Brazil – Rio de Janeiro – Christ the Redeemer and the Sugar Loaf

Christ the Redeemer from Copacabana beach
The Sugar Loaf from Lapa, a neighborhood north of Rio

It was the second thing we went to do in Rio de Janeiro, visiting the two landmark monuments of the city. I’m sure everyone starts with them!

Do you want to know what the first one was? Copacabana beach, of course, and a swim in the refreshing and turbulent ocean. It was a good day for surfing! 

Christ the Redeemer

The end of the 220 steps leading to the statue

Christ the Redeemer, Cristo Redentor in Portuguese, is one of the most important monuments in Brazil. It sits atop Mount Corcovado 710 m above sea level in the Tijuca National Park. This 30-m high and 1,145-ton art-deco style statue rises above Rio de Janeiro and blesses the region. Its cross-arms have a span of 28 m.

How to go to Christ the Redeemer

There are several ways to reach the summit of Mount Corcovado; minibuses from Copacabana beach, taxis, organized tours, or the famous cogwheel train from Mount Corcovado — the option we have chosen.

The railway was created in 1884 by Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil.

Realizing that the place, known for its magnificent surroundings views, was getting busier, he decided to develop this first train exclusively for tourist use.

In its early days, a steam locomotive pulled the wagons before being electrified in 1910. Thus, many personalities visiting Rio have taken this route that crosses the lush Tijuca National Park to enjoy the spectacle offered at the top.

And to be completely honest, another very particular reason made me want to take this historic line. I loved a novel set in Rio during the years of the statue’s construction. The author describes the wealthy life at that time, painting a picture of those elegant women who use the train to visit the construction site.

Of course, the atmosphere of yesteryear must have been entirely different, but the 20-minute climb that leads through the green forest still allows us to see the first stone infrastructures now half-covered by nature.

For sure, it is an enjoyable way to reach the top of Mount Corcovado.

Tijuca National Park

More than a park, Tijuca National Park is the first initiative in Latin America that has contributed to the fight against the excessive deforestation of past years. This forest located in the city’s heart has been entirely replanted by the people.

The idea of ​​the conception of christ

It all started in 1850 when Lazarist missionary Pedro Maria Boss defended the idea of ​​a Christian monument on Mount Corcovado to honor Princess Isabel, daughter of Brazilian Emperor Pedro II.

His proposal, initially refused, was accepted when in 1888, Princess Isabel signed the abolition of slavery in Brazil — a decisive moment for the country. Aware of the priest’s wish, she asked that an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus be erected because he represented to her the true Redeemer of men.

The decree of construction was promulgated but put on hold in 1889 following the proclamation of the republic and the separation between the church and the state.
It was not until 1921, at the request of the citizens, that the project was finally approved. The foundation was laid the following year even though the definitive version of Christ the Redeemer wasn’t yet approved. Indeed, the first one, the Christ holding a globe in one hand and a cross in the other — ironically called “Christ with a ball” — was rejected.
As the whole project was financed entirely by donations, the Archbishop of Rio organized two fundraising campaigns. The first one took place in 1922 and the second one in 1929 to insert the Sacred Heart on the chest of Christ. One can see it clearly in the first picture of Christ the Redeemer at the beginning of this post.

The construction of the monument

The construction of the complex lasted nine years, from 1922 to 1931, and the statue itself started in 1925.
The body in concrete covered with soapstone was built on the site. As for the head and the hands, they were made in Paris and delivered in spare parts.

The little story of the dressing of the statue

Soapstone is a gorgeous stone, malleable, resistant to erosion, and found in abundant quantities in Brazil. Small triangles were cut to be glued on strips of fabric which were then affixed to the statue.

This assembly work was mainly carried out by women from Rio’s high society, who, before fixing the pebbles on their support, took care to write the names of their loved ones on the back so that they would be forever etched in history. I also read that event in my book!

The inauguration took place in 1931, bringing together pilgrims from all over the world.

The discovery of the place

The statue is magnificent and impressive, and the 180-degree panorama of Rio is breathtaking.
To avoid the rush of the day, we went up at 8:30 AM knowing that we could be greeted by the remaining fog from the night. But luck was not on our side. Still, a few short clearings allowed us to see the city below and appreciate some views of the surroundings.

The unmistakable circular shape of the Maracaná, Brazil’s most famous stadium

It may be better to come in the middle of the afternoon when the sky is clear. There are fewer people after 3:30 PM, and the panorama must be sublime.

That said, we watched the movement of the clouds, and the veiled light that enveloped the Christ the Redeemer and hid the sun gave the place a mystical air.
We stayed a bit in case a big gust of wind had driven the clouds away but in vain.

The last photo from the train during the descent

As our next stop was the Sugar Loaf, we knew that we would also have the opportunity to be amazed by the view there. Therefore, it is not entirely disappointing that we set off again towards our next direction.

The Sugar Loaf

A sugarloaf was the usual form in which refined sugar was produced and sold until the late 19th Century when granulated and cubed sugars were introduced

The Sugar Loaf, which culminates at 396 m, takes its name from its conical shape which resembles a sugarloaf.
It was formed underground in a fracture of the sedimentary layers. Over time, this approximately 600 million-year-old granite block was forced through the softer rocks, which eroded and fell away.

It has long been a key landmark for sailors and a defensive lookout site against invaders. And with a clear view of a large part of the ocean from the top, it’s definitely a strategic lookout post.

The ascent to Sugar Loaf

The Sugar Loaf cable car is the easiest and most popular way to get to the top.

The departure of the cable car

It consists of two parts. The first extends between Praia Vermelha and Morro da Urca at an altitude of 220 m, from where the second rises to the top of the Sugar Loaf, 396 m above sea level. 

The second part of the ascent

A short history of cable car

The first cabin

The cable car was imagined by engineer Augusto Ferreira Ramos in 1908 and created with the support of Rio’s high society, indeed for its entertainment. Inaugurated in 1912, it was the third to be built in the world and the first in Brazil.

In 1972, the cars were modernized and in 1979, they were used for an action scene in the James Bond film Moonraker.

Other options exist to reach the top

If you want to discover the hill of Urca, there is a path that leads to its top, from where you can take the second part of the cable car. An excellent way to combine walking and ski lift.

For the more sportive, you can do the whole climb on foot. That would require booking a tour with a guide as the last portion is mountain climbing, and it is mandatory to have specific equipment.

Our visit

We chose the mix between hiking and cable car.

The busy beach were we had our lunch

After a “frango à passarinho” — — literally a chicken cut into 20 equal-sized pieces and fried — served with fries, we headed off to our excursion.

We started on the Cláudio Coutinho track to the end of the pier.

It was on the way back that we took the Mont Urca trail. Complete change of scenery!

It is a concrete and flat path that runs along the ocean. A beautiful digestive stroll in the shade of dense trees and cooled by the sea air. A little respite from the scorching sun.

To get an idea, you have to climb 215 m over less than 2 km. Suffice to say that it’s a lot of stairs. But if you can take your time, it’s nice to walk in this forest. You may also have the chance to meet these fabulous little monkeys.

On the other hand, many choose this option surprisingly despite the day’s heat, so do not expect to be alone. And after this effort, what satisfaction to be able to admire the different views available to us!

For the descent, we took the same path.

The Hill of Urca

Cable car arrival station

It overlooks Guanabara Bay, which hosted the sailing competitions during the 2016 Olympic Games, and its many islands, the Rio-Niteró Bridge and Corcovado Hill with the statue of Christ the Redeemer watching over the citizens of Rio.

The Sugar Loaf

Panoramic views await, and you can take in sites such as the famous Copacabana Beach, and still under the clouds, Christ the Redeemer.

The main beaches of Rio de Janeiro: Botafogo on the right, the most famous Copacabana, and Ipanema hidden on the far left

There is also a tiny landscaped park with stairs that allow you to survey the Sugar Loaf in complete safety.

The ocean view from the other side

Finally, we enjoyed our breathtaking views of Rio and its surroundings.

Final word

A beautiful day to discover the two most famous sites of Rio. Indeed, few are those who have never heard of them! 

Even if the morning started with a bit of disappointment disguised as a cloud, we were rewarded afterward with superb weather.

Notice to walkers! For the ascent to Christ the Redeemer, there is also a hike that starts from Rio to the top of Mount Corcovado. We have read that it is advisable, for safety reasons, to do it in a group or with a guide. We were not able to do it, but we saw people on the path when we got on the train.

And for the Sugar Loaf, I frankly recommend the journey on foot to the hill of Urca. 

After this busy day, we decided to go to the hustle and bustle of Copacabana beach, sneak between the umbrellas and find ourselves in a little “not quiet” corner to admire the waves. This is happiness!

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