vista Chinesa. Another highlight is the charming Capela Mayrink, with panels painted by the talented modernist artist Cândido Portinari.

The easiest way to explore the park is by car. If you don’t have access to one, take a taxi: You can usually negotiate with drivers to drop you off and pick you up for a reasonable rate. You can also take a guided Jeep tour with a company such as Jeep Tour (tel. 21/2108-5800) or Trilhas do Rio Ecoturismo & Aventura (tel. 21/2425-8441), which cost around R$130 pp. If you want to venture in on your own, take the Metrô to Saens Pena and then a bus going to Barra da Tijuca that stops at the main Alta da Boa Vista entrance. Organized hiking tours are available. The park entrance is at Praça Alfonso Viseu, and a few hundred meters inside is a visitors center where you can buy a map (although trails are well marked). Robberies are not uncommon, so be careful not to venture too far off the beaten track, and don’t go alone. It’s safer to visit on weekends, when the park is more crowded. Near the entrance, there are three restaurants and a café. Or if you want, bring along food for a picnic.

Within the Floresta da Tijuca, the Museu do Açude (Estrada do Açude 764, Alto da Boa Vista, tel. 21/2492-2119, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Mon., R$2, free Thurs.) occupies the former house of wealthy industrialist Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya. Beautifully decorated with antiques and Portuguese azulejo panels, the neoclassical villa, completely engulfed by rain forest, exhibits Castro Maya’s impressive art collection, which runs the gamut from ancient Asian ceramics to works by contemporary Brazilian artists.

Hiking, Biking, and Adventure Sports


Rio has 130 kilometers (80 miles) of bike paths. Those in search of a languorous outing can take to the paths that line the beaches (stretching from Flamengo to Leblon and then along Barra) and ring the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Meanwhile, hard-core jocks can take on the steep trails leading into the Floresta da Tijuca. You can rent bikes in many places along the Zona Sul beaches and around the Lagoa. A particularly wide range of models are available at Ipanema’s Bike & Lazer (Rua Visconde de Pirajá 135‑B, tel. 21/2267-7778), which also has a second location in Laranjeiras near Largo do Machado (Rua das Laranjeiras 58, tel. 21/2285-7941). Rental fees are R$15 per hour.

Following the example of Amsterdam and Paris, Rio also operates a bike rental system, SAMBA, which to date boasts 20 bike terminals the Zona Sul. To actually get your hands on a bike, you have to register online and then, with a credit card, you can opt to rent for a day (R$10) or a month (R$20). Rides of up to 60 minutes are free, after which you’re charged R$5 per hour. Both to register and to activate bikes, you need to have a cell phone number.

Hiking, Climbing, and Adventure Sports

Rio possesses an enormous number of options for hiking and climbing within and around the city. Rio Hiking (tel. 21/2552-9204) is highly recommended. The six-hour hike (R$150 pp) to Pedra da Gávea combines strenuous hiking with dips in waterfalls and the ocean, but shorter, easier, and equally enticing options abound as well as more adventurous outings including rappeling, climbing, cycling, trekking, kayaking, and scuba diving.

Trilhas do Rio (tel. 21/2425-8441) has expert guides who are highly knowledgeable about Rio’s natural surroundings. They lead hiking, biking, horseback riding, climbing, and trekking tours in and around the city. There is even a yoga tour. A four-hour hike up Pão de Açúcar costs R$40 pp, while an eight-hour hike up and around Pedra da Gávea is R$85 pp.

Trilharte Ecoturismo (tel. 21/2225-2426) also offers many interesting eco-trips—all of which are slanted toward adventurers with cameras. Photographic safaris to a wide range of photogenic destinations involve hiking, horseback riding, climbing, and rafting. The only drawback is that tours are in Portuguese. Trip prices vary depending on the length of time and activities involved. They range from R$35 for a light hike up the Pão de Açúcar to R$180 (including lunch) for a full-day guided excursion into the Mata Atlântica.

Meanwhile, if you have ever dreamed of scaling Pão de Açúcar or Corcovado, Companhia da Escalada (tel. 21/2567-7105, R$100–160 pp) organizes rock-climbing classes and excursions for beginners and experts.

Hang Gliding

The popularity of hang gliding in Rio—second only to surfing—is unsurprising viewing the spectacular surroundings involved. The classic (and most breathtaking) trip is to jump off Pedra Bonita (in the Parque Nacional da Tijuca) and glide down to the Praia do Pepino in São Conrado. Both Just Fly (tel. 21/2268-0565) and Super Fly (tel. 21/3322-2286) charge around R$240 for the 15-minute thrill, including transportation to and from your hotel.

Sailing, Boating, and Surfing

Sailing and Boating

Better than gazing at the Baía da Guanabara is to actually get out on its blue waters. Saveiro’s Tour (Av. Infante Dom Henrique, Marina da Glória, Glória, tel. 21/2225-6064) rents out all types of seaworthy vessels as well as water skis. Those interested in a mini cruise can charter a posh yacht that will take you up and down the coast to destinations such as Búzios, Ilha Grande, Angra dos Reis, and Paraty. A two-hour tour around the Baía da Guanabara costs R$30 pp.


Rio is a surfers’ haven, luring wave junkies from around the world to the beaches of Arpoador, Barra, Recreio, Prainha, and Grumari. To get around town, the city ingeniously operates a special Surf Bus (tel. 21/8515-2289 or 21/2527-0891) equipped to deal with boards and dripping bodies. Leaving from Largo do Machado in Botafogo, it travels all the way down the coast from Copacabana to Prainha, departing at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. Despite the fact that it’s equipped with air-conditioning, a minibar, and a 29-inch TV that screens surfing DVDs, the cost is only R$3.

If you want to hone your technique, Escola de Surf Rico de Souza (tel. 21/2438-1821) offers daily lessons at its headquarters (in front of Posto 4 at Barra) and at Prainha (Praia da Macumba). Private lessons (including equipment) cost R$60 pp for one hour. The website has class schedules for foreign students. The school has lots of information about surfing conditions, events, and equipment rental. To buy or rent surf equipment, check out the stores at Galeria River in Arpoador (Rua Francisco Otaviano 67). Hot Coast (Loja 12, tel. 21/2287-9388) rents various styles of boards for R$40 per day.


Brazil’s favorite sport is also Rio’s, and you’ll see everyone from women to favela kids to beer-bellied seniors dribbling, passing, shooting, and scoring, particularly on the beaches. However, if you want to see the real deal, head to the largest and most famous futebol stadium in the world: Maracanã (Rua Profesor Eurico Rabelo, Maracanã, tel. 21/2334-1705, tickets R$15–40). Built in 1950 to host the World Cup, the stadium seats close to 200,000 people. Even if soccer itself leaves you cold, it’s worth taking in a game for the sheer theatrics of the crowd as they toot whistles, beat drums, unfurl gigantic banners, and wield smoke bombs in team colors. When things aren’t going well, fans shed tears, implore saints, and hurl death threats (as well as cups of urine—for this reason, consider seats in the lower levels, which are sheltered by a protective canopy). However, when victory rears its head, it’s like a collective mini Carnaval.

Rio’s four biggest and most traditional teams are Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo, and Vasco da Gama. Each has its die-hard followers, but the most toxic rivalry of all is the legendary Flamengo-Fluminense (“Fla-Flu”) match-up. Games are played throughout the week and throughout the year. When going to a game, avoid rabid fans on the bus and take the Metrô or a taxi. During the day, Maracanã is open for 40-minute guided tours (9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, 8–11 a.m. game days, R$20). Due to ongoing renovations for the 2014 World Cup, it’s best to call ahead.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.