Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açucar)

Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açucar) (32)

Welcome to one of the most iconic places in Rio!

The famous Sugarloaf complex is home to two of Rio's attractions, the Morro da Urca, the lowest of the hills, with a height of 224 metres, and Sugarloaf Mountain, which rises 395 metres above sea level and is a monolithic granite and quartz peak about 600 million years old.

You wouldn't know it, but the top of these mountains boasts lush and varied vegetation. With any luck you'll see toucans, monkeys, parrots and butterflies... a vestige of the dense Atlantic forest that covered the whole bay.

The origin of its name is the subject of much debate. Some say that Sugarloaf comes from "pau-nh-acqua", which in Tupi-Guarani means high hill, and others say it was the name given by the Portuguese during the height of sugar cane cultivation between the 16th and 17th centuries. After processing the sugar cane, the resulting paste was put into conical mud containers so that it could be transported more easily to Europe.

The two hills are not only considered a must for the stunning views, but this area of the city is steeped in history.  As you look at the entrance to Guanabara Bay, it is worth noting that it was here that intrepid sailors landed on 1 January 1502 and, thinking it was a river, gave it the name of Rio de Janeiro (January in Portuguese). In addition, you'll also appreciate the strength that the Portuguese built on the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain where, on 1 March 1565, Estácio de Sá founded the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.  

Sugarloaf Mountain, Morro da Babilônia (Babylon Mountain) and Morro da Urca together make up one of the world's largest urban areas that can be scaled, with more than 270 routes. These extraordinary natural peaks attract climbers from around the world who travel to Rio every year. In addition, those who manage it are rewarded with a free return trip in the cable car.

Like any ancient monument, Sugarloaf Mountains has its fair share of legends.

It is said that if you look closely you can see a figure about 200 metres long, embracing the stone; it is the silhouette of an old man called the Guardian of the Stone. Others say it's Saint Peter wearing a mitre who is embracing the stone.

However, my favourite story is that at about 11 o'clock you can see a shadow in the cavity of the stone, about 120 metres high, forming the silhouette of an ibis, known as the Sugarloaf Ibis. 

In Egyptian mythology, there is an image depicting humanity as a reclining giant with an ibis, the sacred bird of Egypt, at his shackled feet.

And they say that the carioca relief seen from the ocean represents the colossal silhouette of a reclining giant, in which the chin is the Pedra da Gávea, the trunk is the Tijuca Mountain and the foot is Sugarloaf Mountain. Thus, the story was born that the Egyptians had been in Rio de Janeiro long before the birth of Christ and that the giant lying on the carioca mountains had inspired them to conceive their mythological image. According to the cariocas, the ancient Egyptians would have been the first tourists to visit Brazil.

It is also an extremely lively area of the city, with cafés, restaurants and many activities. Among the most famous is the Sugarloaf Cable Car, which links the Praia Vermelha, known thus because of its orange sand, and Sugarloaf Mountain, via the Morro da Urca. 

Another way to reach the top of the Morro da Urca is via a lovely 40-minute walk that begins on one side of the Praia Vermelha. No guide is needed for this walk, as it is very easy. On the beach, near the cable car, take the trail on the left, the Pista Cláudio Coutinho, and follow it for about one kilometre, then take the first dirt road on the left. You can't miss it. The climb is steep but short. Continue on the track on the left and you'll arrive at the Morro da Urca. You're likely to catch a glimpse of a monkey or two along this beautiful route. From there you can take the second part of the cable car that takes you to Sugarloaf Mountain.

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