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Central Maui Hiking

Central Maui hiking options are varied enough that while most hikes aren’t exactly challenging, there are opportunities for a good workout. For easy to moderate hikes, Hike Maui (808/879-5270 or 866/324-6284, 6am-8pm daily) offers knowledgeable guides who will take you to some of the island’s most scenic locations. Group sizes are usually fairly small, and again, what makes these hikes worthwhile is not only being taken directly to the trailhead, but also learning about the island’s flora, fauna, history, and mythology from local guides who love what they do. Hike Maui meets guests in a large community parking lot in Kahului near the intersection of Kuihelani Highway (Hwy. 380) and Pu‘unene Avenue and offers waterfall hikes, trips into Haleakala Crater, and options that combine kayaking with an afternoon hike through the rainforest.

For independent hiking, you’ll have the an equal selection of easy to moderate hikes, scenic routes and swimming opportunities, and if you like, to squeeze in a bit more of a challenge.

‘Iao Valley

Even though the drive into ‘Iao Valley goes deep into Mauna Kahalawai, the valley itself doesn’t have very good public hiking. The only part of ‘Iao Valley which could be considered a hike is the 10-minute, paved walking trail leading up to a lookout peering out at ‘Iao Needle. If you go out there, you’ll notice a railing that keeps visitors from walking into the bush, and on the other side of the railing you’ll notice a thin trail, which disappears back into the trees. This trail snakes its way through the forest for a couple of miles, although this area is officially off-limits due to the fact that it’s easy to get lost—especially if the clouds roll in.

If you want to swim in ‘Iao Stream, the best place for accessing the swimming holes is from Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens where short trails lead down to the refreshing—and cold—water.

If you want to swim in ‘Iao Stream, the best place for accessing the swimming holes is from Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens where short trails lead down to the refreshing—and cold—water.
If you want to swim in ‘Iao Stream, the best place for accessing the swimming holes is from Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens where short trails lead down to the refreshing—and cold—water. Photo © Allie Caulfield, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Preserve

Set on land protected by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, this hike passing for two miles along the undeveloped shoreline of Waihe‘e has only recently been opened to visitors. Within the 277-acre preserve are the remains of the Kapoho fishing village as well as two different ancient heiau. Scholars estimate that the Waihe‘e area was populated as early as AD 300-600, which is not surprising, as the freshwater streams, fertile valleys, and lush uplands provide all the natural resources for sustaining life. The lonesome shoreline is covered in driftwood and is a great place for beachcombing. This is one of the few places on the island where you can walk down a sandy beach and be the only person around.

The trail itself parallels the shoreline and passes by a couple of abandoned houses before reaching the cultural relics at Kapoho. Expect the round-trip journey to take a little over an hour; add on 30 minutes to explore the coastline or ruins. To reach the trailhead, make a right on Halewaiu Place off Kahekili Highway (Hwy. 340) and follow the signs for Waiehu Golf Course. When the road makes a sharp turn to the right and starts heading toward the golf course, you’ll notice an unmarked dirt road going to the left. From this turnoff it’s 0.25 mile to the parking area and trailhead, although the unpaved road and small stream crossing are unsuitable for rental cars. You can either park your car here at the turnoff or on the access road, which leads down to Waihe‘e Beach Park just before the golf course. It’s best to park away from the fairway since golfers sometimes drive balls into the parking lot.

Waihe‘e Ridge Trail

Driving the Kahekili Highway from Wailuku, the parking area for the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail is immediately across the road from Mendes Ranch, at the seven-mile marker. This 2.5-mile trail starts innocently enough but does become a switchback farther up. It also crosses some areas that become boggy after a rain. The trail rises to over 2,560 feet with spectacular views into Waihe‘e and Makamaka‘ole Valleys. The trail continues to Lanilili summit where on clear days you can see the northern slope of the mountain. This area can get cloudy, blocking the views, although if you start hiking before 9am you’ll finish the trail before the clouds start rolling in. This trail takes some energy, so count on three hours for the five-mile trip.

Map of Central Maui, Hawaii
Central Maui

Makamaka‘ole Valley

If you’re on the hunt for waterfalls, head to the makai (ocean-side) section of Makamaka‘ole Valley where a couple of small waterfalls are hidden in the jungle. Although it’s a short, user-friendly hike, the trail can be slippery and requires climbing over a couple of boulders. Be respectful of No Trespassing signs and leave the area as you found it.

If approaching from Wailuku, the discreet trailhead is 7.8 miles after making the turn onto Waiehu Beach Road, or 0.8 miles after the Mendes Ranch. At this point the road has climbed in elevation and narrowed at parts to only a single lane. You’ll pass a sharp turn in the valley, and when the road starts pointing back toward the ocean, you’ll notice a small, dirt pullout, which can accommodate four or five vehicles. The trailhead is a narrow, well-defined dirt pathway that heads downhill into the brush. There’s also a false trailhead that departs from the same parking area but only goes for about five yards. If the trail suddenly ends after 10 seconds, turn around and look for the other one. Once you are on the correct trail, it will wind its way downhill for about 10 minutes before arriving at a small swimming hole where you’ll find a rushing waterfall and a rope swing. Along the way you’re rewarded with a dramatic view of Makamaka‘ole Valley as it wends its way to the ocean below.

The trail continues deeper into the valley toward a waterfall more dramatic than the first. You’ll have to climb over a large boulder to keep on the trail, which will then parallel the river over some slippery rocks. The mosquitoes can be vicious in this shaded section, so be sure you’ve applied repellent or have covered yourself. After tracing the river for 10 minutes, the trail will end at a large banyan tree whose serpentine roots snake down a near-vertical cliff face. In order to reach the pool below, climb down using the roots of the banyan tree as handholds as if it were a natural ladder. This maneuver requires some athletic ability and skill, so it should only be attempted by those who are agile and accepting of the risks. The reward, however, is a small swimming hole where you can bathe beneath a waterfall in a hidden tropical setting. This spot is popular with many professionally guided hiking tours.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Moloka‘i’s Hiking Trails

Even for Maui locals, the hiking trails of Moloka‘i are shrouded in mystery. Often the trails require either four-wheel drive access or permission from private landowners, although there are still a number that are accessible to the public. You’re rewarded for your effort with sweeping views of the entire island.


Bathed in the scent of eucalyptus and pine, the “topside” of central Moloka‘i is where you truly feel as if you’re in the mountains.
Bathed in the scent of eucalyptus and pine, the “topside” of central Moloka‘i is where you truly feel as if you’re in the mountains. Photo © Dr. Colleen Morgan, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Topside Moloka‘i

Bathed in the scent of eucalyptus and pine, the “topside” of central Moloka‘i is where you truly feel as if you’re in the mountains. With trails ranging in elevation from 1,500 to 4,000 feet, the air is cooler up here, and once you enter the Kamakou Preserve, the weather turns wetter and the surroundings lush. Songs of the native i‘iwi birds ring from the treetops while mists hang in the silence of deeply carved valleys.

Kalaupapa Overlook

The easiest walk is the 1,500-foot paved walkway leading to the Kalaupapa Overlook starting at the end of the road in Pala‘au State Park. Take Highway 470 past the mule barn for the Kalaupapa trail rides and continue until it dead-ends in a parking lot. Here you’ll find some basic restrooms but no potable water. Be prepared for high winds that can blow your hat off, and get your camera ready for a view of the Kalaupapa Peninsula which is the best you’re going to find short of actually hiking down there.

Kalaupapa Trail

The Kalaupapa Trail is the most popular hike on Moloka‘i. Descending over 1,700 vertical feet over the course of 3.2 miles and 26 switchbacking turns, this trail was hand-carved into the mountain in 1886 by Portuguese immigrant Manuel Farinha as a way to establish a land connection with the residents living topside. The trail today remains in good shape, although you do need to be physically fit and keep a keen eye out for the “presents” left on the trail by mules. Since this is part of the National Historic Park, reservations are required to tour the peninsula, and those who try to sneak into Kalaupapa could end up facing possible prosecution. Those wanting to hike the trail instead of riding a mule can contact Damien Tours (808/567-6171), which, for the cost of $50/person, will meet hikers at the bottom of the trail at 10am and provide a four-hour guided tour of the Kalaupapa Peninsula. To reach the trailhead, drive 200 yards past the mule barn on Highway 470 and park on the right side of the road.

Pepe‘opae Bog

Constantly shrouded in cloud cover and dripping in every color of green imaginable, if ever there were a place to visualize Hawaii before the arrival of humans, then that spot is the Pepe‘opae Bog. Ninety-eight percent of the plant species here are indigenous to the island of Moloka‘i, and 219 of the species in this preserve are found nowhere else on earth. Following Highway 460 from Kaunakakai, make a right before the bridge at the Homelani Cemetery sign and follow the dirt road for 10 miles all the way to the parking area at Waikolu Overlook. Even making it this far in a two-wheel-drive vehicle requires high clearance and the best road conditions. Trying to go any further will just get you stuck. Those with four-wheel drive can knock 2.6 miles one-way off the journey by continuing to the trailhead, but even this is precarious at best and the driver needs to know what they’re doing behind the wheel.

Look for the signs for Pepe‘opae Bog and follow them. Once the trail begins, it’s imperative you stay on the metal boardwalk. If you accidentally step off, you can expect to sink shin-deep into the soggy moss and mud. The boardwalk runs for 1.5 miles through some of the most pristine rainforest left in the state. Hikers who make it to the end are rewarded with a view into Pelekunu Valley which plunges 4,000 feet through the uninhabited, untouched wilderness below. Hikers are free to attempt the climb on their own, or the Nature Conservancy (808/553-5236) leads hikes into Pepe‘opae once per month, March-October. Make advance reservations.

Pu‘u Kolekole

On the same 4WD road leading to the Pepe‘opae trailhead, hikers who take the fork to the right will instead reach the start of the Pu‘u Kolekole trail. This two-mile trail leads you to the 3,951-foot summit of Pu‘u Kolekole. From here the view overlooks the southern shoreline and fringing reef to offer the best view of southern Moloka‘i.


At Halawa, the trail can only be accessed by going through a local company.
At Halawa, the trail can only be accessed by going through a local company. Photo © Andrew K. Smith, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Halawa Valley

At Halawa, the trail can only be accessed by going through a local company and paying to hire a local guide. Bookings to hike into Halawa Valley can be made through either Moloka‘i Outdoors (808/553-4477) or Moloka‘i Fish and Dive (61 Ala Malama Ave., 808/553-5926).


West Moloka‘i

Given the lack of mountains in western Moloka‘i, most of the hikes on this side of the island follow the coastline.

Kawakiu

A nice walk from the condo complexes of Kaluakoi is to follow either the coastline or a dusty dirt road to the secluded beauty of Kawakiu Nui Beach. From Maunaloa Highway (Hwy. 460) take the Kalukaoi Road exit and follow it to the bottom of the hill before making a right on Kaka‘ako Road. Finally, a left on Lio Place brings you to the Paniolo Hale parking lot, where you can follow the signs for the beach, crossing over the fairway of the old golf course before you reach the shoreline. Make a right, and 45 minutes of walking along the coastline will bring you to Kawakiu. Or, if the tide or surf is too high to walk along the coastline, turn inland past Make Horse Beach. After a few minutes you’ll meet up with a dirt road which leads north and deposits you at Kawakiu. About 100 yards before the road drops onto the sand at Kawakiu, there’s an ancient Hawaiian heiau out on the rocky point.


East Moloka‘i

Deeply carved down from the 4,961-foot summit of Kamakou, the valleys of eastern Moloka‘i beckon to be explored. Despite being beautiful, forested and laden with waterfalls, many of the valleys are cut off from public use. Liability concerns have forced landowners to restrict access to many valley trails, although some are still available by taking part in a guided tour.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Guided Hikes in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

When picking a guided hike of the park, the most important factors to consider are: How many people will be on the tour? If the minimum isn’t met, will the tour get canceled? How much hiking and walking will you actually be doing? Will the hiking be for beginners or more advanced walkers?

[pullquote align=right]Ranger-led hikes are a great way to explore the park for free with certifiably experienced guides.[/pullquote]Ranger-led hikes are a great way to explore the park for free with certifiably experienced guides. The Exploring the Summit hike is offered daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm. This 45-minute walk over a paved trail meets in front of the Kilauea Visitor Center and takes guests around the rim while the ranger lectures on Hawaiian history and geology. Check the bulletin board outside the visitors center for daily postings of additional hikes. Often, there is at least one additional hike (on some specific topic) each day.

The summit lava lake at dusk.
Kilauea lava lake at dusk. Photo © US Geological Survey, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

If you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll grab a spot on the highly desired ranger-led Wednesday Pua Po‘o Lava Tube Tour. The tour, which explores a lava tube that is otherwise not open to the public, must be reserved one week in advance by calling the visitors center (808/985-6000) at 7:45am the Wednesday before you want to attend. There are only 12 spots available and they go quickly! Really, some park employees haven’t even made it on the tour yet. You can reserve spots for four people with each reservation, and children must be older than 10. If you do make it on the tour, it meets at 12:30pm and lasts about five hours. You have to be in fairly good physical shape to attend as you descend a 15-foot ladder into a lava tube, scramble along it, and then walk over uneven surfaces. A truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Several private tour guides happily take groups around the park on hikes. Dr. Hugh Montgomery, the owner and president of Hawaiian Walkways (800/457-7759) receives excellent reviews for his Kilauea Volcano Discovery Tour ($119 children, $169 adults plus tax) as well as his private tours, which are actually a pretty good deal if your group has more than four people. Hugh is truly an expert on Hawaiian flora and fauna and offers a lot of personal attention to his small groups, making his tours a great choice for hikers at any level.

Volcano Discovery (808/640-4165, $150-250) is another tour company that persistently receives good feedback, especially for beginning hikers and/or families traveling with children. Tours are somewhat customizable, meaning participants can work with the guides to pick which hikes they’d like to complete. There are some set tours that you can reserve if you’re looking to join something already scheduled. The dates and prices for these tours are listed on the website. A four-hour tour for 3-6 people will run you $150 per person and a six-hour tour for 3-6 people will set you back $175 per person, and so on up to a 12-hour tour. Tour guides are known as trained geologists and provide first-rate narration.

Similarly, Warren Costa, a.k.a. Native Guide Hawaii (808/982-7575, $300 for one person or $150 parties of two or more, cash only!), will personally pick you up (and return you safely) after guiding you through the park on a hike that includes narration on Hawaiian culture, legends, and geology of the park. Warren is concerned with not only teaching about the environment about the park, but also raising awareness about how the environment relates to Hawaiian culture. Tours have a maximum of six guests, and children are welcome.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Finding a Guide in Grand Teton National Park

A view from high amongst the Grand Tetons.
Climbing the mountains of Grand Teton National Park. Photo © Nick Swett, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Travel map of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park
Setting off into Grand Teton National Park can be slightly intimidating, making guided tours a good option. The Park Service maintains a list of licensed, permitted, and park-approved guides.

For any type of technical rock climbing, a guide is as necessary as a helmet and rope. Exum Mountain Guides (307/733-2297) has been offering instruction and guided mountain climbing since 1931, making it the oldest guide service in North America and certainly one of the most prestigious. Exum offers numerous programs, from easy day climbing for families with kids to guided expeditions up the 13,770-foot Grand Teton. Detailed information, including climbing routes and trail conditions, can be found at www.tetonclimbing.blogspot.com.

For guided hikes and snowshoe or ski tours, the Hole Hiking Experience (307/690-4453 or 866/733-4453) offers a range of outings both in and around the park for all interests and ability levels, from sunrise or sunset discovery tours to all-day wildlife-watching hikes. Kids will love the family day hikes with fun survival-like activities that include eating “lemon drop” ants and using butterfly nets. Winter cross-country ski and snowshoe tours are guided by naturalists and show off the best winter has to offer.

There are several options for guided horseback riding trips from a number of lodges in the park, including Colter Bay Village, Flagg Ranch, and Jackson Lake Lodge. The Grand Teton Lodge Company (307/543-2861 or 800/443-2311) can arrange one-hour horseback tours ($40 adults and children) or pony rides ($5). All riders in the park must be at least eight years old.

With so many varied bodies of water, there are a number of fishing outfitters that can guide any type of trip you can dream up. A good place to start is the Grand Teton Lodge Company (307/543-2861 or 800/443-2311), which can arrange trips from any of the accommodations inside the park. Fishing trips on the Snake River or Jackson Lake can also be arranged through the lakefront Signal Mountain Lodge (307/543-2831) or Grand Teton Fly Fishing (307/690-0910).

Rafting is popular in Grand Teton National Park, and there are 10 licensed outfitters to guide visitors down the Snake River. As with all activities, Grand Teton Lodge Company (307/543-2861 or 800/443-2311) can make arrangements for the park’s most popular 10-mile scenic float. Other outfitters include Barker-Ewing Float Trips (800/448-4202) and Solitude Float Trips (307/733-2871 or 888/704-2800).

Throughout the year, Park Service rangers offer excellent naturalist-guided tours. From mid-December-March, depending on conditions, daily guided snowshoe hikes depart from the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center (307/739-3399, reservations required). During the summer months, the range of offerings is vast—from 30-minute map chats and campfire programs to three-hour hikes. For more information on ranger programs, pick up the park newspaper at any of the entrance stations, call 307/739-3300, or check out the visitors centers in Moose, Jenny Lake, Colter Bay, and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Montana & Wyoming.

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.

Parks

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

Cycling

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.

Surfing

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.

Soccer

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.

The Beaches of Natal, Brazil

Beyond quaint buildings with tile roofs, the ocean stretches to the horizon.
Heading towards the water at Ponta Negra. Photo © Guilherme Morais, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Natal is all about its beaches. Although the city beaches are still appealing from an aesthetic point of view, urbanization has taken its toll in recent years. In the shadow of the Forte dos Reis Magos, Praia do Forte is a calm beach for paddling around. The other two urban beaches are Praia do Meio and the formerly fashionable but increasingly seedy Praia dos Artistas. The oceanfront boulevard of Avenida Presidente Café Filho, which runs alongside Praia dos Artistas, is lined with beach bars, cheap restaurants, and budget hotels, and after sundown it has quite a vibrant nightlife. By day, its waves attract surfers but aren’t ideal for swimming.

[pullquote align=”right”]Over the last few years, all the action that used to take place at Natal’s more central beaches has migrated to Ponta Negra.[/pullquote]A rocky headland separates Praia dos Artistas from Praia de Areia Preta, where reefs make bathing dangerous. Rising up at the far end of the beach is a lighthouse, Farol da Mãe Luiza. The lighthouse marks the beginning point of Parque das Dunas (Av. Alexandrino de Alencar, tel. 84/3201-3985, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, R$1), an urban park situated amid the dunes that have hiking trails (guided walks depart at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and 2 p.m. daily, advance reservations required) and lanchonetes. The Via Costeira coastal highway that runs from Natal all the way to Praia de Ponta Negra, 10 kilometers (6 miles) away, passes through the park.

Ponta Negra is by far the nicest of Natal’s beaches. Its most unique feature is the gigantic sand dune at the southern tip. Known as Morro da Careca (Bald Man’s Hill), its nickname accurately evokes the dune’s resemblance to a bald head (although the lush foliage surrounding the strip of white sand makes it look more like an inverted Mohawk). Over the last few years, all the action that used to take place at Natal’s more central beaches has migrated to Ponta Negra. Although the beach is still attractive—featuring both calm and wavy waters—it has also become quite touristy. There are an amazing number of European sun worshippers, and sadly, a number of young (often underage) prostitutes ready to service them. The southern strip of the beach is particularly full of hotels, trendy restaurants, and bars, along with a colorfully diverse mix of locals, foreigners, and ambulantes (vendors) hawking their wares along the sands. At night, Ponta Negra is one of the most happening places in the city. For more peace and tranquility, head to the more sedate and upscale northern tip. Ultimately, Ponta Negra is like a small city in itself, and you can easily spend all your days and nights here.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Brazil.

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